Sunday, January 31, 2021


Crusading  editor's involvement . 

 Brought back  to Australia from the Middle East , where he had  fought at  Tobruk  and elsewhere , James  Frederick "Big Jim " Bowditch underwent  jungle training in North Queensland  to prepare for action  against  the  Japanese . 

Boarding  the   Katoomba in Townsville,  he  was taken to  Port Moresby, New Guinea .There he  took part in the  fierce   fighting  for the  strategically important  Milne Bay with  its  three  airfields.

By  Peter  Simon 

Bowditch  recalled that  battle many years later , in Darwin,  where he had become  the  renowned, fearless   editor of  the  Northern Territory News  

Accompanied by a naval bombardment ,  a convoy of  nine vessels  had landed  some 1250  seasoned Japanese marines on  the coast  at  Gona  .The  seemingly  invincible   Japanese  force  swept  towards   Milne Bay .

Two squadrons of RAAF  Kittyhawks arrived at Milne Bay to bolster  the battle  against  the  Japanese .

Fighting was so fierce, said Bowditch, he saw many men go to pieces under the strain . The enemy had come right up to an important airfield where the canteen, of all the vital  places to defend ,  was  blown  up to  prevent it  falling  into  their  hands . 

He had seen RAAF men, probably ground crew, white and terrified , running away.

In the savage combat , he  saw Queenslander  Corporal John Alexander " Jack "  French, posthumously  awarded the Victoria  Cross ,in action .

This is his eyewitness account , which varies  slightly from the official citation , understandable  under  the  circumstances .

I  was with  the platoon  next  to  that  of  French , a burly , blond  fellow ; we  were  advancing along this coastal area  .There were camouflaged machine guns  and  snipers all over the place . Bullets  were  flying  everywhere . 


Somebody started to shout ,'Retreat! Retreat! Retreat!' , and it caught on like a wave . We  turned , and we were running back . One  fellow ran past me  and  ran  into  a tree , dumped  his  gun  and  kept  on  running . 


French started  to sing out ,'Hold it ! Hold it! Hold the line ! '-I think he was  angry . I saw him take out the first machine gun nest . He just  lobbed a  grenade , fired his gun  and appeared  to  bayonet  someone .
I saw him go for the second nest  and that was when I think he got hit because he  appeared to stagger  when  running  at  the nest . He went down throwing a grenade into a third nest. In my view , that stopped the retreat from Milne Bay . If  it had continued , there would have been a debacle. After that  brave effort  by French  we got on top .


The official citation for  French's   Victoria  Cross :

At Milne Bay, New Guinea, on the afternoon of 4 September 1942, a company of Australian Infantry battalion attacked a Japanese position where it encountered terrific rifle and machine-gun fire. The advance of  the section, of which Corporal French was in command, was held up by fire from three enemy machine-gun posts, whereupon Corporal French, ordering his section to take cover, advanced and silenced one of the posts with grenades. He returned to his section for more grenades and again advanced and silenced the second post. Armed with a Thompson sub-machine gun, he then attacked the third post, firing from the hip as he went forward.

He was seen to be badly wounded by fire from this post, but he continued to advance. Enemy guns then ceased fire and his section pushed on to find that all the members of the three enemy gun crews had been killed, and that Corporal French had died in front of the third gun pit.

By his cool courage and disregard of his own personal safety, this non-commissioned officer saved members of his section from heavy casualties and was responsible for the successful conclusion of the attack.

Bowditch fights on 

Bowditch  said further ferocious fighting continued against the enemy. The older Japanese, he said , fought like "kamikaze " soldiers , but as they were killed ,the younger ones  became  less fanatical.

The smell of death was everywhere as the Australians continued to mop up the enemy . Exhausted at the end of a day of  fighting, Bowditch slumped down next to what he thought was a log and was shocked to find it was the body of a  putrefying  enemy soldier.

