Sir John Guise in Days of Old

Sir John Guise circa 1975

When Sir John Guise became the first Governor-General of Papua New Guinea, way back in 1975, he posed for a portrait for the Post Courier newspaper and this is it. He is in the wash-house at his home in Port Moresby.  Denis Williams, who took the photo, always claimed that Sir John was in the backyard laundry when he arrived but I suspect that the G-G spotted a good photo opportunity. He wanted to be portrayed as a man of the people who hadn’t outgrown his roots. It could only have happened in PNG, surely? How many Commonwealth Governors-General have had their portrait taken doing the family washing, I wonder?

I met Sir John only once, at a casual backyard party hosted by the Editor-in-Chief of the Post Courier, Luke Sela. I found him to be disarmingly honest, to the point of indiscretion, and very insightful and forgiving when it came to human foibles, including his own. He seemed at the time to be above all the political squabbles going on around him, as village leaders and wannabes scrambled to establish a power base in the fledgling parliament.

It was an illusion of course. Sir John was an experienced politician of long-standing, who had served as the acting Speaker in the House of Assembly from self-government (1973), until Independence (1975). In 1977 he resigned as the Governor-General to challenge Michael Somare for the role of Chief Minister. He lost that election but continued to maintain a high public profile in PNG until his death in 1991.

It would be fair to say that the Post Courier may own the copyright on this photo, although Denis Williams was the photographer and it has always been part of his PNG portfolio. They may object to its use here, but there is nothing quite like a trip down memory lane to remind us that men like Sir John Guise once were warriors of the modern kind, who fought for equality and justice with words and ideals.

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