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For Rose….

Pioneering family: The story of the audacious Parers of New Guinea

Kevin Parer in New Guinea, 1936MARY MENNIS MBE

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.

Damien Parer, 19427. 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.

Ray Parer with his entry in the 1934 MacRobertson Air Race, Fairey Fox I, G-ACXO2. 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

Comments

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Rob Parer

Under the story about the pioneering family, 'The story of the audacious Parers of New Guinea' of 23 March 2014, there was a comment by Martin Kaalund that Fr Adrien (Ferdy) Parer OFM changed his name to Fr Fabian Thom OFM after Vatican 2.

That is incorrect. These two different friars laboured for many years in New Guinea and both were of the Aitape Diocese.

Fr Fabian Thom OFM, a man of peace, was brutally murdered on Thursday 16 August 2001 at St Mary of the Angels Friary at 16 Mile Port Moresby.

Fabian was sleeping in his bed when rascals entered the house through the back door. They began stealing items from the house, entering the two offices that were on both sides of Fr Fabian's bedroom.

They entered Fr Fabian's bedroom and shot him while he lay sleeping in his bed. Fr Fabian lived for 38 years in PNG. His contribution to the people was always one of loving service. He never broke a law, never received a summons. He loved people and loved life.

Fabian was a man who was always traveling. He was always on the move. Some called him the "road-runner".

He knew where to catch every PMV, the timetable for every ship, and the schedule for the airlines. He knew these routes because he travelled extensively throughout PNG in his work as Vocation's Director, Retreat Master and Spiritual Director.

As a follower of St. Francis of Assisi, he always kept before him the directive of that saint: "When you travel about the world let your greeting and message be one of peace."
Fabian was certainly a man of peace.

Although it was no longer safe to travel around, Fabian kept travelling!

As the Franciscan Superior said, "We Franciscans are not only crying for our brother Fabian. We are also crying for all those other people who have become victims and targets of that evil spirit of violence, which has come into PNG and is rapidly destroying us."

Molly McCullagh

As an only child, I cannot follow who is related in what way...

Can you tell me how Damien is related to Ray?

I really enjoyed learning more about Damien's background.

Is there any chance of a family tree?

Martin Kaalund

Ray Parer sought isolation on a bush block above Widgee on the main range. This would have been late fifties or early sixties.

The McArthy family of upper Widgee occasionally visited him although it seems he liked his own company.

After this he moved to Mt Nebo. His shack was basic, with a large CGI fireplace. Little remains today.

Father Adrian (Fergy) must have changed his title to Fr Fabian after Vatican 2. Many of the fathers used more family names after this time; some did not change. Fergy was Fabian - an original family name?

Ben Parer

Quita Leslie,
I believe that the doctor in Lae would have been Kevin James Parer who was a doctor in PNG for many years. His father is the Kevin Parer mentioned in this article.

Marianne Payten

Thank you Mary for your wonderful research. Have just watched the film Parer's War and now checking the background, have found myself hearing your voice again!

William Dunlop

KJ, re Fede Meil Celtie: it's actually spelt "Craic".

Re Peter Turner and A N Others' stirring - Colonel Tim Collins is an iconic Irish warrior.

Enjoy your much earned trip. Have the odd nip of the good stuff, Iskebagh. I am also told the Black Jameson is a good drop. NFP Slante.

Quita Leslie

Fantastic information about this interesting family. I spent my childhood in Lae and have a memory that our GP was a member of the Parer family. Did a Dr Parer have a practice in Lae during the 60s and early 70s?

Ben Parer

Josef Parer's arrival in Australia from Monte Video - Telemarcho passenger arrivals - Empire newspaper - Wednesday 30 May 1855

SHIPPING INTELLIGENCE
ARRIVALS.
May 29.—Telemacho, Greek, brig, 233 tons, Captain G. G. Chupa, from Monte. Video March 5, ia ballast. Passengers-Mr. and Mrs. Dixstach, Messrs. Corneill, Parer, Tusto, Miss Jouvine, and 65 in the storage.

The arrival in this port says the " Empire" of a Greek vessel from the east coast of South America is a very unusual occurence, and speculations have been rife as to the design in sending the brig Telemacho from Monte Video to Sydney. Being of only 222 tons measurement, and arriving in ballast, it is very probable that her appearance here is only the consequence of her meeting with passengers desirous of trying their fortunes in Australia, and is not at all indicative of any prospective commercial enterprise.

Ian Frew

For Michele Kelly, September 2015 - I have found that ship 'Telemako or 'Telemcho ' & I see only the crew's names, approx a dozen, & mention of 62 passengers.

Did you find the passenger list? That is, how can you be sure Josep Parer was on that ship in May 1855?

