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Pacific Islander Biography

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Guise, Sir John (1914–1991)

by Clive R. Moore

John Guise (1914–91), Papua New Guinea politician and Governor General, was born in Gedulalara village, near Dogura, Milne Bay District. His grandfather was Reginald Guise, an English adventurer who reached Papua in the 1880s, settled as a trader and married locally. John Guise received four years of formal education from 1923, and at age 14 began work on Samarai as a waterside worker for Burns Philp, remaining in this job until war broke out, after which he joined the Australian New Guinea Administrative Unit as a clerk in Signals. In 1946 he joined the police force, rising over 10 years to the rank of sergeant-major, then spent five years in the Department of District Services in Port Moresby, often clashing with the colonial administration. He first travelled to Australia in 1949, making a further four trips to Anglican Synods over the next few years, and visiting London in 1953 as part of the police contingent at the coronation.

Guise’s first overt political activity was in the Port Moresby Mixed Race Association, of which he became president in 1958. He found its élitism distasteful but it brought him to the attention of the administration which chose him to represent local opinion on the Central District advisory council. Guise entered the legislative council as member for East Papua in 1961, becoming the most successful early indigenous politician, also developing connections with the Cooperative movement and helping found the Milne Bay District Workers Association. The administration chose him to represent Papua New Guinea at the 1962 South Pacific Commission conference at Pago Pago, and later the same year and again in 1965 sent him to New York as special adviser to the Australian delegation to the United Nations Trusteeship Council.

His pre-independence political career included chairmanship of an important select committee on constitutional development, the positions of Speaker of the House of Assembly, Deputy Chief Minister, and the portfolios of Lands, Agriculture, and the Interior. The first Papua New Guinean to be honoured by an honorary doctorate from the University of Papua New Guinea, he was knighted in 1975 when he became Papua New Guinea’s first Governor General. Ultimately frustrated by his vice-regal position he resigned in 1977 and at age 63 returned to politics. Failing in his bid to form a ruling coalition to oust the Somare–Chan government, he was for a time deputy leader of the Opposition and remained in the House until 1982. A cunning lone wolf of Papua New Guinea politics in the 1960s and 1970s, Guise died in 1991.

Original Publication

  • The Pacific Islands: An Encyclopedia, edited by Brij V. Lal and Kate Fortune, University of Hawaii Press, Honolulu, 2000, pp 282-83

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Citation details

Clive R. Moore, 'Guise, Sir John (1914–1991)', Pacific Islander Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, accessed 26 September 2020.

© Copyright Pacific Islander Biography, 2012