Damien Parer

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Damien Parer
Photo of Damien Peter Parer.jpg
Born1 August 1912
Died17 September 1944(1944-09-17) (aged 32)
Peleliu, Palau
Cause of deathKilled in action
OccupationAustralian cameraman and award-winning war cinematographer
Spouse(s)Elizabeth Marie Cotter
ChildrenDamien Parer

Damien Peter Parer (1 August 1912 – 17 September 1944) was an Australian war photographer. He became famous for his war photography of the Second World War, and was killed by Japanese machine-gun fire at Peleliu, Palau. He was cinematographer for Australia's first Oscar-winning film, Kokoda Front Line!, an edition of the weekly newsreel, Cinesound Review, which was produced by Ken G. Hall.

Early life[edit]

Damien Parer was born at Malvern in Melbourne, the seventh child of John Arthur Parer, a Spanish-Catalan-born hotel manager on King Island and his wife Teresa, the daughter of JP Carolin a Tasmanian and Mary Corcoran from Tipperary, Ireland. In 1923, he and his brother Adrian were sent as boarders to St Stanislaus' College in Bathurst and St Kevin's College, Melbourne.[1] He joined the school's camera club, and decided that he wanted to be a photographer, rather than a priest. However, finding a job as a photographer in depression-era Australia proved difficult, so he resumed his education at St Kevin's in East Melbourne. While at this school he won a prize in a photographic competition run by the Melbourne newspaper The Argus, and used the money to buy a Graflex camera used by professional photographers.

Parer obtained an apprenticeship with Arthur Dickinson. He said later that he learned most about photography from Dickinson and Max Dupain. He finished his apprenticeship in 1933 and, in mid-1934, obtained work with the director Charles Chauvel on the film Heritage, where he met and became friends with another up-and-coming filmmaker of the time, John Heyer.[2] In September 1935 Damien was offered and accepted via telegram the Assistant Cameraman position on Chauvel's film Rangle River. At the conclusion of that film, and with the help of Chauvel, he obtained work in Sydney, and so moved there in 1935.


Australian 39th Battalion troops returning to their base after battling the Japanese at Isurava, Papua New Guinea, 1942

By World War II, Parer was experienced at photography and motion pictures, and was appointed as official movie photographer to the Australian Imperial Force (AIF)

Still frame from The Bismark Convoy Smashed (1943). Flight Lieutenant Ron "Torchy" Uren of No. 30 Squadron RAAF takes a drink from his water canteen while in the cockpit of his Bristol Beaufighter during the Battle of the Bismarck Sea. Parer flew with him to record attacks against Japanese ships

His first war footage was taken on HMAS Sydney after it had sunk the Italian cruiser Bartolomeo Colleoni. Soon afterwards, he was aboard HMS Ladybird while it was bombarding the sea port of Bardia in Libya. His first experience at close quarters was during a troop advance at Derna.

Parer filmed in Greece and in Syria, covering the action from aircraft, the deck of a ship and on the ground with the infantry. After Syria he travelled to Tobruk once again on the Ladybird in August 1941 before covering the fighting in the Western Desert. By mid-1942 Parer was in New Guinea ready to cover the fighting against the Japanese. Together with war correspondent Osmar White, he undertook an arduous journey by schooner, launch and on foot from Port Moresby to Wau via Yule Island, Terapo and Kudjiru, in order to document the efforts of the meagre forces then fighting on the northern coast of Papua New Guinea.[3]

During this phase of the war, he filmed some of his most famous sequences, some at Salamaua and, most notably, those used in Kokoda Front Line!. This documentary won its producer, Ken G. Hall, an Academy Award for documentary film-making.

Damien Parer shot footage during the Battle of Guam that won him a posthumous Headliner Award from the American Journalists' Association.[4]

Parer was killed on 17 September 1944 by Japanese gunfire while filming a United States Marine advance in Palau on the island of Peleliu.[5]

Damien Parer's body was initially buried in a shallow grave on Peleliu but later exhumed and moved to Makassar War Cemetery, Celebes, South Sulawesi, Indonesia after the war in 1946. It was then moved to its resting place location in Ambon War Cemetery, Pandan Kasturi, Kota Ambon, Maluku, Indonesia when all the graves in Makassar were relocated there in 1961.[6]


He married Elizabeth Marie Cotter on 23 March 1944, and his son, also named Damien, was born in 1945, 6 months after his father had died. Parer was a Catholic.[1] The younger Damien became a film and TV producer.[7]

In popular culture[edit]

Fragments of War: The Story of Damien Parer was a 1988 telemovie for Network 10 directed by John Duigan with Nicholas Eadie as Parer.

A second television film called Parer's War, starring Matthew Le Nevez as Parer and Adelaide Clemens as Marie Cotter, directed by Alister Grierson,[8]premiered on 27 April 2014 on the ABC.[9]


Damien Parer is credited for the following films:[10]

His outstanding films with Paramount News from the end of August 1943:

  • The Landing at Tarawa (1943)
  • The Landing in the Admiralties (1944)
  • The Invasion of Hollandia (1944)
  • I Saw it Happen (1944) the invasion of Guam


  1. ^ a b McDonald, Neil. "Parer, Damien Peter (1912–1944)". Australian Dictionary of Biography. National Centre of Biography, Australian National University – via Australian Dictionary of Biography.
  2. ^ McDonald (1994) p. 13
  3. ^ Osmar White, Green Armour, Penguin Books, Melbourne, Australia, 1992
  4. ^ Neil, McDonald (2012). Kokoda Front Line. Level 12. 207 Kent Street, Sydney NSW 2000, Australia: Hachette Australia. pp. 334–335. ISBN 9780733629600.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: location (link)
  5. ^ "Damien Parer: He died how he lived". Parer History. 16 August 2018. Retrieved 19 August 2018.
  6. ^ Ben, Parer (16 August 2018). "Damien Parer He died how he lived". WordPress.com. Retrieved 19 August 2018.
  7. ^ Damien Parer at IMDb
  8. ^ "Parer's War". IMDb.
  9. ^ "Parer's War". ABC TV.
  10. ^ Legg, Frank (1963). The Eyes of Damien Parer. Adelaide, Australia: Rigby Limited. pp. 48–50.


External links[edit]