THE Parer family, originally from Alella in Spain, were the anchor of the Catalan community in Australia for 50 years.
The first brother to leave Spain was Josep, who decided to migrate to South America in 1851, following his sense of adventure and eye for business. He left Montevideo in Uruguay on board the Alabama and landed in Australia in 1855.
A year later, his half-brother Francisco joined him and they started breeding poultry in Petersham near Sydney, but the business was not successful. They decided to move to Bendigo looking for gold and finally settled on the banks of the Yarra River, a tent town to cope with the rapid expansion of Melbourne during the gold rush.
It was their entrepreneurial character and perseverance, and also a spark of luck, which triggered the start of the Parer Empire in Melbourne. In less than 40 years they invested in more than 30 hotels and restaurants. And they are believed to be the first people to commercialise meat pies in Australia.
Josep and Francisco were the pioneers of the Parer dynasty in Australia. Seven of their brothers and sisters, nephews and friends of the family joined them, which is where the family tree gets complicated.
At the outbreak of World War II, there were about 26 Parers living in New Guinea with many being children. Let's take a close look at those branches of the family.
John Arthur Parer married Teresa Carolin in 1895
John and Teresa Parer decided to go Wau in the 1920s after hearing stories of New Guinea from their nephew, Ray. It seemed a great place to build a hotel and bar for the many goldminers who had no proper accommodation. This hotel became a meeting place for all the Parers in New Guinea before the war. However, John insisted on the best furnishings for the hotel plus a billiard table imported from Australia. He overcapitalised the enterprise and did not make much money. All was lost in the war.
1. Fonse Parer (1897-1947) went to New Guinea where he managed Parer Air Transport (PAT) for his cousin, Ray. Fonse also mined for gold but contracted tuberculosis and had to be carried from Maprik to the coast. Later he was manager of the Plaza Hotel near Wynyard Station in central Sydney. Fonse died in 1947 two years after the end of the war.
2. Stan Parer (1898-1988) set up the Stanford X-Ray Company. One of the first jobs he did was at St Vincent's hospital repairing the x-ray machine which set him on his chosen path. Stan married Catherine Irene Gartlan and had four sons, John, Michael, Bill and David. David began as a scientist and took up photography. He received the Australian Film Institute award four times for the best cinematography for a non-feature film. These included a film on the Huli people of the Southern Highlands of PNG in 1980 titled Bird of the Thunder Woman, and another on the Galapagos Islands in 1998, Dragons of Galapagos.
3. Doreen Parer (later Owen) (1902-89) was the only girl in the family. As a young woman, she spent time in New Guinea helping her father, John Parer, run the bottom hotel in Wau. Coming back on leave, she met Jock Owen who was managing a copra plantation on Buka Island in Bougainville. By the time the boat reached Melbourne, they were engaged. Doreen and Jock had nine children - seven girls and two boys: Patsy, Timothy, Josephine, Judith, Peter, Margaret, Dorothy, Anne and Mary.
4. Cyril Parer (1903-86) went to New Guinea looking for gold. Later he teamed up with his cousin, Bernard Parer. They joined the army together in the Australian and New Guinea Administrative Unit (ANGAU) with the job of building a road from Buna to Gona. They had 1,000 New Guineans working under them because they had the ability to handle the people and spoke fluent Tok Pisin.
They were made Lieutenants in the army and were told if they were made Captain they would have to go their separate ways, so they never aimed for that. Cyril once said, "I’m never going to get married while Mum and Dad are alive," but within a fortnight he was engaged to Marie Fogarty. They had two children: a son Terry, a pharmacist who married Jennifer Delahunty, and a daughter, Pepita. Cyril and Bernard, managed Karlai plantation on Wide Bay in New Britain for many years.
5. Ben Parer (1906-72) spent time in New Guinea before the war with Parer Air Transport (PAT) owned by his cousin Ray. After the war he stayed with Fr Ferdy Parer for a time at Aitape. He also managed Toriu Plantation in West New Britain for a while for Bernard and Cyril.
6 Fr Adrian (Ferdy) Parer (1910-1997) spent years as a pioneer missionary in the Aitape area. From 1946 to 1949 he was at Warapu mission where the people lived on the land between the Sissano Lagoon and the sea. Fr Ferdy was told a story by the old chief as to why they had moved to this place which had been destroyed by landslides and subsidence in the past. They had originally lived inland near their gardens where a church had been built before the war. All was safe and peaceful until the catechist had an affair. His angry wife set fire to their house and the church was also burnt down. Many people died and the villagers moved away to the coastal strip.
Ferdy enjoyed the time near the beach but many years later in 1998, the whole village was wiped out by the huge Aitape tsunami which tossed people, trees, and village houses into the lagoon. From 1949-53, Ferdy was posted to the Lumi area and thence to Wati and Nuku. It was during this time that he did the 5th E Course teacher training program in Rabaul.
7. Damien Parer (1912-44)(pictured) became a famous wartime photographer and cinematographer. He was appointed as official movie photographer to the Australian Imperial Force. After filming in Libya, Greece and Syria, he travelled to Tobruk in 1941 covering the fighting in the western Desert.
