WILLIAMS, MERVYN LOUIS (1902-1980), boxer and sports
writer, was born on 12 March 1902 at Aramac, Queensland, son of Charles
Williams, station overseer, and his wife Delia Isabella, née Phillips, both
Queensland born. Educated at Ipswich Grammar School, Merv was State amateur
middleweight boxing champion at age 17 and undefeated when he turned
professional at 18. He worked as a blacksmith's hand, miner and breadcarter
to harden his medium build.
In 1922 Williams defeated Max Gornik for the Queensland middleweight title,
the first of his three State championships. Williams never gained a national
title, losing at his last attempt to George Thompson, the Australian
heavyweight champion, in April 1930. A skilful combatant with a formidable
right cross, by then Williams had competed tenaciously with a damaged hand
for six years, regaining the State middleweight title against Harry Casey, a
spoiler, in July. A bored crowd booed them, one man hurling a bottle. Lured
from retirement by a purse of £100 in December 1931, Williams was pounded to
the canvas seven times by Fred Henneberry at Leichhardt Stadium, Sydney.
To supplement his income, Williams sold cars in Sydney, and then managed
hotels 'where I had more fights than I ever had in the ring'. In 1932 he
moved to Melbourne. At the Preston Presbyterian Church on 21 May that year
he married Floris Elizabeth (Betty) McAlley, a photographic employee. For
the next six years he refereed at the Fitzroy and West Melbourne stadiums.
After a close contest in May 1938, he ruled that an overseas boxer, Claude
Varner, had defeated the heavily backed Australian featherweight champion
Mickey Miller. Williams's decision caused a riot and his employers, Stadiums
Ltd, promptly sacked him. Because the fight was close, he could have
followed the wishes of the spectators and crowned Miller but he stated that
'a referee who gives decisions to suit the crowds is true neither to himself
nor to the fighters'.
The Sporting Globe immediately hired Williams to report the rematch. In his
article he fearlessly suggested foul play; Varner's aggression and superb
in-fighting skills were strangely absent causing him to lose. Thereafter,
Williams covered all sports for the newspaper, as well as producing a weekly
report on boxing. He wrote and spoke flamboyantly, one article in 1939
describing a boxer as being 'as cool as the tip of an Eskimo's nose'. The
cigar-smoking, joke-cracking Williams, whose black-rimmed glasses were
pinned by ears thickened from boxing, broadcast his 'Mervisms' on radio
3DB's 'Sports Forum', and later on HSV7's 'TV Ringside'. Tired and beaten
boxers 'couldn't run out of sight on a dark night', 'swayed like a jelly in
a wind', or 'had less chance than a crippled prawn in a flock of seagulls'.
Williams's integrity and his fatherly advice to boxers were notable and were
informed by his view that pugilists did not enjoy fighting; to them it was a
job. As a fighter, referee and journalist, he was known as 'Mr Boxing'. He
raised funds for the Royal Children's Hospital, describing his involvement
as 'one of the greatest and most rewarding of all life's tasks'; from 1960
to 1964, when he suffered a heart attack, he carried out the strenuous,
year-round duties of director of the Sporting Globe-3DB-HSV7 Good Friday
Appeal. Predeceased by his wife and survived by his only daughter, he died
on 6 January 1980 at Heidelberg and was cremated with Anglican rites.
Brisbane Courier, 15 Feb, 5 Apr, 5 May, 21 July 1930; Sydney Morning Herald,
24 Aug, 5 Dec 1931, 9 Jan 1980; Sporting Globe, 18 May, 1 June 1938, 22 Jan
1980; Herald (Melbourne), 5 Mar 1960, 13 Apr 1963; Sun News-Pictorial
(Melbourne), 8 Jan 1980; Williams papers (National Library of Australia).
Author: Richard Broome
Print Publication Details: Richard Broome, 'Williams, Mervyn Louis (1902 -
1980)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 16, Melbourne University
Press, 2002, p. 554.
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