Manuka Pool will be a little bit emptier without Merv and Beth Knowles.
While the pool has been empty during winter, it is full of the stories about the man who swam more than 25,000 laps there – the equivalent of swimming from Canberra to Woolgoolga on the Far North Coast of NSW.
Merv died last week on 14 July, aged 98. Beth died five days later, aged 93. They were married for 74 years.
In a letter written to their son Jeff and daughter Caryl in 2015, Merv and Beth outlined their intentions when they died: a minimal approach, a brief death notice, private cremation and no memorial service.
“Each of us came into this world as the youngest in our respective families without any fanfare and we would like to leave it in the same manner,” the letter said.
Jeff Knowles told Region Media this week he was happy to share his parents’ story, describing them as “a beautiful, loving couple” who raised their children with respect and dignity.
“Mum and dad were fairly opposite. Mum was deeply spiritual and mystic, and dad was very grounded,” Jeff says.
“Dad would say there’s enough to worry about down here without worrying about all that stuff upstairs.”
As one of the first residents of Empire Circuit at Forrest, where they lived for 57 years, Jeff says, “dad taught me heaps of things, really practical things like ways of being with people”.
“He was also really proud of his family.
“He was a beautiful man – caring, and a friend to many people because he was really open with them.”
Jeff recalls a story that he says summarises his father, who worked as the Australian Trade Commissioner while the family lived in Kastoria in northern Greece.
As they drove through a field, Merv Knowles stopped to investigate a noise coming from some pumps on a farm.
“In a full three-piece suit, he gets out of the car, jumps over a stone fence to go into the paddock to look at the pumps,” says Jeff. “They’re good quality German pumps, but he knows that the water there is really hard.
“But dad is thinking of Onga pumps in South Australia which are made for hard water.
“When we came back later to see how the pumps were going, he noticed the new pumps weren’t making any strange noises” – Merv had sold them Onga pumps.
As a young boy, Merv was there for the opening of the Manuka Pool on 26 January 1931. And Merv and Beth were there when the pool reopened after the summer’s bushfires in March this year. It was the last time Merv swam in his beloved pool where he and Beth will be remembered by all who stopped for a chat in what is known as the ‘philosophers’ corner’ at the shallow end of Manuka.
Merv swam there religiously, only missing a season if posted overseas. He was also proudly the first one in the pool for the season on at least four occasions. The Friends of Manuka Pool called Merv their number one ticket holder and inaugural life member.
“As we know, he was a lot more than that to many other people,” said close family friend Rebecca Scouller on behalf of the Manuka Pool committee.
“Merv’s love for Manuka Pool was infectious. He was its number one supporter and ardent defender. Merv was part of its history of club races, water polo and childhood shenanigans, was a much-loved member of our pool community and his legacy will live on into its future,” Rebecca said.
Merv was also a member of the ‘Coneheads’ at Manuka Pool, a group of elderly swimmers and their swimming caps, whose name is also the stuff of legend – be it from a photo of the men with pine cones at the pool, or of a comment by a couple of cheeky youngsters within earshot of their elders who quipped, “what are those coneheads talking about?”
“I often remember turning blue chatting with Merv and the other ‘coneheads’ across the pool lane,” Rebecca recalls. “These chats led to a friendship that extended beyond the pool as Merv welcomed me into his home where we drank tea and ate cake with his wife Beth. Sitting in their sunny kitchen we chatted about politics, family, the pool, and he would share stories of Canberra in its youth.”
While Merv’s affable nature made him a valued member of society, he did so with the support of his wife Beth.
Merv served with Rotary in Australia and abroad. He was also a foundation member of the Canberra Apex Club and part of the formation of Canberra High School. He represented Canberra in hockey in 1940 and 1941 and was club champion and captain of the water polo team at the Canberra Amateur Swimming Club in the same years.
In retirement, Merv served as president of the Canberra and District Historical Society and for several years as chair of the board for Blundells Cottage, a heritage-listed six-roomed stone cottage located on the northern shore of Lake Burley Griffin.
Merv and Beth Knowles were loving parents to Caryl and Jeff; grandparents to Simon, Christopher, Owen, Alex and Madelane; an uncle and aunt to Lesley; and friends to many.
There may just be a bit of fanfare for Merv and Beth Knowles, whose lives will be celebrated this coming swimming season as part of the Manuka Pool’s 90th birthday celebrations.