ChoiseuI, native name Lauru, is one of the larger islands in the Solomons.
About 150 kilometres from end to end, and narrow, its population live almost
exclusively on the coastal plains. They are a very dark skinned, tough, shrewd and
likeable people. The centre of the island rises to several hundred metres. Part
of the German Empire from 1886 to 1899, it then became a British responsibility
following one of the exchanges of territories common in the late Victorian era. Its
name derives from the French Duke, Foreign Minister of France at the time of the
Seven Years' War, following re-discovery by a French explorer some 200 years
after Mendana first sighted the place in 1568.
Little is known of the early 20th century history of ChoiseuI. In the mid 1950s,
when I was District Commissioner of the Western District of the Solomons within
which lay ChoiseuI, I came across a diary written by one Edge-Partington, District
Officer in 1908. He graphically described being rowed the 60 odd miles from
his headquarters at Gizo by a crew of armed police and being met by a shower
of arrows on arrival. So far as I can discover not much happened subsequently
until about 1941 when District Officer Waddell established some regular form of
administering the island. The Japanese invasion followed as did a later counterattack
by the Americans in September 1943. Once the war was over and civil
administration returned, progress resumed. The Choiseulese became a significant
element of the Solomons Constabulary whose members were particularly loyal
to the administration during the post war political disturbances in the island of
At the time I write about we estimated the total population of the island to be
about 8,000. The current official figure is now nearly 27,000! Access to the coastal
villages by sea is straightforward on the south-west coast but the north-east is a
very dangerous proposition for even the smallest craft with reefs extending far out
to sea. About midway up one coast was the Presbyterian Mission at Sasamunga,
long established and respected and providing basic medical and educational
facilities. Sister Lucy Money had been in charge there for many years. At the
northern end of the island were two Catholic Mission stations. Pre-war there had
been a resident planter, Carden Seton, who had taken a prominent part in the wartime
coast-watching operation that kept track of Japanese naval movements, but
he had since left for Australia.
There was now on ChoiseuI an efficient system of local Headmen and Native
Courts, both of which ran smoothly under the eye of the senior Headman Livai
Papaku, BEM, and Stephen Kodovaru, a young highly intelligent and likeable
product of the Mission's schools. Papaku was chairman of the ChoiseuI Local
Council, whose authority was accepted by all and which met regularly. I always
tried my best to be there, at least for important decisions. It would be an
exaggeration to call the Council democratically elected but it worked.
At one of their meetings, probably in late 1954, Council members proposed that a
special levy be imposed to buy a Land Rover for the island. There was total popular
unanimity for the idea. I must admit that I was very surprised, largely because
there was virtually no road to run a vehicle on. But despite my best efforts to direct
their enthusiasm to a more logical use of their money, a dispensary perhaps or
books for schools, my talk deterred nobody and I was commissioned to order a
diesel Land Rover and trailer, and with obtaining the necessary explosives to blast
away rocks and extend the road from the Council Headquarters to Sasamuga, a
distance of not more than 3 kilometres. So, a few months later, a case of 90 sticks
of polar blasting gelignite arrived at my headquarters in Gizo together with electric
detonators. The former was kept in my office. The latter I kept in my desk drawer.
I would make trips to ChoiseuI on my touring vessel, stick dynamite in the holes
already drilled by enthusiastic Choiseulese, wire everything up to a 12 volt battery
and, much everyone's delight, masses of rock would come tumbling down in the
resultant bang. After a few visits we had a useable road.
I was not present when the precious Land Rover arrived on the M.V. Kurimarau,
one of the larger island trading vessels. It was gingerly winched over the side on
to an enormous pontoon made from local materials and floated ashore. Later
there were ceremonial drives along the ChoiseuI Road. It was all great fun and
the vehicle a popular status symbol. Unfortunately I left the District not long after
and have no notion of the fate of the enterprise. From recent maps it seems
there is still not much road mileage in the area, the island's now independent
administrative headquarters having moved to the north where there is an airstrip
for the regular inter-island service.
I would like to think the ChoiseuI Land Rover is still running but I somehow doubt it.