Xmas Down South: Part 2

In the lead up to Christmas I will be serialising, my dad, Michael S Parer’s book Xmas Down South. The book replicates the look and much of the content from a one-off family book that Damien produced for his parents for Christmas 1939 when they were living in Wau, New Guinea and he was in Melbourne, Australia. It gives an indication of what the Christmas period was like for the middle class of Melbourne at the time. Michael Parer adds a postscript which is the story of  Damien as he was known by the Parer family at large. The book was published in the summer of 1982 by Alella Books. I have not edited the text at all, it is as it appears in the book.

B0031 Stan, Papa, Ben, Fons, Doreen, Adrian, Nana, Cyril.jpg
The John Arthur & Teresa Parer family, 1910: Stan, Papa, Ben, Fons, Doreen, Adrian, Nana, Cyril

Damien Parer was born on 1 August 1912, the youngest child of John Arthur and Teresa (nee Carolin). He followed Alphonso who was born in 1897, Stanislaus in 1898, then a son who died in infancy in 1900, Doreen in 1902, Cyril in 1903, Benedict in 1906 and Adrian in 1910.1 John Arthur was an hotelier, or perhaps he could be more accurately described as an entrepreneur and a mathematician.

Founders of the Parer family in Australia
The First of the Parer’s to come to Australia, Juan, Philip, Tia (aunt) Pepeta (Cabus), Estevan, Juana (Triado), Joseph, Eulalia (Clota) and Francis.
Casa Gobernador, the Governor’s Castle at Alella in Catalonia, Spain.

John left the family flour mill at Alella just north of Barcelona in Spanish Catalonia at the age of 15 with two of his sisters, Marietta and Angeletta, aged 21 and 17 and embarked at Brindisi in Italy on the ship the “Ballarat” which had sailed out of London on 17 May 1883.2 With its 186 passengers it berthed in Port Melbourne on 30 November.3 John did not speak English and joined his brother Michael, who came in 1874 at the age of 15,4 and together they worked for their uncle Joseph who had arrived in May 1855 when 29.5 Francis, who came in December 1856 at 236 and Juan who came in January 1861 when 17 years of age.7

1950-Francis Parer's 50th Birthday at Box Hill Australia.jpg
Members of the extended Parer family in Australia gathered at the home of Francis Parer in Box Hill, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia to celebrate his 50th birthday in 1885.

Back Row L-R: Tony Barbeta, Augustus (Gus) Barbeta, Peter Barbeta, Salvadore Parer, James Parer, Francis Parer y (his birthday), Joseph Parer y Bosh, John Parer y Renom, Stephen Parer y Renom, Felipe (Philip) Parer, Anthony Parer y Bosch, Michael Parer y Antonio, James Triado, James Rubira (Jnr). Second Row L-R: Francis Barbeta, Lideo Barbeta (Allingeringh), Delores Barbeta, Mary Parer, Layetta Clotta (Layatta an bree), Minnie Parer, Mary Anne Parer (nee Pinckney – Joseph’s second wife), child on tree – Gwenda, Teresa Parer, Josepha Parer (nee Clota – Stephen’s second wife), Rosa Josefa Maria (Rosetta) Parer (married Philip Parer), Marietta Barbeta (nee Parer), Maria Parer nee Carolin, Juana Triado nee Parer, Frank Rubira. £rd Row L-R: Gus Barbeta, Rose Barbeta, Marie Barbeta, Frederick Parer, Alfred Parer (died at 15), Charles Parer, Paul Parer, Frank Parer (son of Stephen’s first wife Jane Stephens), Frances Parer y Arenas, John A Parer y Arenas, Jack Triado, Dr Tony Triado 4th Row L-R: Stephen Barbeta, Dr Jack Parer, Dr Isodor Parer, Dr Phil Parer y Clotta, Joseph Parer y Clotta, Michael Barbeta y Parer, Teresa Triado, Rose Triado

In 1858, the Parers opened the immediately successful “Duke de la Victoria” Hotel and Restaurant at 91-93 (changed after 1890 to 208-210 Bourke Street with its “three stories, Italian style forty-six feet frontage, 45 bedrooms, dining hall, private dining room for ladies, sitting rooms and bar parlours”,8 as the licensing records described it. In 1875 they bought the “Temple of Pamona” at 95 Bourke Street9 and added this to The Duke.

