remembering my father

2023.07.28 (updated : 2023.08.27)

My father, Helmut Werneburg, died this morning by a scheduled injection administered by a nurse. He requested this end after lung cancer had made his life a living hell. He was eighty-four years old and had long since made all the arrangements for the coming end.

When I look back, I see that my parents kicked off several of my life-long interests over the years. My parents inspired my interest in the natural world, but my father was the one who started my interest in geography through things like meteorology and maps and explaining the landforms around us. I was hooked at an early age by what I saw through his eyes as a glider pilot and did my first degree in Geography.

I also followed his lead in photography, and he and my mother encouraged my interest in writing. The interest in writing was supported by a typewriter I received for Christmas around 1978. My photography started with various cheap pieces from both grandfathers but my first "real camera" was my father's old Minolta SRT-101 that made me a Minolta user - and an almost daily photographer - to this day.

My father's travels were an inspiration, and my father's moving to a new country at seventeen was something I would follow myself (I'm currently on my third stint of living abroad).

And then there were the computers. Each of my parents brought home personal computers at some point. From my mother, it was a Commodore 64. My father ordered a Sinclair kit that was more or less a toy, but it really taught you how the components went together. On one I learned to program, from the other I learned how hardware mattered. My father brought home IBM PC's at different points, and he also helped me buy my first PC while visiting me during my first year of university.

I don't know if I would have found these things on my own, but they've remained my main interests. I wrote the software that runs this website, I wrote all the content and took all the photos, and I built it on hardware that I assembled. I've made my living in technology, a thirty-year run that enabled the remote living.

I was lucky enough to see him one last time just these past couple of weeks. He was, of course, a shadow of his former self and he couldn't stand prolonged visits. We had a only small and innocuous interactions over the ten days I was in town, and I was able to run some errands. Honestly, it was all a year or two late. The superficial nature of our interactions reflected our relationship throughout my adult life. He was a very walled-off person, sharing very little about his life and expressing no emotions other than perhaps anger and resentment. As a friend pointed out, you just have to accept your parents for their flaws and keeping my father's emotional limitations in mind was a cornerstone of my relationship with him.

accepting the man

My father was born in Germany six months before World War II was also born there. A lot of his personality was shaped from his childhood, which sounds like it was hell. He shared virtually nothing of life with me directly, but my Oma (grandmother) shared some things with my mother that got to me. He spent his early life in bomb shelters and then the occupation.

born in Germany in March 1939 -- what could go wrong?

His father was a violent, alcoholic tyrant who did what he could but those years instilled in my father many unhelpful resentments and self-imposed limitations. The war years were of course really bad, and included the death of my father's only sister at the age of a month in 1944. No one ever told me that story, I suppose I'll never know. The post-war years in Hanover saw the necessary rebuilding of a city that had been completely flattened. The economy was so poor that my father had to leave school before completing high school in order to bring in income.

In fact, he'd been working from an early age. It was of that time that I heard one of the few stories of his life. He said, "When I was twelve, I had a job watching bricks dry," he told me. Expecting a story about the value of work or something of that nature, I was surprised when he concluded, "it was boring as hell." I only heard half a dozen stories from the man about his entire life, and I only heard that one once.

my father and his brothers

So he struggled with problems not of his making, and then became an immigrant to a new land, Canada. At that time, Canada didn't like Germans but found itself flush with them. The family worked as itinerant farm labor for several years. My father became an electrician by trade, and also leased a fruit farm where his parents hired seasonal labor to produce apples, peaches, wine grapes, and many other fruits and berries. He'd married my mother by the beginning of the seventies and I came along immediately - and I mean immediately - after. An electrician could make good money in the sixties in Canada, and he had quite a variety of interesting jobs including working on the ships that plied the Laurentian Great Lakes. I recall vividly that he was on one of them when the Edmond Fitzgerald sank in 1975 and my mother was glued to the radio. As a working-class immigrant, he perhaps learned a new set of resentments.

ready or not...

