Two brothers: A chance meeting

Damien Parer had an unlikely meeting with his elder brother Cyril in Winima Camp in the Bulolo Valley on 29 June 1942. A snap of this chance encounter was likely taken, by Osmar White, Damien’s journalistic companion.

On the 28 June 1942, Damien Parer had just completed the arduous Bulldog Track over 21 days. He was accompanied by journalist Osmar White and a group of almost one hundred native carriers.

Damien and Osmar had departed Port Moresby on the “Royal Endeavour” on 2 June and arrived two days later at the mouth of the Lakekamu River for several days of unloading supplies to Terapo. Between the 8-14 June they canoed up the Lakekamu River to Bulldog with the full compliment of local carriers.

1942-14 June-3929779-BULLDOG CAMP, NEW GUINEA. 1942-07. VIC HELTON AND DICK PAUL, OLD
Osmar White dispenses medical care at Bulldog on the morning of 14 June 1942. Among other medical care he undertook was removing an eye, a finger and dispensing palliative drugs to a terminal patient. Photo: Damien Parer.

Osmar White described the group:

“We made a start from Bulldog at nine o’clock. It was late, but there was a long sick parade and the carriers were difficult to load equitably. There were 93 in the line. we undertook the responsibility of getting them through to Kudjiru, tending those who were sick, maintaining discipline, preventing looting of cargo and judging disputes. The line was carrying something over a tonne of ammunition, tents and mail for the 5th Independent Company. Most was packed in one-man loads of 40 to 50 pounds. Some of it was in two-man loads of 90 pounds lashed to a pole”

From Bulldog they trudge overland following the Eloa River till its end and then up along the Bulldog Track to its finish at Kudjiru where they arrived on 28 June. Damien filmed their journey and called it The Most Amazing Supply Route though it was never treated as a newsreel, parts of it were used in other films including Kokoda Front Line with the Commando raid reenactments and Assault on Salamaua most notably the opening lookout sequence.

Osmar White a day out from Kudjiru described their state:

“Nine thousand feet of altitude. Not a breath in a lungful of air. The cold is piercing. Bath in the creek, but it did no good. I’m damned near done up. Even Parer is gloomy.

“Cold, piercing cold. Hell what a night that was!

“We got Cyril and Gibson to build and tend a fire under the hut directly below our bedrolls, which were sodden. We ate canned beef and biscuits impregnated with trade tobacco, and turned in. All the wood was pulpy wet and emitted far more smoke than heat, but it was better to lie there in a little warmth and smoke ourselves black than to shift over and shiver. The slats were so ridgy that in the morning I was almost too sore to move. Our eyes were puffed and rheumy. All night the carriers coughed and groaned and cried out in their sleep. Drenching rain fell – not far off, hail.

“The morning’s camp was the most miserable I have ever seen. The carriers crept about with their pitiful pink blankets draped round them and tried to get warm at the stubborn fires.”

Prior to the war Cyril had been working in the Upper Watut with Sunshine Gold Development. When the war came to the Pacific, Cyril, at 40, had volunteered to the New Guinea Volunteer Riflemen when living in Rabaul. He was sent to the forward area overlooking Salamaua, when the Japanese landed there. He was tasked with watching the Japanese at Salamaua, but was resting up with a bought of malaria watching over the cattle for which he had experience while growing up on King Island. It was during this period when the photo of the brothers was taken. Bernard Parer, Cyril’s cousin and long time business partner said:

“He was sent to Upper Watut, from whence he came, to look after the cattle and it was there his brother Damien war photographer met him about June 1942 when doing a documentary.”

4082763 NATIVE BEARERS (POPULARLY KNOWN AS FUZZY WUZZY ANGELS) WALK LONG DISTANCES CARRYING HEAVY LOADS OF SUPPLIES AND EQUIPMENT FOR AUSTRALIAN TROOPS-6 Aug 1942.JPG
Some local carriers lug a 90 pound two-man package of supplies and equipment for Kanga force in the Wau-Bulolo region. Photo: Damien Parer.

Osmar White who accompanied Damien on this journey (and later on Kokoda) wrote in his book Green Armour:

“In Winnerma Camp we met Corporal G, one of three cattle drovers who, after war with Japan started brought 700 head of cattle from Madang, a 300-mile trail up the coast through the Ramu valley into the valley of the Bulolo. This must surely have been one of the most remarkable cattle-driving feats in history. The beasts had to be driven through dense sag swamps, swum over crocodile-infested rivers, have paths hacked for them through tangled jungles, and be coaxed up and down razorback ranges. Yet they were delivered with trifling loss. The guerrilla force of the valley had been eating fresh meat for months.”

1942-02 July-approx-6176830-WAU, NEW GUINEA. 1942-04. AFTER DAYS OF TRAVERSING THICK JUNGLE, WITHOUT SIGHT OF THE SUN, A NATIVE CARRIER-LINE WITH SUPPLIES FOR KANGA FORCE EMERGES NEAR WAU INTO THE HEAT OF THE KUNAI-COVERED LOWER SLOPES OF THE HILLS.JPG
The line of carriers in the Bulolo valley. Photo: Damien Parer.

Although the Australian War Museum caption attributes this to the Kokoda Track, it was not, but in the Bulolo Valley in, I believe, Winima Camp south east of Wau. Much of the confusion I suspect comes from the fact that much of the footage Damien took during this period 2 July 1942 to the 2nd week in August was not picked up by the newsreels and later used in his Academy Award winning film Kokoda Front Line. Further adding to the confusion of the footage is the fact that the original handwritten notes on the footage were irreparably destroyed before digitisation.

7139926-SALAMAUA AREA, NEW GUINEA. 1942-08. MEMBERS OF NEW GUINEA VOLUNTEER RIFLES, BEARDED AND CAMOUFLAGED, MAN A SECRET OBSERVATION POST ABOVE NUK NUK.JPG
Camouflaged commandos looking out over Salamaua. Photo: Damien Parer.

Damien’s arrival in the region occurred during a period when the war went from NGVR observing Japanese movements to AIF assaults. After the photo of the two brothers was taken, Damien then went on to spend six weeks with Kanga Force in the Wau-Salamaua-Bulolo region where he shot the footage of the lookouts of Salamaua that caused so much grief with the Department of Information management and which almost cost lives. He returned to Port Moresby by plane in mid-August in time to join up with Osmar and radio journalist Chester Wilmot for their journey up the Kokoda Trail.

Cyril returned to Australia to convalesce at Sellheim army camp, outside Charters Towers, he had lost two and a half stone during this period, but later returned as a Lieutenant with his cousin Bernard as part of ANGAU (Australian New Guinea Administrative Unit) in charge of one thousand local workers to help build, among other things, a road over the Bulldog Track from the Lake Kambe River over Laua. They succeeded in that enterprise, though it was quickly consumed by the jungle as the war moved on. Other roads they helped build were the Kokoda Road, and the lower Lae Road. The cousins were promoted for their method of “making metalled sealed weather proof roads”.

L-R Standford Xray manager of Sydney, Cyril Parer (in uniform), John A Parer, Ben Parer, Leo Parer on Sydney harbour with boat c1944.jpg
L-R Standford X-ray manager of Sydney, Cyril Parer (in uniform), John Arthur Parer, Ben Parer, Leo Parer, Sydney Harbour with boat, c1944.
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