John began work at The Duke in its rather grand splendour. William Higgins was cellar man. His ship had collided and was sunk in Sydney Harbour. He was delayed in Melbourne where the shipping company required him to give evidence at the inquest. Although the shipping company offered his job back after the inquest he declined as he had struck up a close friendship with Michael Parer.

Among the regular frequenters of the Duke were William Angliss, the meat supplier and John Paul Carolin, son of a ship’s carpenter and receiver in 1840 of one of the 500 medals struck for the children born to free citizens in Hobart. He was Mayor of Bendigo for two terms, a photographer from Kyneton and later importer of sewing machines and road making equipment and generally an energetic entrepreneur.10 He was concerned about the bullock heaps along the alluvial flats in Sandhurst and noticed that a a strange red fruit thrived in the clay soil. They were tomatoes. JP Carolin went to Box Hill to visit Francis Parer’s farm and see his tomatoes under cultivation. Consequently he brought seven families from Spain to grow crops of this new fruit, Francis gave his tomato sauce recipe to Leggo in Bendigo and also to a jam maker, Hoadley. It was Hoadley who introduced Michael Parer to Maria Carolin.11 JP Carolin and William Angliss became very close friends of Estevan Parer who ordered all the hotel meat from Angliss.12

JP Carolin and his wife Mary (nee Corcoran) had five beautiful teenaged daughters, Maria, Agnes, Teresa, Winifred and Vera, and two sons, John and William. Their mother would bring three of the girls at a time to the Melbourne Opera and stay at Hosies or The Duke.13 In 1886 Michael married Maria, in 1890 William Higgins married Winifred and then on 21 November 1895 John married Teresa.14

Theresa Carolin and John Arthur Parer wedding photo-21 November 1895-St Kilda, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia.jpg
Theresa Carolin and John Arthur Parer wedding, 21 November 1895, St Kilda, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

Bernard Parer recalls that JP Carolin married Mary Corcoran as he was “struck by her when he saw this little black girl, she must have been dark”.15 Josie Lynch tells of her talks with Ray Parer about an obscure family tradition. Mary’s first daughter was christened Maria which was the name of the dreaded penal island off the east coast of Tasmania.16 There are unconfirmed stories that her grandfather was a convict sent for the term of his natural life at the turn of the century and who escaped from Maria Island, lived with the Oyster Bay Tasmanian aborigine tribe and his child was Mary Corcoran’s mother. She was placed by her father, with a Hobart family and married in the 1830s. Mary was her daughter, “this little black girls” who married John Paul in 1860. Unfortunately this exciting tradition does not fit the documents that we have thus far traced. The marriage certificate number 98 at Kyneton Catholic Church shows John Paul, 25, a carpenter and Mary 21 were married on 5 December 1861.17 Mary was born at Tipperary in Ireland of John Corcoran and Elizabeth Spillane. John Paul was born in 1836 in Hobart Town of Hugh Carolin and Margaret Gilchrist. Hugh came to Australia from San Francisco as a ship’s carpenter and set up a business as a carpenter and cabinet maker in Hobart. He had a brother, a methods minister, the Vicar of Wivenhoe in Northern Ireland.18

In 1885 after two years in Melbourne, John Arthur upped his age to 21 and successfully applied with William Higgins for the licence to run the restaurant at the Melbourne Exhibition Building following the 1880 World Fair. Within three years they made enough profit to purchase two hotels – the Gippsland in Swanston Street and the Old London Inn on the corner of Flinders Lane and Market Street.19

