Mervyn Bryce Southwell
We would like to extend our deepest sympathy to the family of Brother Mervyn Southwell, on the loss of their loved one, who fell asleep in Jesus on the 7th November, 2016 at 8:00pm. May God be your comfort during this sad time.
Life Sketches of Mervyn Bryce Southwell
26-5-1936 – 7-11-2016
Mervyn Bryce (Merv) was born in Bairnsdale, Victoria on 26th May 1936, the fifth child of Bryce and Myrtle Southwell. Sadly, the children never got to meet the firstborn child and their eldest brother, Norman, who was born with a serious heart condition and died at four months old. So Merv became the first little brother to older sisters Patricia (Pat), Elizabeth (Betty), and Eileen. Three years later they would have another little brother Gordon and then two and a half years later little Clyde was born, completing the family.
With their father being a fisherman, the family early developed a love and deep respect of the ocean and its beauty and power. They also learned a thing or two about boats and how to control them on the unpredictable seas, skills the boys would be called to rely on later on in their adult lives.
During World War II their father delivered mail and other supplies to the lighthouse keepers at Gabo Island off the eastern tip of Victoria. Since he sometimes took the older children with him, they soon learned to trust their father’s sea-faring skills as they often had to brave the rough seas and storms off the east coast during the over 70km trip from Eden to the island in their tough little fishing vessel. On one trip Bryce took six-year-old Betty and little three-year-old Merv with him so he could take them up to the top of the lighthouse, being the second tallest in Australia. They climbed up the winding staircase of the almost 50 metre structure and looked out from the windows at the top. When evening came, their father wanted to take them up again so they could see how the light worked, but little Merv said he was too tired. So, the little three-year-old waited at the bottom in the dark on his own, while Bryce and Betty made the second trip up and then back down the long spiral staircase.
Merv’s first couple of years of life was spent at Lakes Entrance while his father was fishing, and then the family moved to Eden during the Gabo Island mail run contract. (This precluded his father from being called to serve in the war). The family, being Seventh Day Adventists, worshipped mainly in small home churches with others of the same faith. When Merv was six-years-old the family joined the SDA Reform Movement as his father did not believe in military participation. There were local moves to Greig’s Flat and Pambula during this time.
Merv started his schooling in a little one-room school at Greig’s Flat (between Pambula and Eden). There were about 12 students in all, three of them being his older sisters. Later Merv would attend Lochiel Primary School, then Pambula High and for a short time Bega High School, before the family moved to the Sydney Region, where his father was called as preceptor of the Hebron Missionary College. Merv attended there as a student for a couple of years, but craving his independence and eager to work, he left home at fifteen years old to join his older cousin Stephen cutting and logging timber down at Nethercote.
Not long after he had left Sydney, however, tragedy struck the family. His elder sister Eileen, whom he was especially close to, was struck down suddenly with gastro-enteritis. Catching a chill, she quickly developed pneumonia, and within two days she had died. Her two older sisters were also almost unconscious with the same illness, and it was decided not to tell them of the death immediately, fearing the shock would be too much. The effect on young Merv was profound, and for a time he questioned how God could allow such a beautiful, young, popular girl to die. It was a test for his young faith; but even though shaken, he did not lose his hold on God. Many years later he would be once again tested when his beloved wife was struck down seemingly before her time. However, by then he had finally learnt to accept God’s wisdom.
After his sister’s funeral, Merv went back to work with Stephen. The two young men also did a stint of fruit picking in Victoria. Merv was strong and worked hard. Saving his money, he soon had a small fleet of cars and trucks. He eventually thought he had better get his licence so he stayed in Victoria for a while where a truck licence could be obtained at age 17, a year earlier than in NSW. Armed with his new Victorian licence, he ventured more into the truck driving side of things and upgrading his trucks.
For the next couple of years, Merv continued to work hard, building up his trucking business. Around this time, he started a friendship with a pretty girl named Esther McMahon. Merv and Esther were not unknown to each other, for they had in fact attended the same primary school together when they were children. But now Merv was 21 and Esther almost 20, and they were in love. With the blessing of their parents they wed on 4th December 1957 in the local Nethercote hall with the wedding reception held at the McMahon’s residence. The marriage would continue for over 53 years.