Early in the advance  against the enemy , a handsome young officer  he had known in the Middle East had  half his face  blown away and it was obvious he was going to die , despite the fact he was still walking with blood spurting from a  horrible  wound . 

Resting in Port Moresby , Bowditch was selected  to join the Z Special Unit  and  flown back to  Australia  in October , l943.

In 1995,  Bowditch was the belated recipient of an American Bronze Star, 50 years after it had been approved by the Commander-in-Chief of Allied Forces   in  the  Pacific , General Douglas  MacArthur . 

The Americans had been unable to locate him despite the fact he was a  prominent  newspaper  editor. However, Professor Alan Powell ,of the Northern Territory University ,studying  wartime archives in America. came across  mention of   Jim . Powell , who died recently,  alerted the  authorities that  the  missing  "Sergeant Bowditch " was  well  known   and  living  in  Darwin .

The citation with the medal said Sergeant Bowditch had shown a sense of   loyalty and ability to carry out any task given him  with complete disregard for personal safety  while  working  with American forces.

On September 26,l995, in Darwin's Larrakeyah  Army Barracks Museum ,the US Defence  Attache to Canberra , Colonel Stephen Barneyback , presented  Bowditch with the  medal . Sergeant Drew Holliday, who specialised in tracking down undiscovered recipients of  American medals , told  Jim he was receiving  the medal during the 50th anniversary of Victory in  the Pacific .

In 1949 , when he was living in Alice Springs ,  Big Jim's  wartime  service  had been  acknowledged  by   him   receiving   the  Distinguished Conduct Medal   at  a ceremony  in  Government  House , Adelaide .   

 The Milne  Bay battle memorial photo at the head of this post was provided  by Robert Wesley-Smith ,  who knew     Flying  Officer Peter Masters  of 75 Squadron , who flew  Kittyhawks  in   New Guinea - Port Moresby and  Milne Bay- developing  a  technique  to combat  the  fast,  highly manoeuvrable  Zero fighters. 

The Australian War Memorial has  a manuscript of  his  detailing   experiences  as  a  fighter  pilot  in  New  Guinea. 

Masters used to call  at the Wesley-Smith residence in Adelaide to see  Robert's father and  play  tennis . He   and  Harry Wesley-Smith   had a  long  friendship  and interests  which included   wartime  in New Guinea .  

 Robert's  father   had   special  knowledge  of   Japanese  wartime  attack  systems .It is said he was  sent  to  America   to  inform  the  top  brass  to  help  combat   the  Japanese  in  the  South Pacific .On  the  way back , he went to the   top secret  decoding centre in Britain , Bletchley  Park . (More to come  ).

 Years  later , Masters  , who became an adviser to  the ALP Premier of South Australia, John Bannon , visited Darwin ,  called  on  Robert , who  took  him  to   the   RAAF  mess .

Saturday, January 30, 2021


 Sleeping  on  the  job  in  between stunts,  mouthing   slick   slogans  and   spewing  out  familiar  chunks  of   wedge  politics  in   his  imitation  of   Donald Trump , ScoMo , the  man from advertising , makes  repeated   use  of  fairy   and    other   dust  as  he  mesmerises  the  nation . Let  the  Aussie  voter beware : when  you  are  maced , it  is  terribly embarrassing . 



Threatened with removal as part of a  $61million  road upgrade   in Adelaide is the heritage listed  Waite Lodge/Gatehouse, the  subject of a protest rally this weekend . A prominent interstate agronomist  is strongly opposed to  the  government  proposal. The 130 year  old  building , surrounded by 2O trees, some 120 years old , is  on the edge of the  Waite  campus of  the University of Adelaide, near the  Arboretum  . A petition opposed to the project has so far  been  signed by more than 15,000 people .     

