OLDEST WORKER: Werner Meinhold at 91 is still happily working.
OLDEST WORKER: Werner Meinhold at 91 is still happily working. Tracey Johnstone

Worker Werner cleans up at 91

YOU have got to admit it, at 91 Werner Meinhold can't help but impress those that meet him.

The German immigrant cleans homes in Canberra two days a week, working up to four hours each day. And he reckons he has another couple of years work in him.

It's not that he has to work, it's just that he wants to, and it keeps him fit.

"When I got married the second time to an Asian lady, she started cleaning," Werner said. "It was stupid that I would drive her there, so from that day on we cleaned together."

When the marriage ended, Werner kept cleaning.

"People my age go walking; I hate walking," he said. Once he has finished his cleaning jobs each week he thinks he is fit enough not to have to go walking as well.

"I think I will do it for another year or two," he added.

Werner's right when he says people don't believe he is in his 90s; he doesn't look like it. He puts his good health down to working hard all his life.

From age 10 didn't have parents and lived in an orphanage and then in a foster home. He learnt cabinetmaking in Germany when he was in his early teens, before he was sent to fight in WWII at age 16.

When he arrived back home from the war in Hamburg it was bombed out. There were few jobs to be found and only his grandparents still alive, that he know of.

At 18 he got a job in a coal mine in southern Germany, working 1000 metres below ground.

Then an advertisement in a Hamburg newspaper piqued his interest. "Sunny Australia; once I saw sunny, I said."

At 23 he set off with nine other young Germans on the free transport to Australia to work as a cabinetmaker for two years with the Snowy Mountains Scheme. "We were the ones that built the camp for all the other contractors," Werner said.

Werner landed in Melbourne on November 13, 1951.

He stayed on the job for about 18 months. Their living conditions were abdominal he said; no water and no toilets. "And when it rained or snowed, we didn't get paid."

Werner returned to Cooma where he found more cabinetmaking work with a Norwegian team.

Finally, in 1955 he settled in Canberra and never left. It was a small town with about 34,000 people, a police station and a pub, and plenty of job opportunities.

He made his family there, married a Latvian woman and set up a thriving house construction business.

Unfortunately, the "broken down builder" was then on the wrong end of a tough divorce and a nasty lawyer, which meant he had to start all over again. "It happens to a lot people, but you have to pick yourself up," Werner said.

He's made a good life in Canberra even though he eventually was able to find and connect with his other siblings who remained in Germany.

Werner regrets not staying in Germany when he was offered a very good job with a house at the coal mine and leaving behind his finance who he truly loved. "When you are young, you are stupid," he said with a smile.

His approach to every aspect of his life has been and still is, "if you want something, you have to work for it".

"When I come to work, I don't come half hour later, I come five minutes earlier," Werner said.

It seems a quick trip back to Germany "for the last time" is on the cards since his nephew makes teeth and Werner needs some free dental work he quipped.


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