About the Kokoda Track: 1942 and Today
Damien Parer is Australia's best known war cameraman...
Side Trip: ‘Parer's Oscar’
In 1943, Damien Parer was awarded one of four Hollywood Academy Awards presented for wartime documentaries. Parer filmed his award-winning documentary in New Guinea when he was employed as a cinematographer in the AIF Film Unit, part of the Department of Information..
His film Kokoda Front Line won an Oscar in 1943. Parer was killed the following year while filming United States Marines in battle.
Damien Peter Parer was born in Melbourne on 1 August 1912. As a small boy he wished to become a photographer or a film-maker. Prior to World War II he moved to Sydney where he found employment with the film director Charles Chauvel.
In 1940 Parer became an official war photographer. He went to the Middle East and filmed the Australians at war in Greece and North Africa. He returned to Australia in 1942.
Parer's next assignment was on the Kokoda track. Caught up in the Australian retreat after Isurava Parer had to abandon much of his equipment. He retained the rolls of film he had shot and they became the basis for Kokoda Front Line, a documentary which won an Academy Award. For the first time this film showed Australians at home what conditions were like for their soldiers along the track.
Side Trip: ‘Parer's Last Reel’
‘The Commanding General, Fleet Marine Force, Pacific, has received a report of the interment of one "Parren Damien", who was killed in action 17 September, 1944, by multiple mortar fragment wounds and was buried 19 September, 1944, in Grave 78, Section 2, U.S. Armed Forces Cemetery No. 1, Peleliu Island, Palau Islands’.
Later Parer filmed the fighting at Timor and Salamaua and flew in Australian Beaufighters to record the Battle of the Bismarck Sea. Parer's film can be seen in the Cinesound newsreels Men of Timor, The Bismarck Convoy Smashed and Assault on Salamaua.
In August 1943 he left the Department of Information and took a post with the American company Paramount News. His first assignment was filming the United States Army Air Force in action in New Guinea. In 1944 he again returned to Australia and on 23 March married Marie Cotter.
His next assignment was with the United States Marines. He landed with them on Guam and Peleliu. Parer believed that to capture images of the faces of men in battle it was necessary to be close to the front line, sometimes even in front of it. On 17 September 1944 he was doing just this. His back was to the enemy, as he filmed marines advancing, when he was killed by Japanese fire.
Chester Wilmot, war correspondent and friend of Parer, wrote to his widow: ‘He was such a fine man as well as a brilliant photographer. He made the camera speak as no other man I've ever known and his films gave an immortal portrait of the Australian soldier of this war.’