By mid-1942, Damien was in New Guinea ready to cover the fighting against the Japanese. Together with war correspondent Osmar White, Damien undertook an arduous journey from Port Moresby by schooner to the mouth of the Lakekamu River and then by canoe 60 kilometres to the foot of the Central Ranges. They went along and over a track being built which went up over 10,000 feet.
It was the supply route for the Kanga Force based at Wau and over a thousand PNG villages worked on it plus 500 carriers taking supplies including ammunition. It would take the carriers two weeks to do the grueling trip. When they got to down to Wau, Damien went into Doreen’s home and found presents he had sent from the Middle East.
When his newsreels were shown in Melbourne a lady told Mollie she was in a New Guinea newsreel. Damien had swung the camera around Doreen's walls and there was a photo of Mollie with the twins. During this phase of the war, he filmed some of his most famous sequences, most notably, those used in Kokoda Front Line.
Damien was killed in 1944 by Japanese gunfire while filming a US advance on the island of Peleliu. Damien's death was a tremendous shattering blow to his family. He was buried first on Palau Island and later re-interred in the Ambon Cemetery.
Michael Parer married Teresa's sister, Maria Carolin
They had nine children: Leo, Ray, Vin, Tony, Bob, Mary, Bernard, Josephine and Kevin many of whom had long associations with Papua New Guinea.
1. Leo Parer (1892-1968) was the oldest child and he successfully managed the Stanford X-ray Company with his cousin Stan. He headed the Sydney office, lived at Clifton Gardens and had three children.
2. Ray Parer (1894-1967) (pictured) was the first of his generation of Parers to achieve great fame on an individual basis. Known for his love of adventure, Ray had joined the Australian Flying Corps in World War I when he was in his twenties.
After that war, the Australian government offered a prize of £10,000 for the first flight from England to Australia. Ray Parer paired with John Mackintosh and although leaving well after the event had been won, they arrived in Darwin on 2 August 1920.
Their aircraft was an Airco DH-9 and theirs was the only other entrant to successfully complete the race. Just as they had taxied down the airstrip at Darwin, the plane ran out of fuel. Ray Parer and Mackintosh were acclaimed as heroes and the Parer family was bathed in the reflected glory. Ray was later awarded the Air Force Cross for his feat.
Ray was the first of the Parers to go to New Guinea. He shipped two aircraft to Port Moresby – a Bristol fighter and a de Havilland DH9 - hoping to be the first commercial pilot in the country but someone else got in first.
He was a pioneer of aviation in New Guinea, a hostile environment for aircraft. Pacific Aerial Transport (PAT) was formed with the Parer family holding all the shares. PAT was later sold to Carpenters who renamed it Mandated Air Lines which was later acquired by Ansett.
In the 1920s, aircraft were increasingly being used to access the goldfields at Bulolo and Wau. Ray set up a business there, and is reputed to have been the first pilot to fly over the Owen Stanley Range.
Through his encouragement, many other Parers went to New Guinea and were connected with flying or prospecting. In his later life, Ray lived on Mt Nebo in Queensland and could often be seen sitting outside the Post Office ready to greet and chat to his neighbours. When he died in July 1967, there was a fly past of three aircraft over Pinaroo Cemetery.
Mike Parer, son of Ray, wrote of his own experiences in Papua New Guinea:
My mother, Pat and I arrived in PNG in 1956 from Brisbane on board the MV Soochow. We docked at Rabaul on a jetty made from a World War II shipwreck. Growing up in PNG before independence was a magical experience - there were World War II wrecks to explore, as well as tropical beaches and forests and the people loved children.
I went to a Convent School in Rabaul and the school community was Australian, Chinese, Portuguese and mixed race children. Holidays were often spent at Karlai plantation with Uncle Bern and Cyril where I learned to drive when I was about eight.
The plantation was a great place for a kid to fish and swim and play with the native children. Most of my ten years sojourn in New Guinea was spent commuting to boarding schools in Cairns and Brisbane. We left PNG from Port Moresby in about 1960. Mum went to Europe and I went to school in Brisbane.
I returned to PNG as Branch Manager of Talair in Kiunga in 1985 and was amazed at the changes that had happened during my 25 year absence but also very relieved that at last I had returned to transact a kind of unfinished business with this wild beautiful place.
Kiunga had a reputation of the toughest place to be in the Talair network of 50 bases and it was a massive culture shock from Sydney where I had been a motorcycle courier as Branch Manager I was expected to run the base and coordinate an operation of 3-4 aircraft and crew from Kiunga to about 25 out stations in the Western Province.
After about 18 months I had the base running well and was transferred to Goroka to run the fuel control section of Talair. After a year there I was transferred to Nadzab near Lae to work as Operations Coordinator which I loved very much. After 18 months there I decided I had had enough of living in razor wire spot-lit compounds and resigned to return to Sydney.