Work was a constant factor in his life, managing a productive farm and taking jobs as a freelance electrician throughout the seventies, then moving into permanent positions throughout the eighties and nineties. I don't think he ever really had a break until he retired. He passed the exams to become a master electrician when I was in high school; I can still recall his putting in the endless hours, working with books but also hands-on equipment. Many years later, I would find myself doing a masters degree at around the same age - mid-to-late forties - and I would remember his being a better student at that age than I was in high school.

the famous glider pilot

All of this is not to say that he didn't have time for his life outside of work. He was a champion glider pilot, and as of his death retains Canadian records in soaring:

He won his first mention at national competitions in 1965 as "best novice",then in 1966 as the junior partner to Peter Trounce, with whom my father remained friends until Peter died in 2017. He was runner-up at the national competition in 1972, winning the "The Hawkesbury Chamber of Commerce trophy" for that showing. My father won national championships 1973, 1977, 1979, and 1980. (After that his brother Ulli won some eight times over the next twenty years.) He competed internationally as well, and was in Canada awarded the Wolf Mix award for outstanding achievement in international competition in 1973 and 1977. In 1983, he finished 9th in the world competitions in his class.

All of his competing was very exciting for my brother and me. We didn't know any other dads that were competing in something internationally. And we got t-shirts!

happy boys in Beamsville -- Daddy's back!

My uncle submitted the following memorial to the Soaring Association of Southern Ontario, the Toronto-area gliding club that my father helped found in the 1960s:

"Final Glide - Hal Werneburg

I am sad to report that my brother, Hal (Helmut) Werneburg, passed away this week after a short battle with cancer.

Hal was an outstanding pilot, both in gliders and power aircraft, but was particularly successful in soaring competitions and record flying. He was a long time member of SOSA Gliding Club where he began his gliding career at Brantford in 1961. In a succession of different gliders, starting with a Schleicher Ka 3, a Schleicher Ka 8b, to a Std. Cirrus, Mini-Nimbus and then Ventus he made many exceptional flights in southern Ontario and later in southern Alberta.

In Ontario, he pioneered use of the lake breeze effect off Lake Erie and made many plus 500km out and return flights in the Std. Cirrus and the Mini-Nimbus. In Alberta, flying from CuNimb, he made many long flights including an 803km FAI triangle flight with his Mini-Nimbus which is still a Canadian record today, 41 years later.

However, Hal was equally accomplished as a competition pilot. He won 4 Canadian championships in the Standard and 15m racing classes and had many other top finishes. He represented Canada 4 times at World Championships, achieving a 9th place finish at the 1983 competition at Hobbs, New Mexico, flying his Ventus B.

In later years he did a lot of towing and enjoyed soaring competitions in that way. His employer made a number of attempts to infringe on his free time with shall we say mixed results.

Hal was a great teacher and mentor for me, in life and in soaring, making an indelible impression with his calm, positive and determined attitude. He contributed a lot to soaring in Canada, as an instructor, tow pilot and as the long time FAI representative for the Soaring Association of Canada. He was always generous in sharing his wealth of knowledge and experience with up and coming pilots. Write-ups of some of his exploits can be found within the pages of “Free-Flight” and they make for fascinating reading.

He was an enthusiastic, dedicated and long time member of the Canadian soaring community whose accomplishments and contributions will be well remembered."

the contradiction

One of the curious things about my father was that someone who spent so much of his life raising hell - at home, at work, and in his day to day interactions - was always viewed as so "easygoing" at the gliding club. That was the word we'd always hear from the gliding crowd and it was mystifying to me. I worked with him for two summers in my student days. He had such poor relationship at work that I heard things like, "You'll regret this, Werneburg!" and "No offense, Michael, but your Dad is a real piece of work." His employer would, at one point, bring in a psychologist, and someone informed my mother that it was because of Dad.

