Alumni memoir on the Rev Werner Pelz
Sometimes the bonds we make at university can last a lifetime. Alumnus Dr Roger Averill has documented his special, yet unlikely friendship with an acclaimed La Trobe academic in his memoir, Exile: The Lives and Hopes of Werner Pelz.
Roger's first encounter with the Reverend Dr Werner Pelz occurred in the mid 1980s in the Sociology Department at La Trobe Bundoora. Werner was Roger’s assigned supervisor - a warm and quietly charismatic European émigré who held endless fascination for a young man from Melbourne’s northern suburbs. “He spoke of a world I had only read about,” explains Roger (pictured left with his baby daughter and Werner).
Roger’s relationship with Werner endured beyond university and continued until Werner’s death in 2006. Over the years they shared milestone events, met each other’s families, and discussed life, death and the human condition over long Sunday lunches.
Werner had indeed lived many lives before arriving at La Trobe in the 1970s. Born into a secular Jewish family in Berlin in 1921, most of his family did not survive the Holocaust. Werner escaped to England but spent two years in internment camps, which started him on a spiritual quest leading to theology studies and then becoming an Anglican vicar. Disillusioned with the conservatism of the Church, he spent time on a Kibbutz in Israel and also became a columnist for the Guardian and a BBC broadcaster.
Roger describes his novel, Exile as part memoir, part biography, documenting Werner’s early years, his time at La Trobe University and right up to Werner’s death. Werner emerges from these pages as a haunted genius - a man of grace and complexity.
“It was a strange relationship in that there was a huge discrepancy in our lives and ages, yet it seemed the most natural thing. Werner was insatiably curious about people and ideas. He was a brilliant conversationalist, but he didn’t need to dominate, he wanted to hear the opinions of others – particularly his students,” says Roger.
Of his time at La Trobe in the early to mid 1980s, Roger recalls a highly stimulating learning environment with a very cosmopolitan group of academics hailing from the four corners of the globe. “I remember my time at La Trobe as like a golden age – it was such an exciting time,” says Roger.