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  • Solomon Island Years: A District Administrator in the Islands 1952–1974
  • Ben Burt
Solomon Island Years: A District Administrator in the Islands 1952–1974, by James L O Tedder. Stuarts Point, NSW: Tautu Studies, 2008. ISBN 978-0-646-49018-2; 303 pages (including front matter), maps, photographs. Paper, £16.00.

This book joins a long list of colonial memoirs of Solomon Islands, which includes a much smaller number of considered historical accounts giving due respect to the Islanders as both colleagues and colonial subjects. It shares this distinction with Tom Russell's I Have the Honour to Be (2003); as Russell and James L O Tedder were contemporaries who even worked in some of the same posts, it is curious that they do not make more mention of each other.

Tedder joined the colonial service in the British Solomon Islands Protectorate from Australia, and was posted to Malaita in 1952, a few years after Russell and in the wake of the Maasina Rul [Rule] independence movement. Tedder had to deal with its more local successor, the Federal Council, and gives an evocative account of arduous tours around the island, meeting local people and their leaders as he promoted the government's Malaita Council, encouraged economic development, and carried out routine administrative duties. What he does not deal with are the issues underlying the political situation on Malaita, falling back on a conventional description of Maasina Rul as "a type of independence and cargo cult movement" (31).

From Malaita, Tedder was posted to the neighboring island of Makira, farther from the colonial center of Honiara, less populated and less militant. There he continued to implement official policies promoting economic development through cash cropping, public health, education, and elected local councils. His recollections of colleagues, local and colonial, continue to be complimentary or diplomatic, the most severe criticism usually being that someone was "a little laid-back" (72). But as on Malaita, all this was work, from which Tedder, like other colonials, retreated into a family recreating the domestic life of Australia and a social life within the small European community. Attempts to socialize with "senior islanders" [End Page 192] seem to have foundered on a mutual inability to bridge the cultural and political divide between colonizers and colonized that was characteristic of the time.

From Makira, a posting to remote Santa Cruz shows the colonial administration at its most paternalistic, providing services such as medical care and food security to small remote islands like Tikopia that were of no commercial or political interest. An enthusiastic ceremonial reception by Santa Cruz Islanders for the Duke of Edinburgh illustrates an acceptance of this paternalism, which may surprise later critics of colonialism. With subsequent postings to Gizo in Western Province and to Central Province, including Guadalcanal, Isabel, and several smaller islands far and near, Tedder eventually served as an administrator throughout the whole country. He evidently preferred dealing with Islanders in their own local communities to working for the central administration in Honiara, which included organizing the census of 1959. His observations from the provinces give insights into historical characters that are tantalizing in their brevity; positive reactions to Silas Eto's Christian Fellowship Church in New Georgia, a visit to the visionary leader Moro on Guadalcanal's Weather Coast, and a comment that Solomon Mamaloni, his onetime administrative assistant, "may have been a good politician but he was not an administrator" (168). Tedder met returned Queensland labor-migrants, the failing European planters whose descendants have inherited influential roles in Solomon Islands politics, and the son of Dick Richardson, the African-American mentioned enigmatically in so many early colonial accounts of Makira. Could Tedder have written more about some of these fascinating people?

Tedder's Solomon Islands career concluded as director of information and broadcasting from 1972 to 1974, in which role he was responsible for setting up the vital public radio service as well as contributing to the genesis of the National Library and Museum. He then returned to Australia to work in environmental conservation, pursuing an interest previously revealed in his attitude toward local environments and livelihoods in the Solomons.

It is disappointing that Tedder's opinions on environmental...


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