Friday, January 29, 2021


 Captured  at  his cluttered   desk  in  rural  Darwin  years ago  is  Robert  Wesley-Smith .  In  front of him are open newspapers, there is a stack of  papers behind him , a pile of books , a  packet  of  biros  hang  from a  post  so  that  he  is always  able to find one  to  take  notes , mark text  about  the  many subjects in which he has an interest , which  includes  East Timor , a country for  which he  has  fought  and  supported  since  l975 , visited many times .

Over  the Australia Day long weekend  he  retrieved   photographs from his unique collection  of  a refugee  from  East Timor now  living in Darwin ,Veronica Pereira  ,  known  as  The Mother of  East Timor  Culture, for her  weaving  of  Tais , ceremonial cloth .

These  photos , taken  about  20 years ago, showed her  working  on  her loom and  he  presented   them  to  her . 

Wesley-Smith   has  a  collection of   Tais , including  some made  by her, one specially  made  for  him  with  the   message  to  SET FREE TIMOR

Wes  went with her to  a special  memorial  ceremony   in  Dili at   the Santa Cruz Cemetery  in  Timor  Leste,  the  scene  of  the  bloody  massacre by  Indonesian  troops  on  November  12,1991.  An editorial in The  New York Times  described  the  slaughter  as The Tiananmen in East Timor , the Chinese massacre ,  criticising  the   poor  response to  the latter  by  President  Bush

As part of  that  memorial  event in Dili , Veronica unfurled  five  woven  Tais  on  which  were   the  names  of   the  victims  .

The panels  were also  displayed (above ) in  Darwin . Veronica, is the woman with a  large Tais wrapped about her.  Wesley -Smith is  second from the left . The event is believed  to  have  been   part of the Cross Arts Project,  Elastic Borrracha  Elastico, a Timor Leste visual art,  architecture  and culture data base, described as evidence of  a  major Southeast Asian political and  social transformation. Its  bibliography included  Veronica , the American  activist   Noam Chomsky and   Wesley-Smith . 

As part of that  major project,  a  traditional  Timorese house   was  built on Wesley-Smith's  rural  property  and after  going on display in Darwin was dismantled , put in a  shipping container, sent  to Sydney . The following composite  photograph is of Veronica  seated  and  in a group with other Timorese women near  the reassembled  house ,displaying the massacre Tais , at  the  Museum of Contemporary Art ,Sydney. From there it went on show in  Canberra, then back to Sydney at  the  Power House  Museum .

The fate of the unique  building  is  unclear.  Placed  back in the shipping container , it  was  put into storage in a  council  area  in Sydney , in which  there  was  a  fire .  Whether or not  it  was damaged  by  the fire  is not  known , but  its  whereabouts  became  unknown . 

Wesley-Smith would like to hear from anyone who  has any  information about  its  fate. He hastens  to point out  the important  banner  was not  in the container. It is  still in  the possession  of Veronica , who  guards  it   fiercely .

From time to time, he  has  taken  visitors  from near and far to view the banner  and   speak  to  the  master  weaver . 

Veronica and her husband, Tony Maia ,  are  shown  below  displaying one  panel of  the  banner  at  Wesley-Smith's  property , dry at  the  time .

UPCOMING : More  information  about  Tais , Noam Chomsky  and  the  island  of  the  banished . 

Important notice :  Wesley-Smith's desk is much  tidier nowadays and he  still  campaigns  on  many  fronts.


 Reports  continue  to  come through  from Darwin   about the   good wet  season. The above view of  brimming over  Lake Weslee  at  Howard Springs, canoe  at  the  ready , wheel  barrow  almost walking  on  water,  was supplied  by  Robert Wesley-Smith.  Another  longtime resident , Bob White ,  says  this  wet, coming after  five "Dry Wets" , is  driving  the frogs mad , making  it hard to  hear  above  their  joyous  croaking.  His  email was  headed RAIN. RAIN. RAIN.

