Australian Dictionary of Biography

  • Tip: searches only the name field
  • Tip: Use double quotes to search for a phrase

Cultural Advice

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people should be aware that this website contains names, images, and voices of deceased persons.

In addition, some articles contain terms or views that were acceptable within mainstream Australian culture in the period in which they were written, but may no longer be considered appropriate.

These articles do not necessarily reflect the views of The Australian National University.

Older articles are being reviewed with a view to bringing them into line with contemporary values but the original text will remain available for historical context.

John Ronald George Salisbury (1921–1980)

by Robert Haldane

This article was published:

John Ronald George Salisbury (1921-1980), police officer, was born on 29 May 1921 at Caulfield, Melbourne, second of three children and only son of John Thomas Salisbury, a bootmaker from Sydney, and his Victorian-born wife Elizabeth Jane, née Newland. Ron was educated at Tyler Street State School, Preston, and Richmond Technical School. He began to study surveying, but changed to industrial chemistry and worked for a manufacturer of lacquer-finishes used in the shoe and leather industries.

After joining the Militia in March 1939, Salisbury was called up for full-time duty on 31 October 1941. He served with the artillery in Victoria, and with the artillery and engineers in Queensland. In October 1942 he transferred to the Australian Imperial Force. On 28 January 1943 he was discharged from the army to enable him to enlist next day in the Royal Australian Air Force. Having learned to fly in Australia, he undertook advanced and operational training in Canada and Britain respectively. At Pendref Chapel, Caernarvon, Wales, on 19 September 1945 he married with Congregational forms Winifred Williams, a telephone-operator. Promoted warrant officer pilot, he returned to Melbourne and was demobilized from the air force on 18 March 1946.

Fifteen days later Salisbury joined the Victoria Police Force as a recruit constable. His colleague and later chief commissioner S. I. Miller thought that he looked 'more like a benign schoolteacher or bank manager than a policeman'. Salisbury sported a moustache and, at 5 ft 9 ins (175 cm), seemed short for a policeman. Described as 'a thinker', he was dux of his training squad. He completed a range of operational duties, including a term with the scientific section (1946-47), service as a detective (from 1949) and an exchange posting with the South Australian Police Force (1951). In 1962-69 he was officer-in-charge, successively, of the Special Branch, Drug Bureau and Detective Training School. He was promoted inspector in 1969.

Colonel Sir Eric St Johnston arrived from England in 1970 to undertake a review of the administration and organization of the Victoria Police Force. Salisbury was one of the three staff officers who assisted him. Much of St Johnston's 217-page report drew on the ideas of Salisbury, who was subsequently made head of a new inspectorate and future-plans division to implement its recommendations. The restructuring which followed constituted a watershed in modernizing the police service. On 14 December 1977 Salisbury was promoted to deputy-commissioner, administration, a post in which he was able to effect further reform. His eccentricity and wry sense of humour belied an analytical and logical mind, and an incisive ability to manage organizational change.

Commended for outstanding service on numerous occasions, Salisbury was awarded the Queen's Police Medal in 1977. He never achieved his goal of retiring to a cottage in Wales and writing his memoirs: he died of a cardio-respiratory condition on 11 November 1980 in South Melbourne and was cremated with the forms of the Churches of Christ. His wife and their two daughters survived him.

Select Bibliography

  • E. St Johnston, A Report on the Victoria Police Force (Melb, 1971)
  • R. Haldane, The People's Force (Melb, 1986)
  • Police Life, Dec 1980
  • Sun News-Pictorial (Melbourne), 16 July 1946
  • private information.

Citation details

Robert Haldane, 'Salisbury, John Ronald George (1921–1980)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2002, accessed online 21 June 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 16, (Melbourne University Press), 2002

View the front pages for Volume 16

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


29 May, 1921
Caulfield, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia


11 November, 1980 (aged 59)
South Melbourne, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

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.