He was so impatient and irritable that we would have poor chances of actually eating should we go to a restaurant. We'd be seated, we'd probably have ordered, but something would go wrong and Dad would be in a fit before we'd eaten. On these occasions, he'd storm out and the rest of us would follow. I once saw him so agitated in a restaurant that he couldn't sit with us and he paced around the booth the entire time. He would have been in his early sixties at that point.

And at home; where do I start! My teen years were spent with worsening problems at home, in which my father had left no stone un-turned in his mis-handling of the situation. For a taste of his parenting style, I'll submit the following Twisted Sister video.

Whoever wrote that bit, well they knew. At some point in the late seventies, my father would start ranting about how none of us - his thirty-year-old wife who was raising two kids aged 7 and 5 - would amount to anything and how weak we were. It escalated over the years in many ways, so that morning greetings were wary and the only respite in the day was the time after we got home and before he did. This was the brief time when we could see our friends. When he drove up the driveway, they'd bolt through the front door. As he'd enter the back door, they'd circle the house to get their bikes, then they'd be off. Then dinner would invariably be tense and the nights would be marked by screaming. There was a lot going on between my parents, and while I was marked for mostly verbal/psychological abuse, between my father and brother it was like a running war. My final year of high school was in a state of constant tension and trepidation. I decided to go to university, and my mother arranged for me to stay with her father and step-mother in St Catharines, Ontario. Starting university on my own in a new province knowing nobody and nothing was a bit tense, but nowhere near a Friday night or Saturday or Sunday at my house.

I think that PTSD was likely a big factor in all of this, and quite possibly also "burnout" from work (real burnout, not just being overwhelmed). Both of these are difficult to live with and he did not have the resources to deal with them. And so it would go, worsening year by year.

As adults, we made the effort to get together periodically, with mixed success. I wouldn't see too much of the old man, with two long stretches of no in-person interaction even running to five and two-and-a-half years, respectively. It was the same for my brother. There wasn't much my brother or I could discuss without his becoming irritated at whatever we said, and there he seemed to tire of our presence after mere hours. All of the patience and easygoing nature he'd be credited with didn't apply to his children, somehow.

my brother and father at a typical impasse

Toward the end he mellowed, of course. But he never seemed to grasp that feeling emotions around us was OK, and that if he felt an emotional response he should let that happen. I never heard him express any pride in us or love for us until I sicced a secret weapon on him: I had my then-four-year-old daughter run up to him and say, "I love you Opa!" He responded, "I love you, too," and that was how I learned he could say the words.

my father holding my irresistible secret weapon

on fatherhood

My dear friend Arnon pointed out that my father was doing what he could with precious little material to work with. His drunken hell-raiser of a father had given him no insights, and my father's generation tended to pursue their own passions wherever they led. My father was by no means alone in de-prioritizing the family, or in his resentments or his inability to connect. He was probably closer to the norm in those days.

I've tried to make a lot of decisions based on the counter-examples of my father and grandfathers. The two grandfathers expressed a lot of regret at the end, and I took some of the things my maternal grandfather to heart - such as not putting work before family. My own father was quite incapable of imparting anything heartfelt (his dying advice was, "Don't let the bastards get you down!") but I do believe that I've corrected for several things that I found hurtful or aggravating. Specific examples include:

In a lot of this I have the example of my mother and my paternal grandmother.

final word

My father was a difficult man and father, who had a lot to share with the world but no ability to deal with those close to him. I was very grateful that he was able to remarry and find a happy life for more than twenty years with a new family. I was also very proud of his work and his contributions to soaring. And as I've said, he inspired me in a lot of my interests.

I can't undo the 'chaos' of my upbringing (to use a psychologist's words, around 1998) but I can acknowledge everything that my father (and all my ancestors) went through, which made them what they were. And I do have the ability to "pay it forward" to my own kids, so I do. Parenting is insanely difficult and you can only do so much but I'll do it.

An obituary has been published here.

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Should have included the word Root (S) especially because of the laugh that Aussies get when they see some mad Canadian wandering around Oz proudly wearing a ROOTS shirt!

