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Australian broadcaster honoured
[Italy's newest "knight
of merit" is better
known as veteran radio man Wilfrid Thomas ...
Ia A M ilfrid Thomas, 76, the grand old
\M\M man of Australian broadcasting, |f W whose weekly show on people, places, news and views from all over the world has delighted listeners for nearly 40 years, has received another accolade. Apart from making the Guinness Book of Records for having the longest running radio programme, and being awarded the Order of Australia in 1976 for dis- tinguished services to the media, he has now won special recognition from the Italian Government.
Last month, he was created a Cavalière Ufficiale al Mérito della República Italiana (a knight of merit of the Italian Republic).
"It means I'm a meritorious person," he chuckled over coffee in the book-filled study of his London house where he has lived with his wife Betty since arriving in England from Sydney in 1942.
When The Weekly caught up with him. he'd just returned from his beloved Italy where he'd covered the opening of the latest opera season at La Scala,
The face behind the bulletins from
round the world:
: Photo: David Graves.
Milan. His first professional involvement with Italy was just after the war when his compassion was stirred by the thousands of refugees. Liaising with the Inter-gov- ernmental Committee for European Mi- gration, he immersed himself in their plight by writing, recording and broad- casting their troubles.
"The idea was to get them settled in other countries, especially Australia," he said. "After the refugees came the great waves of unemployment . . . here was more material for my broadcasts."
His concern and compassion has paid off. Over the years, he has heard from many of the homeless Italians he has helped resettle in a new country. "When I was last in Australia I received a letter from an Italian living in Melbourne say- ing he now had his own business, house and car and he'd very much appreciate it if I could go to stay with him. I couldn't, unfortunately, but it was good to hear from him after such a long time."
More recently, Wilfrid has been involved with a flood of refugees from the Naples earthquake disaster in November, 1980. As chairman of the Guild of Travel Writers, in London, he helped raise considerable donations for the relief fund.
Wilfrid will be going back to Italy this year, as he and Betty do every year, to stay in their wonderful apartment in Rome, in a 14th century house on the Isola Tiberina, a tiny island in the middle of the River Tiber. From there he will gather more material for broadcasts and
He doesn't think of retirement, he says. When he does, will it be Italy?
"No, I'm an Australian, and I have this lovely piece of land at Pittwater, near Sydney, with my own bit of beach. I see myself fishing there." CT
- VICKI MACKENZIE