Friday, August 8, 2014


Continuing biog of  Crusading  Editor, "Big Jim" Bowditch

During  the  time  of the  Whitlam Government  there was a  strong backlash in the Northern Territory  to reforms  brought in to  improve the lot of  Aborigines .   In the  town of  Katherine,which received   notoriety  when it was revealed that there was police involvement with the  Ku Klux Klan  , a   movement  sprang up  called Rights For Whites.  

Leading  figures in the  group were Bill and June  Tapp of  Killarney Station.  Mrs  Tapp, who was president of the  organisation,  maintained  that  government  handouts were encouraging  Aboriginal people  towards crime, drunkenness and laziness.  Bowditch  took a personal interest  in the issue , sensing  that  it  could  split the  Territory  and create racial tension.   

He attended a  lively   Rights for Whites  meeting  in Katherine . One of the few Aborigines  there was   the  Gurindji Captain Major.  When a white  person said that the people of  Katherine had experienced tough times  during the Depression, Captain Major said Aborigines had been in a depression ever since the arrival of white people in Australia.  

Bowditch  strongly urged June Tapp to change the  name of the organisation  from Rights For Whites to  Rights for Territorians , which was done . By  retaining the  original name, he said  it could  and would be  branded   racist . Because the supporters of  the  organisation  felt they had  legitimate  grievances   and were  experiencing  financial and  other problems , they  would  receive  a more sympathetic ear from  Canberra with an  all  embracing  title. 

He argued that  the Federal Government  by spending money on Aboriginal affairs    was , rightly,  trying to  redress a terrible situation which demanded  attention .  The split in the community was a hot issue  at the time and  fanned by  political groups opposed to the Whitlam  government.   Some people  in  high  places  in  the NT  secretly     gloated  over the racial  rift . 

The   situation  received   nationwide media    coverage.  ABC  reporter    Gerald Stone  came to  Darwin  from  Sydney  and  chaired a debate on the issue  between   June Tapp and  Bowditch .  At times  the    discussion became heated , and Bill Tapp  watched  proceedings angrily from the wings .   After the  session , Bowditch said he would not have been surprised if  Bill Tapp  had  rushed over during the  debate  and “clocked ”him for  giving  his wife a tough time.  

In the early l970s  Bowditch  had also backed the cause  of   a Filipino  musician , Meno Ella ,  who  was popular in  Darwin . Ella was in the country on a visa   and   applied to be allowed to stay in Australia .  The Immigration  authorities insisted that he  and his wife would have to leave.  Because  Brian Manning was married to a   Filipino  , Ella was  referred to him  for help  .  Manning , who  was the head of the NT  Trades  and Labour Council  at the time , raised    the matter with  Bob Hawke , who was the ACTU  leader ,  and  Gough Whitlam.  Manning had in mind  unionists   refusing to   fuel the plane the  Ellas would board to fly back to  the Philippines  .   A rally in  support of  Ella was held  in Raintree Park  and  those in attendance included  Bowditch , Manning, lawyer Dick Ward , activist Rob-Wesley Smith .   At the  airport, Ella   attempted to walk out to the plane , but protestors blocked  his  way. Crying, he was taken  to  the plane by a different route .     

Meno  did not want to become  the centre of a major  dispute   and left .   However, when  the Whitlam  government came into  power  and     Immigration Minister  Al  Grassby  was  on a visit to Manila  he announced  that  the Ellas could  go  back  to Darwin.  Furthermore, Grassby said the White Australia  policy was dead and  if  journalists gave  him a shovel  he  would  bury it .  NEXT: Bowditch  cracks under  the strain.