Each Sunday afternoon the Parers would meet at the Fitzroy Gardens to talk of news from Alella, the next members of the family planning to come to Australia, how harmonising and clapping. They told how small crowds and the police gathered around.20

During the next six years John shared in and witnessed the success of his family. As he began at the Exhibition Building, Francis had left the Melbourne hotel to begin his vegetable garden and orchard at Box Hill to supply the hotels with produce. He remained a bachelor and Marietta went to tend his home where he courted and entertained his many friends and guests.21 Juan, Martin Arenas, who arrived in 1857 at the age of 22 and the brother of John’s mother.22 Estevan who arrived 1857 at 17,23 and Filipe who arrived 1861 at 20 and who married his first cousin Rosa Parer in 188724 all went into partnership as Parer Brothers. They purchased the freehold of Nissen’s Cafe at 103 Bourke Street and turned it into Parer’s Crystal Palace.25

The Jubilee History of Victoria and Melbourne lavishly described this in 1888:26

The stately structure, which is built on land with a frontage of 33ft, and depth of 313ft, cost £60,000 and is a marvel of taste and design. It comprises saloon, cafe, club-rooms, billiard-rooms, etc, and its costly fittings dazzle the beholder and make him wonder whether he has not entered fairyland. Its wealth of mirrors so fantastically arranged, its tessellated floor, glittering tables, refreshing fountains and artistic draperies, remind one of the magnificent structures of a similar kind which grace the capitals of Europe and America; none of which, however, can surpass this latest addition to the Cafe Palaces of the World.The entire building is supplied with alarm bells and all the latest conveniences and appliances, including a fire-proof staircase. An idea may be formed of the immense accommodation at their disposal when it is state that they have ample room for 685 persons and possess a staff of 77 servants and the magnitude of their business may be gleaned from the fact that two tons of meat, 700 loaves of bread and 350lbs of butter are consumed daily, the total provisions required averaging 18 tons per week. The magnificence of this Cafe and the attention and forethought manifested in every detail, have made the names Messrs. Parer Brothers a by-word throughout Australia and visitors are ever loud in their praises of them. Situated in the heart of the city, the Cafe supplied the wants of all classes, from the haughty resident of Toorak to the bushman from the “back blocks”; is indispensable to the traveller and the business man, and from every point of view justly deserves the title it has received as the leading Cafe in the Southern Hemisphere. Recently, Messrs. Parer Brothers have added a magnificent banqueting hall to the Cafe, capable of seating 150 persons; and this, with the excellent private dining-rooms at their disposal, make the place the most perfect of its kind in Australia.

John Arthur spent the rest of his life managing hotels and restaurants and testing his mathematical theories at Monte Carlo. He speculated in land at Wonthaggi believing the coal deposits would turn it into another Rhur Valley, but went bankrupt in 1911.27 Unable to conduct business in Victoria his brother Michael arranged for him to take over his Parer’s Hotel on King Island.28 Michael, also bankrupt in Victoria, went to Tasmania and established hotels in Hobart and Queenstown. A Bob Bowling had just returned from Monte Carlo with a “system” and books with all the successful numbers at each table for the previous year. John then began to devise his own system and would work out his tables and figures down in the cellar away form the distractions of the children.29

In 1911 when Teresa found she was pregnant once again she felt a strong rejection of the child; and she had her hands full with six children between fourteen and one. She went to Malvern for Damien’s birth and returned on the small boat with the new baby who quickly won affection in the family with his outgoing temperament and joyful disposition.30 Adrian was his closest companion as they played amid the open and windswept plains of King Island under the tutelage of Connie Robinson and under the influence of Father John Goodman, the priest who occasionally come from Tasmania to celebrate mass in the Hotel until John Parer chaired the committee that constructed the Catholic Church at Currie. His first task was to drive the priest around the island in his jinker to collect money. Father Goodman said that he knew of no one with a greater devotion to the Blessed Sacrament than John Parer.31