Away they went on their honeymoon in their brand new Ford Zephyr and a small caravan – up the coast, before finally making home in Lake View Avenue, Merimbula, NSW. It was only a small two-bedroom house; but with views overlooking the lake and the ocean, and bush at the back of the property, it was a beautiful location, and Esther was keen to start a family. Their wish came true when on 21st October 1959 their oldest son Gary was born. Less than 14 months later a second child was born on 9th December 1960, their precious little baby daughter Susan. Just over a couple of years later the couple would have another son on 2nd April 1963 whom they named Paul. In this idyllic setting the children enjoyed a rich and outdoor lifestyle.
By this time Merv, as truck owner/driver/transport operator was running three trucks from Eden to Sydney, hauling sawn timber and other general loads. This meant that he would often be away from home on trips, whilst Esther cared for their three young children. However, Merv endeavoured to spend as much time with his family as he could and to engage in his other interest, boats and waterskiing. With in-laws and extended family involved, many fun-filled, sunny days were spent in and on the water.
Merv’s trucking business, however, would soon experience rocky times. Mechanical breakdowns and a serious accident, in which the driver was lucky to escape with his life, left the business with debts to pay, trucks off the road and thus very little income. Merv could see the proverbial ‘writing on the wall’ and decided to quit before it got any worse. So, he sold up and paid his debts and began working for wages for a boss, driving tippers with rubble for the Eden break wall. One day he injured his big toe (mangled by a lawnmower blade) and was unable to drive for a while.
It was at this time that through a friend he was introduced to the profession of abalone diving. Initially while his toe was healing he worked as the ‘cat driver’, operating a small aluminium runabout and collecting the bags of abalone and delivering scuba tanks to the divers. Soon he was having a go at diving himself, and it wasn’t long before Merv and his friend decided to go out on their own. They borrowed money to buy a boat and some gear and went out to find their own ‘abs’, working out of Mallacoota in Victoria. Merv and Ray used a system known as hooker gear, where a compressor is used to pump compressed air through high pressure hoses to the diver below. Initially they tried to save money by using cheap garden hoses instead of the expensive high pressure ones; however, these were unreliable and would develop weak spots and expand like a balloon under the high pressure. This was potentially quite risky when diving in 30 metres of water. They eventually realised their lives were worth more than the savings and invested in the good gear.
Once when they were heading back to shore after a day of diving and a heavily laden boat, they nose-dived into a freak wave and the boat was swamped with water. Before they could recover and bail it out, another wave hit from the stern and in a matter of seconds the boat with everything on board had sunk out of sight. Ray’s elderly father Charlie was with them and was in severe pain having broken some ribs on the first impact. The two younger men were wearing wetsuits, but the older man was shivering and cold in the water. Luckily two flippers floated to the surface; so these were donned, and then began the long swim of nearly 2 kms back to the shore towing the injured man. When they reached land, another danger awaited them – surf and a rocky coastline.
Fortunately, they were able to scramble up the rocks after being deposited by a big wave, and they made it to safety. Luckily the boat was insured and ultimately replaced, but it was a stark reminder of the dangers of a life working at sea.
Soon Merv decided he worked better alone, so bought his own boat and gear. He made friends with other ab divers and as boys will be boys they sometimes had a bit of fun when the seas were rough. Hitting the waves at speed they would launch the boats completely out of the water. At other times, they would try to scare each other with Port Jackson sharks. The Port Jackson shark was plentiful in some regions and although fearsome-looking at first sight was harmless. So, a diver wanting to play a joke would try to grab one by the tail and steer it up behind his unsuspecting friend, bumping into him and scaring the daylights out of him. Eventually they discussed the prospect of heading over to South Australia to search for abalone off the relatively unfished coastline of the Eyre Peninsula.
The weather was better and the water wasn’t as cold, but another more serious danger awaited them – dangerous sharks! This was the home of the great white. They dismissed this fear, however, arguing that getting the bends was more likely than getting eaten by a shark. The bends was a serious potentially fatal condition caused by diving for too long in deep water. They had escaped that so far. So, undeterred, Merv took the long trip of nearly 2000 kilometres to try diving off the South Australian coastline. Along with another good friend, Darcy, they dived at various spots along the coast, finally deciding that the little seaside town of Streaky Bay suited them best. After a few trips back and forth from Merimbula, which sometimes involved the whole family, it was decided to make the big permanent move. The children were enrolled in school there, and so began another chapter in the Southwell family’s life. Initially living in a big caravan for six months, they eventually bought a house and moved in.