Thursday, January 28, 2021


Over the long weekend,  our Shipping Reporter  floated about  the  Townsville  waterfront and browsed  through his photograhic collection of vessels which have  sunk  locally  without  much media coverage, almost becoming  permanent , part   submerged  fixtures.  The above photo shows the mast , on  the left, of  a  yacht which  went glug, glug months ago , still  in situ . Is there  a follow up  story  here  for  the  local  media  ?   

 A  sunken  lugger  graced  the  waterfront  for  ages before it  was removed . Wonder what happened to it ? Is there a  reporter standing on  the burning  newsroom  deck ? 

Our  waterfront scribe , in James Bond fashion, downed   this  high  and  dry martini  (below )  in  the  large  yacht fleet . It would  be interesting  to  find out  why  it  was  so named .  There are a thousand and one untold  stories floating  about Townsville and nearby Magnetic Island

Apart  from  the latest  sunken yacht  in Townsville and the  alcoholic one  at the weekend , also sighted  was  broken glass under the mighty anchor off  the USS Coral Sea , presented to  the  city by America  to mark the 50th anniversary of  the  massive  battle . 

Another yacht   which  in  the past  went down in the Townsville Bermuda Triangle . 

Wednesday, January 27, 2021


Townsville  tarmac  and   city .

Cloudy Cairns area 
Abra photographs 

Tuesday, January 26, 2021


 More   photographs  from  the   collection  of  nomadic agronomist   Robert  Wesley-Smith .

Out in the desert and gold bearing   country of Central  Australia, near Rabbit Flats, nearly 50 years ago, an old rock breaker , more like a  mini  gold stamper,   was  snapped  from many  angles, showing  its  components  and an  upside down  view  which   resulted  in  an  arty mop-topped  Easter Island- like  figure .

A few days ago ,Wes sent this blog a photo showing Darwin has  had so much rain  that his own billabong ,called  Lake Weslee , is so high the water is  over  the  landing   jetty .

Monday, January 25, 2021


 Townsville light show 

There was a spectacular   light show over Indonesia  some days ago when a meteorite flashed across the sky followed by an explosion which had seismologists  thinking   there had been an earthquake. 


In  his  wide  travels  in  the Australian outback and East Timor  agronomist and  long-time  activist ,  Robert Wesley-Smith , of  Darwin , has  built up an impressive photographic   collection of  people, places , animal industry and agriculture , major  events, oddities  . 

 Along the way he  also  amassed  many  wonderful stories , some  of  which  will  be  run  in  this  blog .  

The photos  displayed  here  were   taken   at  Hall's Creek ,Western Australia , in  the  early  l970s , looking  like  the  ruins of  an ancient   African  settlement. 

It  is  the  remains of the old  town hall , built  from  mud  bricks . 

The man in the above photo  is Bobby Widitburu , from  Bulla , on  Auverge  Station,  a stockman who had worked for a member of  the  Durack family . He  had approached Wesley-Smith for help to  obtain  an  Aboriginal  land  rights  claim  over  Bulla ,knowing  he had been involved in the historic  Northern Territory Wattie Creek  land  claim by the  Gurindjis . 

On two occasions , Rob was confronted  by an angry station manager who called him a Commo bastard and threatened to shoot him. On the last occasion, Bobby Widitburu  stepped forward  and grabbed  the   gun . This , says  Wesley-Smith, was  an extraordinary event   in  which  the  all  powerful "boss" had  been  confronted, disarmed.  

In the above interior view ,appearing to show a fireplace and mantelpiece, are Robert's wife, Jan, her stepfather and mother  from  Adelaide , and  Bobby. 

A Darwin art  teacher , Jan  drew  the name  Bulla on a piece of  cardboard  to  declare   the  land  claim . She  is  pictured below  with  the  first  Gurindji girls   to  attend   Kormilda  College in  Darwin , where  Robert  coached  several soccer  teams.