Parer's Hotel-King Island.png

Michael Parer returned to Melbourne and with Will Higgins bought the Royal Mail, but after a few years decided to put their money into dinner clubs and bought the Savoy and Frankatelli. But with the War six o’clock closing was introduced and they lost heavily. Michael had to sell his home at 9 The Avenue, Windsor and his four youngest children, Josephine, Bernard, Mary and Kevin were sent to board with Loretto nuns at St Aloysius College, Portland. As soon as the war ended in 1918 John left for Europe and Ben, Adrian and Damien were sent to the same Portland convent. It was the only one to take boys. Damien remained with them four years.32

With the children thus cared for John immediately left for Monte Carlo to try his mathematical system. The family memories put the number between three and thirteen and each time he returned penniless but with his faith unshaken in his system. He just lacked sufficient capital to give it a fair chance. On each return he applied to the bank for a new loan or support from the family33 for a new opportunity and a successful new beginning. Years later he said to Stan, “I would give my right arm to go back and prove my system.”34

Phonse and Stan were left in charge of the hotel. In his absence they negotiated its sale. On his return their father held out for a further one thousand pounds, but he never accepted the sale and then leased the hotel at Walla Walla in the Riverina which Phonse and Cyril managed. Cyril had to get special permission as he was under age. He soon sold the lease and moved to a cafe in Albury that was run by Teresa and Doreen. At Albury his sister Marietta had pouches for her son Mick and Alma Barbeta the Town Hall Hotel from the sale of her Crystal Palace shares to William Angliss.35

End of Part 2.

