Douglas Lockwood

1918 - 1980    |    NT    |    Investigative journalist

Doug Lockwood was the outstanding journalist in Northern Territory history, educating the rest of Australia about the unique characteristics of the area. He started with the Herald & Weekly Times in 1941 and stayed there until 1968. He reported on the first Japanese attack on Australia in 1942. In 1954 he broke the news that Evdokia Petrov had sought asylum at Darwin airport and won a Walkley award in 1958 for his report on a 16-year-old Aboriginal girl who was living in squalor after meeting the Queen Mother in Canberra. In 1963, he helped find a group of Pintupi Aboriginal people who had had no previous contact with white settlers. He wrote 13 books about the NT and its people.

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Douglas Lockwood


In 1968, on the eve of his departure from Darwin after 20 years, Douglas Wright Lockwood wrote a feature article for the newspapers he represented “down south”, most of them part of the Melbourne-based Herald and Weekly Times group.

It was headed “The Land of God’s Eighth Day”. In it, Lockwood said that God made the heavens and the earth in six days and rested on the seventh. But thinking about what he had done, he decided he could improve on it. On the eighth day he created the Northern Territory.

So Lockwood reminisced about his time up north, reminding readers of his more interesting stories.

It was pure self-indulgence, but his best piece of work, the defection of Evdokia Petrov at Darwin airport on 20 April1954 was not. How he got the story out - by arranging for his office in Melbourne to ring him at the airport every half-hour while the drama was going on around him - is still a lesson for young reporters. (Other journalists, trying frantically to get calls through to the south on lines jammed with government traffic, had to watch and listen helplessly as he dictated the complete story. He had arranged for his Melbourne office to ring him on the reverse circuit, but he couldn’t ring them.)

The Walkley Award did not exist in 1954, but he was rewarded with a two-year stint in the HWT’s London office.

Lockwood was born at Natimuk, Victoria, second child of Alfred Wright Lockwood, journalist, and his second wife, Ida Dorothea, née Klowss, daughter of a German immigrant. Alfred had four children by a previous marriage, including another link to the Petrov affair, Rupert, a communist journalist and author of Document J tabled in the Petrov Royal Commission. Two other brothers, Frank and Allan, were also journalists. Douglas worked on his father's newspaper, the West Wimmera Mail, and at Camperdown, Tatura and Mildura.

In 1941 he joined the Melbourne Herald. On 4 October that year he married Ruth Hay, an insurance clerk. In November he was sent to Darwin and in February 1942 saw the first enemy bombs fall on Australian soil. He could not file this first big scoop because bombs had flattened the post office, severing all communication.

Enlisting in the AIF on 15 June, he trained in intelligence and security. He served in New Guinea and on Bougainville in 1944-45 with V and Z Field Security sections. After his discharge on 15 June 1945, he was a war correspondent for The Herald, reporting from the Netherlands East Indies. In 1946 he returned to Darwin and, except for postings to the Herald’s Melbourne (1948) and London offices, remained there until 1968.

With the Northern Territory, the north of Western Australia and north-west Queensland as his beat, Lockwood reported bizarre events in the region, recorded everyday occurrences and wrote social history. His 1957 account of how a Timorese boy, Bas Wie, had succeeded (in 1946) in flying from Koepang to Darwin by stowing away in a DC3’s wheel housing, won a £1250 competition in the London Evening News for ‘the world’s strangest story’.

Lockwood was awarded the 1958 Walkley award (£1000) for his report on Ruth Daylight, an Aboriginal girl who was back living with her mother in a humpy at Halls Creek after being sent to Canberra to meet the Queen Mother. Accompanying a government expedition to the Gibson and Great Victoria deserts in 1963, he helped to find a group of drought-stricken Pintupi Aboriginal people who had had no previous contact with Europeans. He was banned for life from Vestey-owned cattle stations for exposing the company’s treatment of Aboriginal stockmen and their families.

In 1968 the recently retired chairman of HWT, Sir John Williams, passed through Darwin and off-handedly told Lockwood the company was having trouble finding the right man to run the South Pacific Post in Port Moresby. Equally off-handedly – and much to his own surprise – Lockwood said: “What about me?”

He moved to Port Moresby as managing editor later that year and in 1969 amalgamated the Post with the New Guinea Times-Courier to form the Post-Courier. In 1971 he went to Melbourne as assistant to the editor-in-chief of the HWT, and was later editorial manager and manager of the Herald before resuming his former job in Port Moresby in 1974. He returned to Australia in 1975 for health reasons, settled in Victoria and was managing-editor of the Bendigo Advertiser until his death.

As sole author, Lockwood wrote Crocodiles and Other People (1959), Fair Dinkum (1960), I, the Aboriginal (1962)—which won the Adelaide Advertiser’s Festival of Arts award for literature in 1962 and was later made into a television film—We, the Aborigines (1963), The Lizard Eaters (1964), Up the Track (1964), Australia's Pearl Harbour (1966), The Front Door (1968), My Old Mates and I (1979) and Northern Territory Sketchbook (1968), which featured drawings by Ainslie Roberts. He co-wrote Life on the Daly River (1961) with Nancy Polishuk, The Shady Tree (1963) with Bill Harney and Alice on the Line (1965) with Doris Blackwell. Several books were translated into German, Danish, Russian and Polish.

Lockwood’s reporting style was sceptical, humorous, understated and distinctly Australian; he understood the Territory and its people, and wrote for general readers unfamiliar with the region.

His books were well researched: for Australia’s Pearl Harbour he interviewed Japanese and American as well as Australian veterans of the air assault on Darwin. The Front Door surveyed Darwin's settlement and its social and economic development. He admired his friend Bill Harney’s laconic wit and skill as a raconteur, and encouraged and supported his subsequent writing. When Harney died, Lockwood finished The Shady Tree, Harney’s last book, and began editing selections from his works, which was completed by Ruth Lockwood and published as A Bushman’s Life (1990).

Survived by his wife, son Kim and daughter Dale, Lockwood died of a heart attack at Bendigo and was cremated. Kim scattered his ashes in Kakadu National Park in Arnhem Land.

Kim Lockwood grew up in Darwin, and after Adelaide University worked in Perth and back in Darwin, first for the NT News and then for HWT, doing the job his father had done for 20 years. He has published seven books and edited many others.

Douglas Lockwood at the 1958 Walkley Awards for Australian Journalism. Courtesy of Kim Lockwood


Douglas Lockwood at his desk in 1950. Courtesy of NT Library


Evdokia Petrova and Russian security agents. Douglas Lockwood would break the story of the Petrov's seeking asylum in Darwin


Reporting on Timor for The Canberra Times,  27 October 1964


Douglas Lockwood in Darwin. Courtesy of Kim Lockwood




Further reading


Northern Territory Dictionary of Biography, David Carment and Barbara James (ed), NTU Press, 1992, Vol. Two, p.118


The Oxford Companion to Australian Literature, W.H. Wilde et al, OUP, 1985, p.427.