Damien Peter Parer

Damien Peter Parer was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2019.

Damien Peter Parer (1912-1944), war photographer and cameraman, was born on 1st August 1912 at Malvern, Victoria. He was apprenticed as a photographer and subsequently was hired by Charles Chauvel as a camera-assistant in the making of the film, Heritage (1935). At Chauvel’s instigation, National Studios Ltd, Sydney, engaged Parer for the
shooting of Uncivilised (1936), The Flying Doctor(1936) and Rangle River (1936). Chauvel also hired him for the filming of Forty Thousand Horsemen (1940).

In January 1940 Parer, by then a photographer with the Commonwealth Department of Information, sailed for the Middle East and from the gunboat, H.M.S. Ladybird, he filmed the bombardment of Bardia, Libya in January 1941. With Frank Hurley, he covered the Australian assault on Tobruk on 21-22nd January. Three days later he accompanied ‘C’ Company, 2nd/11th Battalion, in its attack on the aerodrome at Derna, and shot his first film of infantry advancing under fire.

When Japan entered World War II Parer returned to Australia. After covering operations by Kanga Force around Wauan Salamaua, New Guinea, in 1942, he filmed the Australianwithdrawal along the Kokoda Track in Papua. On 18th September Cinesound Productions Ltd released the newsreel, Kokoda Front Line, which used his footage. Introduced by Parer, the film and commentary brought home to Australians the realities of the war in the Pacific.

The United States of America’s Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences commended the work in 1943 ‘for distinctive achievement in documentary production’ and later awarded an Oscar to its producer Ken Hall. In 1943 Parer’s footage was used in the Cinesound newsreels, Men of Timor, The Bismarck Convoy Smashed and—arguably his finest work Assault on Salamaua.

On 17th September that year, the second day of the invasion of Peleliu Island in the Palau group,Parer was killed by a Japanese machine-gunner; he was reported to have been walking backwards behind a tank to capture the expression in soldiers’ eyes as they went into action.

He was more than a combat cameraman and propagandist. His films were narratives about the human situation. They reflected his wide reading in the theory of cinema, especially the ideas of John Grierson. Parer’s record of the everyday lives of servicemen anticipated the cinéma-véritéstyle of documentary.

Damien Parer was and remains a legend in the eyes of all cinematographers, his work is respected and used as a benchmark, hence his induction into the ACS HALL of FAME. RIP Damien Peter Parer.