These were adventurous years and the children were often entertained by Merv’s diving stories. He sometimes encountered schools of friendly dolphins, and playful seals would amuse him with their antics until they tried to bite his air hose. He told of a time when he once swam into a dark underwater cave. Without light, he couldn’t see well but could make out two large saucer sized eyes peering at him. Getting out of there quick smart, he thought he may have encountered a giant octopus but wasn’t going to wait around to find out. Another time while collecting abalone off the bottom, he noticed that it suddenly got very dark. Looking up, he could make out a huge manta ray swimming past above him. He often commented that he hoped that angels could swim. But the most-deadly encounters were with the great white sharks. He had spotted them on a number of occasions, some coming a little closer to take a look, but they mostly swam away without disturbing him. One time though he was quite worried. He noticed a great white was circling him. Backing up against a rock and holding his bag of abalone in front of him he watched it swim round and round, intending to push the bag into its mouth if it came for him. The shark eventually swam away. Merv waited for a while to make sure it was really gone, then he pulled in all the excess air hose so he knew exactly where the boat was, and then headed for the surface as quickly as he could safely. He went home early that day. Merv still went out diving the next day, but not at the same spot.
The boys were growing up, and sometimes Merv would take them out with him to be the ‘sheller’, scooping out the white flesh from the abalone shell, it being discarded over the side, and the flesh being put into a tub filled with salt water.
Merv upgraded his boats a number of times. One he had specially built by a marine boat builder in Port Lincoln. Built of marine ply with a planing hull, the 36-footer was the fastest fishing boat for its size in the area at the time. It generated quite a bit of interest and was featured in the local newspapers. Being of larger size and with room on board for more fuel and supplies, Merv could now make longer trips and stay out for days at a time.
Sometimes he would take the whole family on day trips, and once while on the way back to harbour they encountered such a severe storm that the younger members of family felt the boat was going to capsize. But Merv wasn’t worried. He knew the seaworthiness of his vessel and was used to such events, having encountered them on many occasions.
Being from a large clan of sisters, brothers and cousins, the family felt quite isolated at times as most of the relatives resided on the east coast of Australia. It was an exciting time when relatives came to visit, and many happy family memories were made. Usually Merv made the effort to take the family over to Sydney at least every second-year end for the church conference, often towing a large caravan.
Sabbath days in Streaky Bay were kept in the family home and also at other close Adventist friends’ homes. Afternoons were often a highlight, spending time in the natural surroundings such as: sand dunes, beaches, caves, rock pools and high cliffs, admiring the wildlife. On occasions on other days the family would spend time swimming with seals, water-skiing, 4-wheel driving in the white sand dunes, and visiting various places of interest with friends.
Merv endeavoured to share his beliefs where he could, and sometimes he would invite some local pastors and some townsfolk (Anglican, Methodist and Catholic) to investigate Scripture together, usually the ‘Sabbath’ or ‘Law’ question. On other occasions the family lounge room would be filled with people who had been invited over for a sing along of old favourite hymns, with Esther playing the organ.
In the mid ‘70’s Merv gave up the dangerous job of Abalone diving and went to work with his older Adventist friend Alec Van Weenan with general building, trying his hand at all facets from plastering, painting, gyprocking, and carpentry to bricklaying and some concreting!
It was not long after he had given up the abalone diving when another local young diver and close friend Terry Manuel was attacked and killed by a great white shark. Up to this time there had been no attacks on abalone divers. The small township was in shock. At this time, not so much was known about the behaviour of the great white, and some divers felt that this shark might become a menace to other divers. Merv had not yet sold his boat, so with the help of friends they set up some baited hooks on steel traces attached to anchored drums in the area where the attack had occurred. The result was that two great whites were caught. The stomach contents were examined and the jaws were removed. Merv gave one to his builder friend Alec who had helped him through the whole process. Once again, this event sparked interest with the press and stories and photos were published in the local and regional papers as well as the Australian Women’s Weekly. Today more is known about sharks and they are now a protected species.
For a time Merv focused his whole attention on building a brand new solid brick home in town, but at the chance of obtaining a cheap farm-house just out of the township, with 80 acres of land in an elevated position and a beautiful view of the bay, they jumped at it.
Through the ‘70s Merv and Esther renovated it inside and out, adding some farm accessories along the way; Old Tractor, Old Grader, milking cow, chooks, and at one stage a few sheep, though these suffered being ravaged one night by the pet dog, a German Shepherd, who was promptly returned to its former owners.