During his connection with Kormilda, back in the l970s , he met a trainee who became Dr Miriam-Rose Ungunmerr-Baumann,AM,a teacher, artist, writer, public speaker and activist, just named Senior  Australian  of   the  Year  in  Canberra. 

From the Daly River area,  he said  she had later alerted him to the fact that  there was an invasive weed threatening the waterway, which on investigation  proved  to  be   the  first  sighting, requiring  prompt  action .

He  doubted  if   anybody  at  the  Canberra  ceremony  knew  that  she , now 69,  had  painted  the Aboriginal version of the   12  Stations of  the Cross in Darwin's  Catholic  Church .

On Christmas Day 1885, prospector Charlie Hall started a gold rush when he found  a massive nugget ,28 troy ounces , causing a wild township to spring up, most living in tents. Mining equipment was brought in from as far away as California. On the northern end of the Canning Stock Route , Hall's Creek  had a  population of 15,000, led to the establishment of the ports of Derby and Wyndham. 

Sunday, January 24, 2021


 The world would be in an even greater mess  than  it  is  today  but  for the enthusiastic work of  the  tiny , dynamic  dung beetle.  In  Townsville, North Queensland,   there  is  a   monument  (above)  to   Doug  the  Dung Beetle, sculpted  by Cameron Rushton, from Tasmania . 

The above sign contains   Doug's vital  statistics  and  details of the  the  great  ball of  dung ,pointing out  the vital part  played  by  these  tiny creature . It   goes on  to  urge  Townsville  to  imitate  Doug's  work  of   recycling ,reduce the  dung, roll  out  the  barrel  afterwards. 

For some strange reason , a  former Liberal Prime Minister, the late  Malcolm Fraser, nicknamed  the crazy grazier, could not  get dung beetles to  thrive on his  family farm , Nareen .

And when Acting PM  Michael McCormack  aka the Wagga Wagga Wrong Font ,  recently stumbled  into  Townsville and  beyond  , Doug  the  Dung  Beetle  and  his  mates were  kept  busy  moving  a  mountain of  malarkey .
In  America , the  vast  dung beetle population is in a state of  total exhaustion  after  four  years of  Donald Trump. Most  of  the  beetles were kept so busy  burying  Trump's bullshit  they  developed  muscles  like Arnie Schwarzenegger   in   his  prime . 

Doug  is  a  much admired  community  art   project  on the  Giant's  water   wise   trail  in leafy Anderson Park , named   after the Giant of  North Queensland sustainability, Billy Bombax,  who was gradually   reduced   to  a pile  of   woodchips  due   to  a  terrible  tree  disease .

Upcoming : The    new   look   Billy  Bombax. 

Saturday, January 23, 2021



Magpie  Geese, one  nesting in Lotus filled waterway , Anderson Park  Botanic  Gardens , Townsville . Sandalwood  pix.



Shipping  Reporter  on   fashion   trip  

Several puzzling  reports  have been received from women that the  mysterious mermaid at the entrance to Magnetic Island  has  been seen wearing  a  variety of clothing , including  a skirt and  a  bikini . Acting on this intriguing information , our waterfront scribe sailed  to the  island, with  his  camera , expecting  to  find  the  mutilated  mermaid  staging  a fashion parade.

 Alas, she  was stuck up  there on  the hard  rocks - headless  and  armless - showing no sign of any new clobber. However, a close examination of  a  telescopic   photo  taken of  the  mermaid  revealed  a strange  figure in the bottom right corner ,which looks like a mediaeval  wardrobe  mistress.  It is possible, says the Shipping Reporter, that  because of  the recent  cyclone threat to Townsville, the mermaid's  latest French clothing  was  stored in  the  basement  for  safety , no  doubt  becoming  very mouldy  in the process. 
When the dry season arrives , he  says ,  it is likely  the mutilated  mermaid will celebrate the occasion  by  prancing  about in an  itsy  bitsy  teenie weenie  yellow  dot  bikini , causing  more  shipwrecks .



Vallis pix