Battling Nature to Serve – A True Leader

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The former Speaker for the House of Assembly, the late Sir John Guise was a political leader of a different kind. His mental aptitude and a determination to serve his people is a classic example of what a leader should do – to serve.

In an article written by Jack McCarthy almost 50 years ago from today which was published in the Post Courier, McCarthy detailed the former Speaker’s commitment towards making it a habit to visit his voters far and wide in often difficult weather conditions.

We’ve decided to republish the article again to reflect on one of Papua New Guinea’s finest leaders and role model and to remind those in power what it means to serve no matter the circumstances.

Sir John Guise in the small boat he charters to visit his electors (Post Courier)


Take a sprawling mass of mountains, mainland and islands with settlements and villages tucked away in difficult spots; mix it with 10 times more ocean than land and turn loose all the wind, water, rain and heat, that’s possible.

This is typical of the Alotau electorate, a rough, undeveloped area, similar in many respectsto most electorates, and one which calls for the dedicated services of a House of AssemblyMember to represent it.

Dr John Guise is the elected Member for Alotau, a man of 57 who has been faithful to his

trust as a people’s representative since his first election way back in 1961 for the old Legislative Council.

He has now completed 10 successive years as a parliamentarian and although he has been elected Speaker, his greatest responsibility is still to the people who have continued to elect him.

“Ever since my election in 1961, it has been my solemn duty to visit the whole of my electorate and all the villages,” he said recently.

“I have kept to this philosophy and will continue to do so.”

Asked if his position as Speaker affected his movements as an elected Member, he replied:”No. Not to any great extent. I have certain commitments, but I have maintained visits to my people as regularly as possible.”

This is a record that not all Members can claim.

In 1968 he was able to make only one complete visit; in 1969 he made six trips; in 1970 there were eight, and this year, during January, he has just returned from his first visit for 1971 and will be doing two more within the next four weeks.

Each visit, depending on the weather and the time available, takes from two to three weeks.

He charters his own boat which is an expensive affair.

“If a Member carries out his duties to the electors and visits them regularly and conscientiously then he will be out of pocket,” he said, although each Member receives an allowance.

“It becomes an expensive business when you have no private resources.”

For John Guise, it is a full-time job one can make only a rough estimate of the cost

as he receives only an open Member’s allowance and has no occupation other than Speaker.

He was the one man who didn’t benefit in the recent increase of Ministerial salaries.

On this last trip, I accompanied him intermittently – initially in an 18ft, diesel-powered launch

which bobbed about like a cork; then, for two days, at Alotau during the Whitlam visit, and finally at Samarai; as he was preparing for his second leg.

The determination of a the man to complete what was an extremely tight schedule was obvious and travelling in a small, rather uncomfortable boat, showed his sincerity of purpose.

“I have sent word ahead to meet the people and see the leaders and I cannot fail them,” he told me looking tired after many late nights and a rough passage, sailing in the moonlight to meet small groups on outlying islands and setting off again at first light.

“It got rougher outside and we were almost swamped twice,” he said, mentioning a patch of

water between Basilaki Island and East Cape which is wide, open ocean, but he said little of other discomforts.

This is travelling pre-war style — small boat, small engine, a lot of hope that the weather holds good, a bush house to camp, rice, meat and fish for food, meetings to hold, advice to the people, then tie your sleeping mat together and off to the next island.

“I want to talk to as many people as possible, meet the councillors in their villages, hear their hopes and troubles, advise and help and explain what work we are doing in Port Moresby to aid them,” he said.

Here is a mixture of grassroots politics and saltwater flavored with endurance and hardship.

But he likes it that way.

One can judge its effects from the reception he gets all along the route.

At Gurney we got out of the plane and he was surrounded by people wishing him well.

At Lavian, in a moonlit setting of a forest clearing with 400 people gathered to greet Mr Whitlam, he was listened to with respect. ‘

In Alotau, there were talks and discussions and people waiting to see him.

At Garuwau, where he attended an arts festival of the people and chaired a meeting on social-political development, they greeted him as a brother.

The north-east coast is John Guise’s home ground — he was born at Wedau — and the language of his people, Tavara, is spread over most of Milne Bay.

You hear it on the islands of Sidea and Basilaki and all along the north-east coast.

“He has clansmen, brothers and “warawaras” in abundance, with everybody a relative or friend, and he is most interesting when time permits him to talk of old traditional relationships, the clans and individuals who form, by birth and marriage, one homogenous group whose members turn up in unexpected’ places.

This is the real John Guise, a man of the people, a connection he’ has never forsaken, and they respond to him more as a brother than as their political leader.

He is one of the handful of native leaders whose influence has been sustained for more than quarter of a century.

It extends throughout the whole of the country from the muddy delta regions of the Fly and Sepik Rivers, along the north New Guinea coast, in the central backbone of the high mountain country, out in the islands and all along the soft, lush littoral belt of Papua.

A lot of his reputation has been built through his political activities, but in the Central, Northern and Milne Bay Districts his name stands as something that represents solidity and is accepted by the mass of people with reliance in one who can voice their unspoken desires.

Each day he receives more than 100 letters, the majority from his constituents, and invariably they start with “My brother”.

He remains constant to his clan associations.

“We are the family whose duties were the Master of Ceremonies to the office of the Chief,” he tells you, and when he is moving among his own people you can see that, imperceptibly, this station is recognised.

They acknowledge him as a member of substance in their own society, unrelated to his present position in ours, and this will never alter because the clan system is too entwined in tradition to be brushed aside.

It is this, as well as the obligations of public office, that commands him to visit his peopleregularly, a summons which he always heeds, and in this lies his strength.

Two days back in Port Moresby and he is going out again to open a new local government council at Daga, to consult with another sector of his people, and then back to town once more to prepare for another electoral round.

This time it will include the farthest Western points of his electorate, Gadaisu, Konemaiawa,

Dahuni, Bona Bona,. Fife Bay, the Engineer Group, and will end with the Milne Bay District Council Conference on February 25.

By-then, he must prepare for the next sitting of the House, to handle the demands from his own people, to send personal replies to all who have written him, which he insists on doing, and to officiate in the Assembly.

When he formally closes the sittings he will have until June to organise another itinerary, charter another boat, send word ahead to those who are waiting for him, and sail off into the Coral Sea — a solitary voyager obedient to his principles and the wishes of his people.