During this time a young family from the Reform church had moved from Sydney to Adelaide. At last there were some church members nearby. (albeit almost 700 kms away). Brian and Mary Jaksic had one small son Alex, and later Wilfrid and then Esther were born. Visits were regularly made, and a friendship between the families would develop which would last a lifetime. Brian had started a little church group, and a small hall was purchased and renovated as a place to worship in. Merv and family travelled to Adelaide to assist in the renovations, and Merv helped build the first pulpit. At one point Brian turned to Merv and said, ‘Merv, we’ll have to get you up here to preach one day.’ To which Merv responded, ‘Never!’ Little would he realise the chain of events which would shape his life and vocation in the following years. Merv would one day live in Adelaide and preach many sermons from that very pulpit which he had built years before.
Merv’s eldest son Gary had left home at 17 in 1977 to work in Adelaide. Merv and his only daughter Susan, who was now working as a bookkeeper, took on Voluntary Ambulance duty for a few years. During this time Merv worked part-time at the local school, while Paul obtained work as a clerk at the local Ford dealer. Around this time, Paul suffered Crohn’s disease and so was checked numerous times into and out of hospital for the next 30 or so years.
During the end of the 70’s and early ‘80’s Merv was invited by the Church to help out with its NZ Health Shop. With some experience in the local church there he was eventually invited to become a Bible Worker and served for a few years based in Auckland; then he was posted to Adelaide (house in Clarendon) where the family was once again reunited as all three children were living there at this time. In October 1983 Merv walked his only daughter Susan down the aisle to give her away in marriage to Peter Lausevic. Susan and Peter would spend the next 20 years in the US where the first grandson Joshua was born in 1985. Merv was next transferred to Brisbane for a few years and then back to New Zealand. During this time, he travelled back to Sydney for the marriage of his youngest son Paul to Tania Kukrika in September 1993. The whole family was reunited again for this occasion. In 1995 Merv and Esther’s second grandson, Seth, was born to Paul and Tania.
While posted in New Zealand, Merv made a number of missionary trips to Samoa and also Fiji, taking Esther with him on one occasion. In their honour the young believers named their newborn children after them – little Merv and little Esther. Merv also travelled to Papua New Guinea twice, the second time contracting malaria which very nearly took his life. Other overseas trips for General Conference Sessions and church meetings included South America, USA and Germany.
Merv shifted three more times (Perth, Brisbane and back to Perth) before retiring in Bridgetown WA about 2004. (He had by then given 25 years of full-time service in the Lord’s work.) They were happy to be close to Esther’s sister Lil Gordon and their extended family and also to son-in-law Peter’s relatives, John and Inneka Lausevic. Though retired, Merv would regularly preach at the little Stratham church and still travelled to Perth from time to time to preach there also.
Merv and Esther had a lovely retirement, driving around Australia via Perth, Broome, The Pilbara, Darwin, Kakadu, Brisbane, Coffs Harbour, Sydney and back to Perth with a 4wd and pop-top van and two-person kayak. Later they did a second trip which involved southwest WA and also central Australia including Uluru and Kings Canyon. Needless to say they had a ball, sharing tracts and the Gospel on their travels with various townsfolk and fellow travellers.
During his time as a gospel minister, Merv obtained his marriage celebrants licence and has performed ceremonies for quite a few young couples, and also one older couple (his last ceremony), namely, that of his oldest son Gary and daughter-in-law Janet in 2006. Merv and Esther had fun getting to to know all their newly acquired relatives.
On a Friday evening as Sabbath drew on Esther suffered a major stroke in 2011 and passed away. Merv was devastated and never really fully recovered after losing the love of his life. He was dealt a double blow when his brother-in-law and great mate Bruce Gordon also passed away only a couple of months later. Merv decided to move over to the east coast to be closer to his children and purchased a little cabin (which he referred to as his shack) stationed at the Church’s Conference Camp Ground (Elim Heights Youth Camp), near Colo Heights NSW. After packing up and selling much of the household goods, Merv was assisted to shift to his ‘Shack’ by his grandson Seth and eldest son, Gary, who had an adventurous trip from Bridgetown, then finally to Sydney or Elim Heights, where Merv resided for a couple of years. Initially helping his sister Betty and her husband Neville who were the caretakers at the time, Merv then took in his nephew Keith, to live with him during this time; and they were a great help to each other in various ways, always looking forward to their weekly visits to Windsor where they enjoyed a swim, sauna and subway. Merv was also pleased when his other nephew Robin Gordon came to take over as the permanent caretaker of the church property. He really appreciated the help of Robin and Keith, and they enjoyed their opening of Sabbaths together on Friday evenings.
