Critchley Parker 1911-1942

by Jenny Nurse

This is the poignant though little known story of a man who was not a Tasmanian but who died here. Had his plans and dreams come to fruition, Tasmania could now be a very different place. Critchley Parker, the only son of well-to-do parents, was born in Melbourne where his father published mining magazines and was a close associate of the presumably Jewish geophysicist, Mark Milstein. Critchley was also a close friend of the Jewish activist, Caroline Linka lsaacson. By the outbreak of WWII Critchley and his father had visited Tasmania many times on trout fishing trips. Although Critchley was a keen bushwalker he was declared unfit for military service.

At this time the Jewish movement in Australia was investigating areas for a settlement of some 50 000 Jewish refugees, including the East Kimberleys in WA. Parker envisaged a settlement in the sparsely populated south west region of Tasmania near Port Davey and Bathurst Harbour. The Freeland League and its representative, Dr lsaac Steinberg, gave support in representations to the Tasmanian government, firstly to A G Ogilvie and then to his successor, Robert Cosgrove. In early 1941 Cosgrove wrote that "the government accepts in principle the proposal..."

The Pearl Harbour attack and the entry of the USA and Japan into the war gave the government more urgent concerns. However, Parker was determined to proceed and set off alone to Cox' Bight in March 1942 where he met Charlie King (Deny's father) who rowed him to a point at the foot of Mt McKenzie, the start of Marsden's Track to Fitzgerald, 60 miles to the northeast. It was agreed that Parker would make two columns of smoke by firing button grass if he wished to discontinue the journey. Parker set off in high spirits but violent gales lashed the area on the next day and for several weeks. He returned to base to light the agreed signal and he wrote in his diary that, when the weather permitted, he lit a fire on three occasions but received no response. By now he had neither food nor energy to walk on or back to Melaleuca and he ran out of matches. He lay in his sleeping bag on a bed of bracken with his tent barricaded by brushwood.

Deny King, on leave from the army, joined a search but missed the camp at the foot of Mt McKenzie. Some fisherman found Parker's body on 4 September, an inquest finding that he had died of starvation and exposure. He was buried nearby, the funeral being attended by the Under-Secretary of State, the government pathologist and the fishermen. He is remembered by the names Parker Bay and Critchley Creek.

When the Federal Government rejected the Kimberley scheme, the Tasmanian one also became a closed issue. Critchley Parker may very well have been the first Australian gentile to lose his life for a Jewish cause. (Miss Gladys Morris, the music teacher at Hobart High School, is mentioned in his story and she sometimes accompanied Critchley's mother on trips to Port Davey to visit the grave and is believed to have inherited from the estate. A Critchley Parker Prize was set up at Hobart High with an endowment and is still awarded by the Department of Education.

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