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This Is Northern New South Wales

Audrey’s Auction

A couple of days ago I was chatting with Audrey Watriama, my old friend Merv’s beloved mum, Merv was a really colorful Byron character, he died in his sleep August 2010. He was in his early 60’s.

When I was 16-17, first starting venture out to The Arts Factory to watch bands and unsuccessfully sneak into The Rails (the fact that I was Luke & Hannah Mooney’s babysitter didn’t help my attempts to fake my age) I first met Merv Watriama. Merv was also known to us as Swervin Mervin, The Black Prince or as my father would call him – The Black Punce (always to mutual roars of laughter) and many other names. Merv’s nickname “The Black Prince” came from his grandfather who came to Australia from the Loyalty Islands of French ruled New Caledonia in the late 19th century.

Merv and his then girlfriend Kelly ran the kitchen at the Top Pub before it was rebuilt to be the Beach Hotel. We all ate and hung out there a lot some of my friends worked for Merv and Kelly during that time. Merv always kept an eye out for my friend Morgana and I, giving male friends a kind of “don’t you even think about it” look. We knew very well that if we got ourselves in any situation when we were out that Merv was usually only a “help me” glance away. You either loved him or immensely disliked him and often both at once. Merv had no filter, he was straight up.

Audrey is 92 years old as fit as can be and sharp as a tack. She has some amazing stories and loves to spend Friday’s having lunch with her friends and playing Bingo at the Byron Bay RSL. Audrey’s sight is starting to bother her and therefore she has decided to leave the cottage that Merv built her when her husband passed away about 11 years ago. She has decided to move herself to Feros Village so she can walk to the beach, the bowling club and watch the kids play sport.

Merv had a role in the Crocodile Dundee movie, a role he was perfectly suited for, standing at a bar sinking a few. The bar is in Merv’s shed, and is just one of hundreds of items that are being auctioned onsite on the 14thof April at 16 Parkway Drive.

Some of Merv’s old mates have been helping getting everything ready for the auction that Paul Nicholls from McGraths Byron Bay has donated his time to co-ordinate. All the money raised will go to ensure that Audrey is well looked after when she move Feros Village. Included beautiful pieces of artwork collected by Merv, who himself was a gifted artist and some of his own pieces are also up for auction. There are stunning pieces of furniture new and antique, builders tools and other belongings to many to list.

One of Merv’s oldest friends is also a dear friend of mine Keven Oxford. The following words are from Keven……..

“I first met Merv, his sister Linda & his Mum & Dad when the family moved to the central coast after Big Merv (Merv senior)…. took up the position of Golf Pro at Everglades Golf Club. A mate Robert Hancock had brought Merv down to Ocean Beach to introduce him to some of his friends. And although at the time Merv wasnʼt a surfer we accepted him with open arms because we shared the same kind of ideology, which simply put was, fuck authority letʼs have a goodtime.

As it is with most testosterone fuelled groups of young men we all had nicknamesʼ for each other & Merv will always be fondly remembered by anyone from Ocean Beach as “Bad Boy” for reasons that will forever remain anonymous.

We spent most of the late sixties driving up and down the coast in Mervʼs VW Bug in search of mischief, mayhem and the occasional wave. We formed a strong bond back then that lasted almost half a century, forged initially in the waves and continuing through what felt like several lifetimes.

In the 60ʼs Merv displayed a passing resemblance to Jimi Hendrix, which of course he cultivated, he had a bit of an Afroʼ going on and a little pencil moustache and as it turned out Merv was also a left-handed guitar player (just like Jimi). So on the odd Friday and Saturday night when Big Merv and Audrey would go out and I happened to be staying over Merv would grab his guitar and this jacket that Audrey had made him that was a hideous pink psychedelic print material and weʼd put Hendrix on the home stereo, crank it up! Iʼd be on the light switch that I would furiously flicking it off and on in a vain attempt to mimic a strobe light while Merv wailed away pretending to be Jimi. Thatʼs what kids did in the days before the internet. It was also my first start in the entertainment industry.

Around 1970 a bunch of us (Merv included) thought itʼd be a good idea to all get married (not to each other) so as naïve 20 somethings we managed to find women crazy enough to accept our proposals and within months of each other we took trips down the aisle, which in hindsight turned out to be a really stupid thing to do as not one of those marriages lasted much longer than a year.

As the years passed Merv and I drifted in and out of contact and knew each other through various relationships and guises. For the last 26 years of Merv’s life we saw a lot more of each other, initially with Mervʼs input into the construction and transformation of The Arts Factory & later in 1993 when I asked Merv to come and work for me at Bluesfest the first year I took it outdoors. Three years after that I asked him to become our permanent site manager when we moved onto Red Devil Park football field. I knew he would try harder than anyone else………. Merv stayed on with me for the next 8 years or so managing the site and utilizing every one of his supposed 27 trades.

Merv lived a really large life and he had an impact on most people who came into contact with him, whether you wanted him to or not. He was totally irreverent, the kind of guy thatʼd walk into a room full of people and in five minutes either have them all standing on chairs or theyʼd be picking them up trying to hit him over the head.

The last few times I saw Merv he was happy, heʼd almost finished his house and it was really nice to see he and Audrey sharing each others company. I admired that they took care of each other and I think Audrey was a calming and positive influence in his later life.

Not long before Merv passed away I bumped into he and Audrey at IGA and the conversation had mostly been centred on how sick Iʼd been, little did I know a few weeks later heʼd be gone and I didnʼt even ask how he was at the time. You know itʼs been playing on my mind ever since that I wasted too much time getting pissed off over nothing when I should have picked the phone and called him. This life isnʼt a dress rehearsal, weʼre only here for a short time and we should tell those we care about that weʼre there for them.

Merv and I fought like brothers over the years mostly over nothing much at all but weʼd let some time pass and weʼd bump into one another and all would have been forgotten. They say that when you finally depart this mortal coil youʼre pretty lucky if you can count the number of your friends on one hand. There was over 500 people at Merv’s funeral service. Merv was lucky many, many times over.

Iʼd like to finish off with apologies to “The Big Lebowski” by saying that …” Merv was a surfer, he was a goofy footer who surfed up and down the east coast from Bells Beach to The Box and up to Byron”; in my heart and my memories he will always be a surfer.Vaya Con Dios Merv, see you on the other side Brother.” – Keven Oxford

When I was visiting Audrey she showed me some of the artwork in the house and all of the amazing wooden painting frames that Merv had in the shed and an amazing bridge that Merv had built out of old Bourbon bottles.

An auction of Chattels, Artwork, and Furniture 14th April 2012 on- site at 12pm open for viewing from 11am – 16 Parkway Drive Ewingsdale. (First entry of Parkway Drive, first driveway on the left after Magnolia Place.

Photos and words Keven Oxford and Kirra Pendergast