Book: Rebels and Reformers of the Airways

Rebels and Reformers of the Airways by REG Davies published by the Smithsonian Institution in 1987 is a substantial body of work. Ray Parer’s profile lacks substance though, glossing over key moments and misses out on what is great about Ray Parer and on how he shaped the air industry for Australia and New Guinea.

I won’t get into the full twenty-five mavericks of the establishment profiled within this book as we’re concerned with the fifteen pages (p383–397) REG Davies has to say on Ray Parer.

Overall it does its job as a biographical piece. It’s clearly researched from other publications and writing as it alludes to Ray’s character which was dogged, earthy and winsome, but without conveying any sense of this. REG Davies is clearly unimpressed with Ray’s management and business capabilities and this carries through in the writing which has a disparaging tone for the first 8 pages that borders on boorish at times.

The book leans heavily on the incredible research and writing Jame Sinclair conducted for his grand 1978 book Wings of Gold that focuses on the airline industry in New Guinea. There are a couple of pages within the book where REG Davies becomes clearly taken with Pacific Aerial Transport (PAT). It could have done with a heavy dose of the boys-own-adventure style of Flight and Adventures of Parer and McIntosh and some of his earlier life with a greater insight into Ray’s character and intentions.

With the Japanese invasion the author gleefully suggests Ray’s luck has changed, without ever realising many of his family and friends lived in New Guinea and were swept up in the invasion and evacuation. Certainly there is no mention of his youngest brother Kevin Parer who helped fly out so many locals to safety and in the end was killed in a spray of a Japanese Bero fighters deadly hail of machine gun fire trying to save his DH84 on the Salamaua airstrip.

It does finish well though:

Ray Parer left behind an indelible memory of an indomitable spirit and an endearing image in the hearts and minds of his peers. As the supreme rebel among a hard-bitten group who were themselves rebels, Ray Parer was unique and immortal

Ray was a romantic, adventurous character and none of this is revealed in Rebels and Reformers of the Airways. He is portrayed as a man who never quite lived up to his potential without ever alluding to his gumption, mechanical abilities or his innate understanding of flying in what is some of the most treacherous flying terrain. Something that captured the publics imagination and endeared him to all that met him. It’s a pity because Ray sits comfortably as rebel and shaper of the air industry.


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