Even sixty years after his death Damien Parer remains one of Australia's most well-known combat cameramen. He was born on 1 August 1912 at Malvern in Melbourne but was educated largely in Bathurst, at Saint Stanislaus School. Parer joined the school's camera club and decided early on that he wanted to be a photographer. Having left school and failing to find photographic work in Melbourne, he resumed his education before finding an apprenticeship. Also interested in motion pictures, Parer, having completed his apprenticeship, moved to Sydney to work with the director, Charles Chauvel.
When the Second World War began, Parer had become experienced in stills photography and motion picture work, and was appointed as official movie photographer to the AIF. He sailed for the Middle East in January 1940 where he filmed on board HMAS Sydney after it had sunk the Italian cruiser, Bartolomeo Colleoni. Parer was on board another ship, HMAS Ladybird when she bombarded Bardia and he advanced with the infantry at Derna, his first experience of close action. At Derna he decided that he needed to film from as close to the action as possible, sometimes even in advance of the troops. Acquaintances later recalled that from the moment Parer made this decision he was doomed to die on the battlefield.
Parer filmed in Greece and in Syria, covering the action from aircraft, the deck of a ship and on the ground with the infantry. After Syria he travelled to Tobruk in August 1941 before covering the fighting in the Western desert. By mid-1942 Parer was in New Guinea ready to cover the fighting against the Japanese. During this phase of the war, he filmed some of his most famous sequences, some at Salamaua and, most notably, those used in Kokoda front line. This documentary won its producer, Ken Hall, an Oscar for documentary film-making. Behind the footage lay Parer's deeply held desire to draw to public attention, the conditions under which the Australians were fighting in New Guinea.
In late 1942 Parer travelled to Timor to film Australians of the 2/2nd Independent Company who were fighting a guerrilla campaign on the island, the result of which was his documentary, Men of Timor. He then returned to New Guinea where he flew on a series of hair-raising Beaufighter operations against Japanese shipping in the Bismarck Sea. After that he moved to the Salamaua area where he filmed, among other actions, the well-known assault on Timbered Knoll.
In August 1943, after more than 12 months of rancour and disagreement, Parer left the Department of Information's employ to work for the United States company, Paramount News. His early assignments involved filming further air raids over New Guinea. On 23 March 1944 during a period of leave, Parer, a deeply religious man, married Marie Cotter in Sydney. Their union was a brief one. Parer returned to action, leaving the war in New Guinea behind to accompany the United States Marines. He filmed them first on Guam and then covered the Peleliu operation.
On 17 September 1944, keen to get shots of the faces of advancing soldiers, Parer was walking backwards behind a tank, filming a group of marines advancing under fire. He was killed by a burst of Japanese machine gun fire.