His energy never flagged

Four months ago Bruce Wilsonwas diagnosed with a virulent cancer and had to spend weeks in hospital. In a lot of pain, Bruce, the constant journalist, dictated his final column to his fourth wife Clare.It was published on New Year's Eve, three days before he died, writes TED CORBETT.

Bruce Wilson was my pal, but then I guess he made everyone feel as if he had been waiting to see them — impatiently — for half a lifetime.

Wherever you met him — in London, in Adelaide, Washington or Hong Kong — Bruce never changed. "G'day, Ted. Let's have a glass of wine," he would growl. Quietly, so unlike your typical Australian.

He used to ease his way into the Lord's Press Box, pick up a glass of white wine and settle down to watch the Test match. He barely wrote a note until he opened his laptop. Then the words flowed so easily I used to wonder if I had chosen the wrong profession.

"Taken a lifetime to learn my trade," he liked to say. "If I'm not any good by now I've wasted 50 years. Yes, I will have a wine, if you`re buying."

If the "damned machine" would not send out his lovely prose he would simply pick up a phone and demand to know of his technical department what might be wrong. No histrionics, no violent language, not a bang on his desk.

"MATE, I'VE GOT 1200 words here and I guess it's almost your deadline. Give me a typist or you are going to have a large white hole in your newspaper." All in that slow Aussie drawl that meant he was in control and it was about time someone 10,000 miles away Down Under broke into a gallop.

Of course, Bruce had done it all, seen it all from battlefield to Parliament, from the Far East to the Wild West, from jungle to arid desert.

He reported war in Saigon, which he left by catching a lift in a US marines helicopter as the North Vietnamese troops closed in on the city and a nasty struggle for power in El Salvador where he still made friends despite Spanish out of a guidebook.

"Sport is a piece of cake, mate," Bruce used to say. "At least there's no one shooting at you while you're trying to send your copy. Another wine, mate?" Above all, as you may have guessed, he loved the reporter's life and the bars where they like to congregate.

HE WROTE ABOUT EVERYTHING that crosses a journalist's path but he had a special affection for a bar. Like this: "Harry's — in Paris — is, to tell you the truth, a bit of a clip joint. American college sporting pennants, covered in layers of dust, hang from the walls since it was opened as a bar for American expats in the 1920s. It has bat wing doors and usually there is an American playing piano in the basement in the great tradition of Paris."

Or Annie's in Saigon: "It had only three 45s records still operable; Country Road, Honey and Lola. Lola got quite a workout. One evening Mama disarmed a captain who held a .45 Colt automatic to her forehead and then to mine. I remember thinking how wide that barrel looked."

Or Bella's in Jerusalem: "The man from the Washington Post used to order martinis so savage that he said, before drinking the first, that if he ordered more than two they were to send for the police."

Seriously, there was also politics in Singapore, Washington and London where he eventually settled down; for all his heart was still in his birthplace Brisbane where he began his reporting life and Melbourne where he began his travels. He wrote beautifully as he wove local colour, hard facts and his own sardonic comment into a superbly crafted whole. "Nice piece, Bruce," I said once. "No, mate, but it was on time and to length. A professional piece, but I leave nice pieces to other people."

Twenty years ago he started an assignment in London that was meant to last only a couple of years, looked up an old friend and met his fourth wife Clare with whom he shared a love of jazz, sport and good food. He never left the city, content at last after so many years going round the world like a Flying Dutchman holding a ballpoint.

LONDON WAS THE CENTRE of the reporting universe then so that he could indulge his love for rugby and cricket although he thought of Wimbledon as a treadmill.

Once his copy had gone — and he was working against the clock as cricket lunch in England is late for an early edition in Melbourne and close of play is for tomorrow's paper — he would try another glass of wine, eat a little food, buy anyone a drink who looked as if he might be thirsty, and, quietly head for home.

He was at The Oval for most of the final Test last summer, hoping Australia might win. But when bad light and good English cricket won the day, he was man enough to say: "The best team holds the Ashes now. Enjoy your celebrations. Cheers!"

Four months ago he was diagnosed with a virulent cancer and had to spend weeks in hospital. In a lot of pain, Bruce, the constant journalist, dictated his final column to his fourth wife Clare. It was published on New Year's Eve, three days before he died.

Naturally, it predicted that Australia would win back the Ashes in the autumn; because Bruce was a fair dinkum Aussie to the last.

He will be remembered as the reporter who could turn his hand to anything, who was never scared of writing his mind and whose energy never flagged.

He would be sad to know I had to attend the funeral of another friend but pleased that I found a bar he would have enjoyed afterwards.

Cheers, Bruce; bon viveur, most excellent travelling companion and a professional reporter from the edge of his huge moustache to the back of his over-subscribed contact book.