Australian history

Murdoch in Darwin and his plans for Australia

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Rodney E. Lever considers Rupert Murdoch’s visit to Darwin, as well as the suspicious timing of his disgraced apparatchik Rebekah Brooks’ visit to Australia.


EVIDENCE IS steadily mounting, day by day, about Rupert Murdoch’s future plans for Australia and the possibility that the red-haired courtesan Rebekah Brooks may become the head of his Australian newspaper monopoly.

It was Brooks, the charming infiltrator of the British government, who brought about the dismemberment of one of Britain oldest and most popular newspapers, the News of the World.

It is Brooks who faces trial in the Old Bailey in September ‒ at the time of the coming Australian election ‒ accused of introducing the sleaziest form of underhanded journalism — using phone tapping and bribery to shatter all the once noble traditions of Fleet Street.

It was Brooks, according to The Guardian newspaper and the Australian Financial Review, who made a secret visit to Australia during Easter at exactly the same time Rupert Murdoch himself was visiting the country for his annual inspection of his business interests here.

Murdoch, of course, is still in the country.

If they met while Brooks was here, it was in secret, but Rupert’s public endorsement of Brooks and his remark that she was like a daughter to him adds to the suspicion that she may come to Australia after the trials if ‒ and it is a big IF ‒ she is acquitted. Even then, she could still come here after any short term of imprisonment she might have to suffer. She would not be the first British convict to arrive on these shores.

Rupert, old enough to be her grandfather, has shown his fondness for her in the past but his family has rejected her, along with his current wife, Wendi. Rupert’s second son, James, who works for Fox News in America, is currently the only family member working full-time within the company.

In the meantime, Rupert has appointed the Australian journalist 52-year-old Robert Thompson, editor of the Wall Street Journal, to head the new ambitious project to revive Rupert’s world-wide newspaper operations.

There is no evidence that Rupert has met Tony Abbott in his Easter visit. There is one clue, however: Tony Abbott has appeared for interviews on Rupert’s pay TV channels, while he dodges all the other major Australian media outlets, including the ABC. The ABC had made 26 written requests for interviews with Tony, and his office has declined all of them. Sky News now seems to be the only safe haven for him to open his mouth.

Murdoch in Darwin

It was nice to see Rupert back in Darwin again this week.

Way back in the 1950s, Rupert drove all around Australia buying up provincial newspapers, wherever he could. One of those papers was the Northern Territory News, which had been created by a group of Darwin businessmen to provide a medium for advertising. It was Darwin’s first and only newspaper and, despite several attempts, no successful alternative paper lasted very long in competition with the NT News.

Its founding editor was James Frederick Bowditch, who had previously been editor of the Centralian Advocate, the only paper in Alice Springs (which Rupert also bought).

Jim Bowditch

Jim Bowditch and I became friends when Rupert asked me to go to Darwin for a while and be managing director of both the NT News and the Advocate to establish both papers on a firm footing.

The Darwin paper had financial and management problems which had to be sorted out. It had been running at a loss of about $10,000 a year. Four years later, we had turned that into an annual profit of about $100,000 and Rupert was so delighted he paid us a visit then and asked me to go down to Brisbane as general manager of the now defunct Brisbane Truth.

Jim Bowditch was a strong editor, a small but wiry man who could handle himself against any opponent. He knew the Territory as few others ever get to know it, and he was known and respected throughout.

Douglas Lockwood became Darwin correspondent for the Melbourne Herald, and it was Jim who helped him to settle in. He and Doug became great friends. There was no rivalry. They helped each other with many major stories.

During the war, Jim had gone to Brisbane to train with a top-secret special force with the principal job of watching the islands of the Timor and Arafura Seas for Japanese shipping movements and possible enemy commando raids. Invasion was expected any day.

Darwin underwent a long period of serial bombing by the Japanese — not just one or two occasions, as strict censorship dictated (and is still believed in some quarters today). In fact, the Japanese rained bombs on Darwin 56 times between 19 February 1942 and 12 November 1943. Nearly two years of bombing, not constant like the British blitz, but even more unnerving were the unpredictable raids between days or weeks of placid calm.

Jim carried out his own wartime duties heroically. They included one silent killing, and he wept as he recalled it to me one evening.

Douglas Lockwood recounted this wartime period in his book The Front Door, published in 1968 by Rigby Limited.

Only weeks after I left the NT News in good shape, I received a telephone call from Jim. He told me he had just been sacked. I was staggered. Rupert, then in London, had ordered his dismissal.

I rang his Australian deputy, Ken May, and exploded. May told me the order had come from Rupert after some trivial complaint over an obituary Jim had written about Mick Paspalis, a controversial Darwin businessman.

This incident convinced me that I no longer wanted to work for Rupert or News Corp. I resigned soon afterwards, over other more serious issues. Jim remained in Darwin providing a service for other newspapers in Australia and overseas. He died less than a year later, his heart broken, his wife later told me. The NT News had been a major part of his life and his pride.

Now Rupert has returned to Darwin for a few days and, according to The Australian this week, launched an attack on the Australian Labor Party for its immigration policies.

He is reported to have said:

“I’m a big one for encouraging immigration. Just look at America, it’s just fantastic. You have difficulties (with the) first generation of migrants. But, you know, they meld in a couple of generations.”

This is the Fox News-Tea Party-Republican stance. Border-hopping Mexican labourers taking jobs at much lower wages from US citizens is a perennial problem for US governments.

Labor has been campaigning against overseas workers on the issue of the 457 visas that give cheap foreign workers jobs that should belong to Australians. The system has been badly abused.

It is an issue that has plagued Australia since before Federation and Labor has always fought against it. The same issue caused the notorious 1891 Shearer’s Strike that brought the Australian Labor Party into existence.

With Tony Abbott promising to “stop the boats”, one can only wonder whether he will do so with his mentors Murdoch and Gina Rinehart urging a greater intake of cheap labor than ever.

Some time back, Kevin Rudd speculated that Australia’s population would reach more than 35,000,000 in a few years. Perhaps he was right! I guess we will find out in September.

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