John Collier was educated in Sydney and England and moved to Papua New Guinea in 1956. In 1971 he was awarded a BA from the University of Papua New Guinea and changed the spelling of his name to a local phonetic form (Kolia). In 1976 he became a naturalized citizen of Papua New Guinea and was awarded a Ph D in oral history from the University of Papua New Guinea.
He was the editor of the journal, Oral History, also wrote eight novels set in Papua New Guinea, as well as books such as A Lala Grammar : Sketch and Vocabulary (1977) and Discussion Papers for the Institute of Papua New Guinea Studies concerning Papuan social life and customs and history.
He was also Director of the Institute of Papua New Guinea Studies at Boroka.