3. Dr Vince Parer (1895-1982) became a doctor and practiced at a number of Queensland locations including Mt Perry, Bundaberg, and later in Brisbane's Wickham Terrace and Nundah. He married Benedicta and had four children. Vin helped Mollie and Bob settle in Brisbane after they were evacuated from New Guinea during the war.
4. Dr Tony Parer (1897-1971) was a partner in the Stanford X-Ray Company. Later Tony sold his share to Stan and left to study medicine at Melbourne University. Tony had a medical practice in Maleny and then in Chermside, Brisbane, for many years. He married Peggy O'Keefe and had three children. He helped John and Teresa Parer and Doreen and her family when they were evacuated from New Guinea in 1942. Quite a group of Parers lived in Maleny during the war years.
5. Wilfred (Bob) Parer (1899-1977) spent much of his life in New Guinea. He arrived in 1929 as a mechanic for his brother, Ray, in the airline business for the Pacific Aerial Transport Service also known as Parer Air Transport and then turned his mind to gold-mining in the Wau area. When on leave he called in to see Mollie Yates whom he had known since the King Island days. He had an amusing way of proposing to her.
One day he said gleefully, "Guess what, I'm going to get married!"
"Oh! Congratulations!" replied Mollie, sadly "Who's the lucky girl?"
"You are!" he replied, laughing.
Bob and Mollie were married in 1933 and had their honeymoon at the Black Cat, an alluvial gold mine between Salamaua on the coast and Wau in the mountains. It was an exhausting walk from Wau to Black Cat. Mollie had to be carried over wide rivers and slippery log bridges. The little hut that was to be her new home had a dirt floor and thatched roof, which meant no water.
When Bob's partner asked Mollie what she would do the next day she answered, "I'll look for a place for a grave, I'll never walk over those mountains again. I'll stay here until I die". The rice was brought in bags which she emptied to make door coverings. The kerosene used to come in four gallon drums and out of the cases Mollie made shelves.
The Black Cat life was too rough for family life and, after twins Robert and Carolin were born in Wau in 1937, Bob moved the family to Wewak. Here he built a freezer business, installing an ammonium plant, and stored freezer items for the Burns Philp ships.
Bob and Mollie opened up their home to the many gold miners when they came to town. Mollie loved Wewak and she had another set of twins, Sheila and Ian in 1940. A planter in Madang bet Bob a carton of expensive French champagne he wouldn’t have another set of twins. When they were born, he duly sent the carton of wine to Wewak.
6. Mary Parer (1903-82) married a New Zealander, Emmet Shiel, and had three daughters, Lorelie, Gonza and Andree.
7. Bernard Parer (1905-97) initially worked for PAT in Wau. He then prospected in the Upper Watut and down the Sepik River with alluvial gold mining. He was a good friend of Mick and Dan Leahy, pioneer explorers of the Highlands. Before the outbreak of the war, Bernard and Cyril worked on the Mubo Track over the 10,000 foot high Central Range from the Papuan Coast to Wau.
During the war, Bernard worked with ANGAU alongside Cyril. After the war they managed Karlai plantation in New Britain for the Bishop of Gilbert Islands. They owned Toriu Plantation in Wide Bay and employed a manager there. They also had the San Remo Plantation and the manager's home eventually became the San Remo Club at Kimbe.
Fr Kelleher was on Guma Catholic Mission Station about 15 kilometers from Karlai Plantation where Cyril and Bernard had built a small church. Robert remembers Fr Kelleher saying midnight Mass there in 1952 when the six of the Nudgee Parers were having a Christmas holiday. Bernard spent 49 years in PNG.
8. Josephine Parer (1906-97) spent most of her life in Melbourne and married Philip Lynch. However, she spent some time in Wau helping Ray and had a Miners Right in her name, holding it for him or some other miner she had befriended.
9. Kevin Parer (1909-42) (pictured at the top of this story) married Nance McGahan and had four children, Warwick, Kevin Jnr, Mary-Pat, and Helen. Kevin was killed in the war by a Japanese air attack. After evacuating the women and children to safety, he returned to Salamaua. He was repairing his aircraft when there was an unexpected Japanese air raid.
A newspaper report at the time (1942), said: "Mr. Kevin Parer, who conducted an air service in New Guinea, has been killed in a Japanese attack on Salamaua. Mrs Kevin Parer, who is now living at Warwick (Qld), received news of her husband's death yesterday, in a letter from Father Glover, priest at the Catholic Mission at Wau (New Guinea). Mrs. Parer was one of the 300 people evacuated from New Guinea in December. Her husband flew her with other evacuees from Salamaua to Port Moresby."
Kevin Jnr worked first in Aitape for his uncle Bob in 1954 and then ran a plantation for Bernard and Cyril in West New Britain, Later he studied medicine in Australia and had a practice in Lae before moving to Brisbane.
These accounts of the Parer family were abstracted from interviews I had many years ago with Mollie Parer and with Fr Ferdy Parer OFM when writing his biography, ‘Ferdy’. Robert (Rob) Parer, who now resides in Brisbane, was also a fund of information