Thursday, September 08, 2016

That Australian Life - Threads: Morella, the Parers from Catalan, Australian War photographers

I must have walked past this Mosman house, Morella, and never noticed it. It's now on the market with an expected price of between $7 and $ 8 million and possibly more. Looking at it I was struck by the art deco style and indeed it was one of the grand art deco mansions.

According to a rather dramatic piece by Dana McCauley, The derelict mansion, the ‘de facto’ nurse and the family curse: Morella mystery deepensMorella was designed by Burley Griffin protege Eric Nicholls and built in 1939 for Leo Parer, who founded and ran the Stanford X-Ray Company with his cousin Stan Parer. Stanford built X-Ray machines.

Apparently Leo Parer entertained quite lavishly and it does seem to be a good house for that purpose. This is another detail from the house. It must have been reasonably spectacular

The Parer name was familiar because of war photographer Damien Parer. Here I quote Dana McCauley: "Generations of Parers have forged a distinguished record throughout Australian history, from war photographer Damien Parer to aviator Ray Parer and, more recently, the late Warwick Parer— a Queensland Senator under the Howard Government."

I was curious about the way those various Parers might fit together. My initial web search was quite frustrating for it was difficult to find the links. Then I found this piece, Pioneering family: The story of the audacious Parers of New Guinea. No wonder I got confused.

According to Mary Mennis, the Parer family came originally from Alella in Spain and were the anchor of the Catalan community in Australia for 50 years.

The first brother to leave Spain was Josep, who decided to migrate to South America in 1851, following his sense of adventure and eye for business. He left Montevideo in Uruguay on board the Alabama and landed in Australia in 1855. A year later his half-brother Francisco joined him and they started breeding poultry in Petersham near Sydney. This was was not successful. They moved to Bendigo looking for gold and finally settled on the banks of the Yarra River, a tent town to cope with the rapid expansion of Melbourne during the gold rush.

They had their entrepreneurial character and perseverance and also a spark of luck, building the a Parer Empire in Melbourne. In less than 40 years they invested in more than 30 hotels and restaurants. And they are believed to be the first people to have commercialised meat pies in Australia. For that reason alone, they deserve a place in Australian history.

Josep and Francisco pioneered the Parer dynasty in Australia. Seven brothers and sisters plus nephews and friends of the family joined them. You can see why I might have got confused!

A significant part of the family ended up in New
Guinea, including Oscar award winner Damien Parer. This photo on the right shows a very significant group of photographers in New Guinea, all famous in their own right.

Damien Parer is at the back left. Standing to his right is Frank Hurley, one of Australia's best known photographers and cinematographers. 

At the front left is documentary film maker and writer Maslyn Williams.The Wikipedia article on him is really just a stub. Born in England, his uncle arranged for him to come to Australia to work as a jackeroo on a property outside Tenterfield. There he fell in love with Australia. His memoir of the time,  His Mother's Country, remains a New England classic. 

Beside Williams on the far right is photographer George Silk, New Zealand born, Silk became an Australian war correspondent an went on the long career as a photographer for Life Magazine.

This photograph by Silk showing an Australian soldier, Private George "Dick" Whittington, aided by Papuan orderly Raphael Oimbari, near Buna on 25 December 1942 has become one of the classic images of the New Guinea campaign.

All four men were adventurous, following the camera into different places. Parer died, but the others had long careers. Hurley in particular had a career that spanned over fifty years including two World Wars.

Postscript 5 October

Morella sold for $6.6 million in emotional scenes. The owner apparently would like to knock it down, but faces heritage problems. 


Anonymous said...

Fascinating post, Jim. LE

Jim Belshaw said...

Thanks, LE. It was an interesting exploration.