2003.03.26 00:00:00

Thanks, Nicole. That never occurred to me. IIRC, both the Canadian and US teams went to 'Stralia with 'roots' brand clothing in 2000!



Dear Micheal,

Thank you so much for your pages about Oz. I am Canadian and my boyfriend is Australian, we had a great laugh at your Aussie words. haha. Anyways, I am trying to go to Austrlia next year to work. You said that the IT industry was easy to get a job with. I was wondering when you went? What kind of qualifications did you need? Is it true that you can only work for 3 months at one job with the WH visa? I really appreciate your help.



Erin Crowe
2004.01.15 00:00:00

I hope you got my email, Erin.

In short, I think in your case (esp with the Aussie boyfriend in tow) you'll be fine turning up on a tourist visa.


Web Site

Just wanted to say thank you for putting up your web site. I read and looked at just about everything you had on OZ, and I found it entertaining and informative. I like your writing style as well. Your site is one of the best ones I have found with regards to what Canadians can expect when they visit or work in Australia. You've done a fine job.

2003.05.07 00:00:00

Thanks for your comments. It was my pleasure to do so.


Probably moving to Sydney

Hey there...great page! I'm from Toronto and my husband is from Sydney and we currently reside in Las Vegas (pity sucks beyond words). But we've had it and are seriously looking into up and moving to Oz in about a year or so.

So I've been surfing around looking for precisely your kind of info and advice for Canadians going to Sydney. I already knew a lot of what I read here because we visited for 6 weeks in 2000, but it's a good refresher and there were definitely things I didn't know. So thanks!

Mind you, I'm well aware of the whole "roots" thing and I, for one, find it quite amusing to wear Roots Canada gear in Australia. It's even got the extra entendre of a beaver (not that Aussies seem know of that particular sexual slang). :)

I sent your translation page to my hubby and in-laws so maybe they'll learn to decode what I'm saying!


-- Kimberly Chapman

Kimberly Chapman
2004.02.02 00:00:00

Thanks for your comments, Kimberly. Good luck with the move!



Sorry but as a working class Englishman, im sick of the ozzie attitude towards my fellow country men. Pommie this and pommie old is that! You Canadians however are the friendliest people i have ever should be proud ..unlike the Ozzies you DO have a great country...and no chip on your shoulders like the "okkas". Sooner Oz becomes a republic...the better!

Carl T
2003.10.10 00:00:00

Not sure what 'okkas' refers to, but I've found quite a bit of friction between the Aussies and Brits. I suspect the Aussie snobbery to the UK comes from their ancestors having been booted out over often trivial matters.


Aussie! Aussie! Aussie! Oi! Oi! Oi!

There's a story behind that chant.

One of the SOCOG members (Sydney Olympics Committee), who was seen to be an up-himself twat, was asked in a doorstop interview outside a hotel or somesuch whether he knew of any chants or supporters songs. He replied that whatever happened, he hoped it wasn't something like "Aussie! Aussie! Aussie! Oi! Oi! Oi!".

Australians will do anything to spite an elitist pratt.

2003.12.13 00:00:00

Hmmm! Great story, that.

I never saw that, while down there. All I got was the incessant chanting. I liked Australia, but that chant really gets under your skin after a while.


victoria, melbourne

how's it g'arn

what da ya mean victorians are snobs?

if you ask most australians that have lived, or visted, both melbourne and sydney, they will probably tell ya that melbournians are heaps nicer than people from sydney.

we aint that english either, we've just got more culture than sydney (theres that rivalry ya talkin 'bout), melbourne is the the most strong representer of non-stereotypical aussie culture, and some of it is very unique like aussie hip hop(only connection to america is the words 'hip' and 'hop', here the similarites end) and other such things. we are a lot more multicultural than sydney, and that backwards racial, and sexual view that you talked about, is alot more blured in melbourne, it aint such a big deal. melbourne is often neglected in the area of tourism, 'cause we get 4 seasons in one day, and don't have beautiful sunshine all the time. but if ya thinking of coming to australia, you should check the place out (it's a very different place to sydney), might give ya an insight into the fact that not all aussies (in fact very few) are red necked, crocodile wrestling, ignorant, morons who don't know anything.