Michele Kelly

Hi Ian Frew,
Unfortunately the information that Joseph Parer arrived in Australia on the Alabama was incorrect. He arrived on the "Telemacho" in Sydney from Montevideo on 29 May, 1855. I noticed that one of his sons was named Manuel.

Lynda Shale

I have a book in my collection that was owned by V Parer. His stamp is on the inside sleeve with a pasted information sheet re Damien Parer.

A book written by Burton Graham, None Shall Survive, about the war against Japan.

Just thought it would be nice to be in the family's hands if you would like it. I live in Brisbane.

Susan Rogers

I remember "Old" Dr Parer (Vince) well from Nundah. He delivered my first baby.

He was the kindest of men and it was lovely to chance upon this page and read of him.

I had no idea that the family had PNG (where I lived as a child) connections, other than Damien.

Gabriella Mounas (nee Parer)

My grandpa was Vincent, my Dad is his son Brian. I hope to find memorabilia of my grandparents.

Dad worked in the surgery for years, so did Mum & most of us six grandchildren, especially Angie.

I'd love something to pass on to my kids about Grandpa & Nana. Everthing has gone now. If anyone has something, anything, please contact me. Thanks.

Ian  Frew

Hi there Parers. Hopefully you have the family historian. My mother was a friend of Marie, Damien's wife from the late 1930's at DJ's in Market Street, Sydney - Mum died in 2012 .

I need to know whether any Parers hold a copy of Josef Parer's crew list on the ship 'Alabama' of 1855.

Why? I think just possibly a Manuel Roberto Garcia came with Josef. Manuel came from Barcelona very near Allella @ 1855 (same year) just possibly with Josef.

Manuel ended up in the Moreton Bay District, married a Johannah Anderson nee Reeves in November 1856. Moreton Bay became Queensland in 1859.

I think 'Alabama' was a whaler that came to Australia via Uruguay, Guam and maybe Lord Howe Island.

Carolin Newsham

I am a granddaughter of Doreen Parer Owen. This was a great read.

I must say I've always been proud to be associated with such a pioneering family.

Randall Mullins

For J Smith. I am the grandson of Dominic Mullins, the aircraft engineer you seek information about. My father James William Mullins has fond memories of his early years in Lae with his father Dominic and mother Grace. Dad and I followed in Dominic's footsteps.......we both had careers in the Royal Australian Air Force.

Marie Slyth

We heard that an Albert Moss was a partner in Ray Parer's New Guinea Highlands airline in the 1900s, but that Albert Moss died of Black Water fever in New Guinea in the 1920's. Would any of the Parer family remember Albert Moss in the PAT company?

Lana Whitney (Tairoff)

A most interesting family.

Pat Parer, Ray's wife and Michael's mother, drove from London to India via Afghanistan with her kelpie in the 1960's.

She was a feisty lady, small with reddish hair and a friend of my mother's in New Delhi. I ended up living with her after she moved to Hong Kong. I shared a flat with her and worked with her for a couple of years before she went to work in Vietnam.

Young Michael came to Hong Kong for a visit around that time. He must have been about 15. Pat would keep me amused by speaking Pidgin, which I loved. I believe she died in the 1980's.

J Smith

I'm looking for information on Albert William (Bill) Dominic Mullins who was an engineer New Guinea.

Mullins was on first plane to fly into Lae as an engineer to Guinea Airways. He spent a lot of time in NG.

I remember the Parer name being spoken about.

The book 'Gold Dust and Ashes' (Ion Idriess) referred to Bill Mullins.

Thank you.

Mrs Barbara Short

The ABC is advertising a movie that has just been made on Damien Parer.

Zorba Parer

Some excellent material, thank you for sharing. Kevin also published a memoir several years ago with some accounts of his time in PNG.

It is such an honour to be bound up in the ever-growing saga of the Parer clan, and always a pleasure to find new material to illuminate the stories of the past. Thank you again for sharing.

Mrs Barbara Short

What a legendary family! When I taught in PNG I loved using the Damien Parer films in my teaching. I forget where I found them - probably in the wonderful Catholic Mission Film library at Wewak.

Love the photo of Kevin Parer at the top. It says a lot.

Keith, I was thinking you need to have a section on your blog for a collection of great PNG photos - that capture 'that moment in time".
__________

The Typepad platform does have a photo album capability, but I'm afraid curating that is beyond the time I have available - KJ

Rob Parer

Firstly thanks to the legend Mary Mennis MBE and another legend, you yourself, Keith. You are supposed to be retired.

You are amazing what you have done in digging up the history of PNG. And the immense effort you have made to bring alive the next generation of writers/journalists with the Crocodile Prize.

How you have achieved this offshore is truly extraordinary. You have put them on the international scene which is more than can be said of our PNG newspapers.

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