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Aisoli Salin (1913–1996)

by Kirstie Close

This article was published online in 2020

Aisoli Salin, by W. Brindle, 1954

Aisoli Salin, by W. Brindle, 1954

National Archives of Australia, A1200:L17101

Aisoli Salin (1913–1996), schoolteacher and politician, was born in 1913 on Simberi Island in the Tabar Group, New Mecklenburg (later New Ireland), German New Guinea, eldest of three children of Mavis Salin, maimai or customary leader, and his wife Marabok, both Tabar-born. Aisoli attended the Methodist mission school on Simberi before moving in 1923 to the newly opened Australian government-run Kokopo Native Elementary School near Rabaul, New Britain, Mandated Territory of New Guinea. When his Australian teacher, William Groves, became headmaster of Malunga School, Rabaul, he transferred there. In 1928 Groves, who had returned to Australia in 1926, agreed to host Aisoli and another bright student, Lue, to ‘see how far they were capable of assimilating European ideas’ (Groves 1930, 10). The boys lived with him and his family, and attended Ivanhoe State School, Melbourne, for two years.

Returning to Rabaul in 1930, Salin started teaching at Malunga School, later moving to a school at Nodup, New Britain (later East New Britain). During 1933 and 1934 he accompanied Groves to the Tabar islands and assisted him with anthropological research, organising carriers and other practicalities, and translating interviews. He married Catherine Pares from Mapua during this time; they later divorced. From 1934 until 1940 he worked as a clerk with the Department of Health and was based at Kavieng, New Ireland. When the Japanese invaded during World War II, he returned to the Tabar islands to be close to his parents. Recognising his skills, Japanese soldiers used him as an interpreter. He, meanwhile, recorded in a secret diary details of their activities, including the capture and execution of the coastwatcher Cornelius Page in 1942. Having made contact with Allied forces in 1944, he handed over the diary and continued to supply intelligence.

In 1947 Salin resumed teaching at a school in New Ireland. At around the same time he established a newspaper, Lagasai, to ‘send the word forth to everyone’ (Ritchie 2019, 19) about the importance of education and other matters. By 1950 he was editing Rabaul News, a Tok Pisin (Pidgin) newspaper with a circulation of 1,500. That year he travelled to Suva, Fiji, representing the Territory of Papua and New Guinea at the South Pacific Conference. In October 1951 he was one of three Papua and New Guineans appointed to the country’s first Legislative Council. Advocating indigenous economic development and autonomy, he stated in his maiden speech: ‘We surely hope that the time will come when, side by side with the Europeans and other non-native groups, our people will be able to take their full share of the responsibility for the development of the Territory’ (Hammond 1952, 8). Despite his own experience, he rejected calls to send Papua and New Guineans to school in Australia, claiming that students became discontented on their return, and called for more secondary and technical schools to be established in the Territory. He actively contributed to the Tabar Fund, a community development scheme that collected money from adults throughout the Tabar islands, becoming the Tabar Native Society.

After resigning from the Legislative Council in 1954, Salin and his then wife, Wilma, moved to Madang, where he resumed teaching before taking up a senior role in the education department as a supervisor and school inspector. He became a minister in a new Methodist church there, which he also helped to establish. The congregation, which comprised people from Rabaul and Dobu, raised funds to build churches. Returning to the Tabar islands, he established a school on Tatau. He retired from teaching in 1971. The next year he was awarded the Imperial Service Medal and, in 1981, was appointed MBE. In retirement he served as a board member of the Papua New Guinea Development Bank. At a time when many colonial administrators remained doubtful about the potential of indigenous leaders, his confidence in his own abilities probably caused some frustration. A quiet man and strict disciplinarian, he nevertheless had a sense of humour and a flare for creativity. He died in 1996 at his home on Tatua. The school he established there was renamed the Aisoli Salin Primary School in his memory.

Research edited by Rani Kerin

Select Bibliography

  • Groves, W. C. ‘Up from Savagery.’ Argus (Melbourne), 25 January 1930, 10
  • Hammond, John. ‘Natives Help to Make New Guinea’s Laws.’ Daily Telegraph, 2 January 1952, 8
  • Leto, Bruno. Interview, 30 March 2017. Transcript. Copy held on ADB file
  • Ritchie, Jonathan. Aisoli Salin of New Ireland: Memories of a Great Teacher. [Melbourne]: Papua New Guinea—Australia Partnership, 2019

Additional Resources

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Kirstie Close, 'Salin, Aisoli (1913–1996)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published online 2020, accessed online 25 May 2024.

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Aisoli Salin, by W. Brindle, 1954

Aisoli Salin, by W. Brindle, 1954

National Archives of Australia, A1200:L17101

Life Summary [details]


New Ireland, Papua New Guinea


1996 (aged ~ 83)
Tatua, Papua New Guinea

Cultural Heritage

Includes subject's nationality; their parents' nationality; the countries in which they spent a significant part of their childhood, and their self-identity.

Religious Influence

Includes the religion in which subjects were raised, have chosen themselves, attendance at religious schools and/or religious funeral rites; Atheism and Agnosticism have been included.