catch ya later

2003.12.18 00:00:00

Wha? Where does it say that Melbournite are snobs? I liked Melbourne, and I liked Sydney. I think if I were heading to Australia again, I'd probably choose Melbourne, but that's mostly cause I've "done" Sydney....



it's so good to see a webpage like this. as, for canadians, like me. i love it there in australia. friendly people(like here), beautiful places (like here), perfect weather ( not so quite like here) but, basically,we are similar.

2004.01.09 00:00:00

We are, it's true.


Aussies too laid back

I am tripping to Canada in a couple of months. Having worked in the U.S. i noticed a huge difference in that Americans all turn up to appointments. One third of all appointments in Australia (in my business) just won't turn up. Of those that do a good number will come with no money and an excuse asking to pay at another time. I think that this is because being a socialist country we have bred the attitude of everything should be free. Whatever it can be frustrating.

Having said that Australia seems to have a much higher level of culture than America. Better coffee, food and so on and also a lot cleaner. Also Australians seem a lot better skilled at what they do than the Americans. I think this is because Aussies think on their feet where as Americans learn what they need to know inside and out but not more and not less.

What are Canadiand like for keeping appointments?


Chris Fawkes
2004.04.09 00:00:00

Have a great trip in Canada!

Canadians and appointments, what can I say. Sometimes I think Canadians need queues and appointments or they collapse in a panic.




i am 15 and live on the beautiful northern beaches of sydney. i work at a boat hire place on pittwater. people from all over the world come to hire the run-about boats. i meet all of them and i have to say that the canadians are the most friendly of em all. When they go fishing they always return the boats clean, unlike some. They are always the most cheery and happy people. When i speek to them they are always positive and love our surf culture and how everything is so relaxed. The only thing that is strange is they have no understanding of our sense of humour.

I have been to the loss angeles, new york and Hawaii. I have met so many americans and they are the most stupid people on earth. They have no cencept of the out side world and believe america is so great and powerfull. One mum in a spa in hawaii thought that australia was a country in Europe. I could have slapped her. Canadians and aussies are similar in that they both know there is a world out there besides their own and they go out an explore it. Also the main sport in australia is rugby union, not AFL that is for sissys.

nick h
2004.06.04 00:00:00

That's a rather diffuse rant! And still so young. I'm glad the Canadians you've dealt with have treated you well. Having lived in Australia, I can empathise with the lack of understanding on the sense of humour. Humour is a national sport, I think.



I find it funny that I hear Americans described as unapologetic bigots and yet never hear Americans making such statements against Australians or anyone else that seems to be the rule, rather than the exception in this forum. If "Nick" was my age and not the unwise 15 that he is, I'd clobber the son of a bitch. You people really need to check your egos, including the writer. Sorry if I appear sensitive. I just don't dig on what is essentially racism aimed at me because of where I was born, especially by those who claim to be so tolerant.

new yorker
2004.07.12 00:00:00

I wasn't really writing about Americans, "new yorker". I'm glad you have some perspective on the source of the comments that offended you. I can't apologize on that party's behalf, I'm amazed that you read any bigotry into my words.

P.S. I *hate it* when people don't leave their email address.


about me

So how is your business going? BTW I read "The Ambassador" which you posted... I found it entertaining and well written, for the most part. Did you have anyone review your work for you, i.e. like a professional manuscript reviewer? I am thinking of sending my manuscript off to a person in Australia, just to get a unbiased opinion on plot, character development and overal writing style.


2009.07.27 00:00:00

The new business is going quite well indeed. I'm currently learning how to make a modern web design work on IE6. 8(

Thanks for the feedback on the short story.


rand()m quote

Some people see things that are and ask, Why? Some people dream of things that never were and ask, Why not? Some people have to go to work and don't have time for all that shit.

—-George Carlin