One highlight during this period of time was a trip to Port Macquarie to visit his younger brother Gordon and wife Margaret. Accompanied by sister Betty and nephew Keith, they travelled up by train from Sydney. Son Paul also came down from Coffs Harbour, and a few lovely days were spent together. Merv was thrilled to be back on the ocean again when Gordon took them sailing in his yacht.
In late 2014 Merv suffered a major stroke, affecting his cognitive thinking, jumbling his speech (Dysphasia). Fortunately his limbs were not affected, but he was placed firstly in hospital at Windsor, followed by rehab in Nepean hospital before coming back home to be cared for by his children, Susan and Paul, for a time. Unfortunately, Merv was unable to continue living independently. The family decided to see if he would like to try living in the SDA nursing home (Kings Langley) where both his mother Myrtle and sister Pat had lived. His sister Betty was residing in the adjoining retirement village. Having had such an exciting and colourful life, he felt restless after a few weeks there and expressed his desire to live elsewhere where he could ‘stretch his legs’ as it were.
A phone call was placed to his oldest son Gary and Gary’s wife Janet, who were professional Carers, to see if they were interested in looking after Merv. After a little deliberation, it was decided that Gary retire from work to look after Merv full time. Merv enjoyed nearly two years with Janet and Gary, walking to the local wetlands opposite Gary and Janet’s home in Para Hills West SA; and, while his sight was reasonably functional, spent time push bike riding, travelling to local church people’s homes and some beautiful parks such as the Gorge, and St Kilda walkway, and even recently, a ‘Boat ride to Outer Harbour on the Port River’ along with extended family.
The highlight of his final few months, in early April, would have to be the experience of attending the wedding of his niece’s daughter Emily Newman, and her husband Jonathan Brown. He had just had another stroke and was recovering sufficiently to travel West by plane. Merv spent a most enjoyable holiday with Rosemary and John in Bunbury and at the wedding, held at Greenfield Tree Park, even though it rained and threatened to ruin the high spirits. An added bonus was time spent visiting his close next-door neighbours in Bridgetown, (Ray and Ros Samsa) with whom he has shared many good memories.
In July family and friends all gathered together again to celebrate a belated 80th birthday for Merv which he enjoyed immensely. For some, it would be the last time they would see him. A few days after this he suffered a third stroke and was back in hospital again. It took longer to recover this time, and when he did finally come back home he was noticeably weaker.
During the early part of November 2016, while lying in bed of the afternoon of Wednesday the 2nd, Merv suffered mild convulsions and another stroke. After some deliberation with other family members over the phone, it was decided to ring the ambulance and ask them for palliative assistance, realising this must be the end for Merv.
He was then taken by ambulance, to the Modbury Hospital, where, after top-class treatment, on the mildest of pain relief medication, he finally passed away peacefully, 5 days later on Monday the 7th of November, 2016.
We hope and pray to meet him at the Resurrection!
~ Compiled by Mervyn’s family
The poem below was written by Susan Lausevic for the funeral of her father. It was read in Adelaide at a memorial service on the 25th November 2016 and was also read at the memorial service in WA on the 16th January 2017.
Tribute to Dad
Dear Dad, You’ve reached the garden where the sun will shine no more,
But when you will awaken skies are bright forever more.
You will hear the Trumpet sounding, you will see your heavenly King,
And Dad, we’ll be beside you, we will all rejoice and sing.
Dear Dad, You’ve sheltered me through many storms
Shown me to love and respect the wonders of the ‘deep’
Even your name means “man of the sea”
And the happy memories by the water I will always keep.
Your home is now so lonely, so empty and so bare,
I can almost see you sitting in your favourite arm chair.
I see you with your head bowed low, the Bible in your hand.
Reading all your favourite texts about the promised Land.
Dear Dad your favourite hymn was sung when you were laid to rest
And Dad someday again you’ll be a very honoured guest.
You leave behind sweet memories of bright and happy days.
Once more we’ll be together to sing again in praise.
Goodbye dear Dad, we’re waiting for God’s resurrection Day