You can read Part 3 here or  Part 1 here


  1. Family Tree prepared by Adrian, Father Ferdinand Parer and Bernard Parer in 1956. Begun by Josephine Parer and referred to in letter from Lieut. BD Parer. Angua, DB Dura, 24 November 1944.
  2. Certificate of Naturalisation of John Arthur Parer. Australian Archives CRS, A728, Vol. 3, Page 12.
  3. Nunn, HW, Keeper of Public Records, Public Record Office, Department of Property & Services, letter dated 8 October 1980, Melbourne.
  4. Certificate of Naturalisation of Michael Parer, Australian Archives, CRS, A728, Vol. 3, Page 12.
  5. Wheatley, J.P. Pearson, J., Australian Archives, letter of 4 September 1980, Reference No. A1980/666. Victorian Directories, 1860-1902 held at Latrobe Library.
    Shipping Records, Keeper of Public Records, Nauru House, Melbourne. Details searched in files February 1981, tabulated M. S. Parer and now in family files.
    Certificate of Naturalisation of Joseph Parer. Australian Archives, CRS, A727, Vol. 3, Page 248.
  6. Certificate of Naturalisation of Francis Parer. Australian Archives, CRS, A728, Vol.3, Page 91.
  7. Certificate of Naturalisation of Juan Parer, Australian Archives, CRS, A728, Vol. 3, Page 92.
  8. Hotel Licensing Records kept at Latrobe Library, Melbourne. Obtained March 1981. Page 13 under “Duke de la Victoria Hotel and Restaurant”.
  9. Hotel Licensing Records kept at Latrobe Library, Melbourne. Obtained March 1981. Page 13 under “Temple of Pamona”.
  10. Bernard Parer audiotaped interview in Brisbane, October 1979. Page 26 of transcript. Confirmed telephone conversation 28 March 1981.
    Michael S. Parer, Introduction “The Haunted Rendezvous”, in Selected Poems of Bertram Higgins, Alella Books, Geelong, Summer 1981.
  11. Josephine Lynch (nee Parer) audiotaped interview 16 August 1980. Page 28 of transcript.
    Bernard Parer audiotaped interview Brisbane, October 1979. Page 28 of transcript.
    Adrian Parer, Father Ferdinand, audiotaped interview, Melbourne, 3 September 1980. Page 2 of transcript.
    Bernard Parer unpublished manuscript of Parer Family. Brisbane 1970, Page 3 of transcript.
    Mick Barbeta undated letter to John S. Parer, approximately 1970.
  12. Bernard Parer notes for telephone conversation 16 March 1981 and audiotaped interview, 10 October 1979. Page 10 of transcript.
    Stanislaus Parer interview with John Garthan Parer, 4 June 1972.
  13. Josephine Lynch (nee Parer) audio recorded interview, 16 August 1980. Page 15 transcript.
  14. Bernard Parer audiotaped interview Brisbane, 10 October 1979. Pages 9 and 29 of transcript.
    Doreen Owen (nee Parer) audiotaped interview Brisbane, 7 November 1979. Page 6 of transcript.
    Mollie Parer (nee Yates) audiotaped interview Brisbane, 25 November 1979. Page 8 of transcript.
  15. Bernard Parer audiotaped interview 30 October 1979. Page 26 of transcript and telephone conversation 29 March 1981.
  16. Josephine Lynch (nee Parer) telephone conversation 17 March 1981.
  17. Marriage Certificate, J. P. Carolin and Mary Corcoran, No. 98, 5 December 1867, Catholic Church, Kyneton.
  18. Bernard Parer telephone conversation 29 March 1981.
  19. Hotel Licensing Records kept at Latrobe Library, Melbourne. Obtained March 1981. Age 209, under “Gippsland Hotel” and “exchange Hotel”, Page 214.
  20. Bernard Parer unpublished manuscript of Parer family, Brisbane, 1925, Page 6
  21. Bernard Parer, audiotaped interview 30 October 1979. Page 3 of transcript.
    Sir Lionel Lindsay, “Comedy of Life”. Visit with Tony Clota to Francis Parer at Box Hill.
  22. Certificate of Naturalisation of Martin Arenas, CRS, A728, Vol. 1, Page 65.
  23. Certificate of Naturalisation of Estevan Parer, CRS, A728, Vol. 1, Page 70.
  24. Certificate of Naturalisation of Filipe Parer, CRS, A728, Vol. 3, Page 92.
  25. Hotel Licensing Records, kept at Latrobe Library, Melbourne. Obtained March 1981. Page (14a) under “Nissen’s Cafe” and “Crystal Cafe”.
    Sir Lionel Lindsay, “Comedy of Life”. Visit with Tony Clota to Francis Parer at Box Hill. Angus & Robertson, Sydney, 1972.
  26. The Jubileee History of Victoria and Melbourne, Vol. 2, Page 55, 1888, Melbourne.
  27. Stanislaus Parer audiotaped interview June 1980.
    Doreen Owen (nee Parer) audiotaped interview 7 November 1979. Page 12 of transcripts.
    Bernard Parer audiotaped interview of 30 October 1979. Page 4 of transcript, Part 2.
  28. Stanislaus Parer notes from conversation 11 March 1982.
    Josephine Lynch (nee Parer) audiotaped interview 16 August 1980. Page 7 of transcript.
    Leo Parer, “Reminiscences of King Island” 25 August 1948.
  29. Stanislaus Parer conversation Brighton, 28 March 1981.
    Bernard Parer telephone conversation 29 March 1981.
  30. Adrian Parer, Father Ferdinand, audiotaped interview in Melbourne, 4 September 1980.
  31. Stanislaus Parer audiotaped interview June 1980.
    Mollie Parer (nee Yates) audiotaped interview Brisbane, 25 November 1979. Page 9 of transcript.
    Adrian Parer, Father Ferdinand, audiotaped interview in Melbourne, 4 September 1980. Page 7 of transcript.
  32. Bernard Parer telephone conversation 30 March 1981.
  33. Vincent Parer audiotaped interview Brisbane, 10 October 1979.
  34. Stanislaus Parer notes from conversation 11 March 1982.
    Mollie Parer (nee Yates) audiotaped interview Brisbane, 25 November 1979. Page 9 of transcript.
  35. Bernard Parer telephone conversation 30 March 1981.



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