The British Empire Library

A Political Memoir of the Anglo-French Condominium of the New Hebrides

by Keith Woodward

Courtesy of OSPA

Dr Gregory Rawlings (Senior Lecturer, Social Anthropology University of Otago, New Zealand)
Keith Woodward, former Secretary for Political Affairs in the British National Service in the New Hebrides (1953-78), has produced in his engaging memoir an original and important contribution to the history of Vanuatu's transformation from a unique Condominium form of colony to an independent state in 1980. It is not an historical text per se (in the sense that it falls under the memoir genre rather than researched history), but it offers an insightful firsthand account of colonial administration, bilateral French and British relations, political change and decolonisation in Vanuatu.

Although some of the material that these memoirs cover has been included in the main histories of Vanuatu (for example, MacClancy 1980; Miles 1998; van Trease 1987) and the somewhat forgotten political commentary written at the time of Vanuatu's transition to independence (for example Jackson 1972), the benefit of this manuscript is that it consolidates a lot of formerly disparate information, accounts and evidence into a single volume. It also addresses some lacunae in the historiography of Vanuatu, particularly Woodward's account of how the French position moved from being antagonistic toward Jimmy Stevens' Nagriamel movement through to accommodation and eventually, active support. It also dispels a number of assumptions about French intentions in Vanuatu. For example, it is widely assumed that France wanted to turn the New Hebrides into a French territory along the lines of New Caledonia and French Polynesia. However, Woodward shows that French representatives acknowledged as early as 1969 the likelihood that Vanuatu could become independent, but that they also envisaged a gradual decolonisation that would result in continuing strong French influence. This resonates with some of the archival research that I have been doing in New Caledonia and France which suggests that while French authorities did not rule out eventual territorial status for the New Hebrides, they also conceded the eventual possibility of independence quite early on, admittedly as a francophone state closely aligned with France and its interests.

Another important contribution of this memoir is Woodward's detailed description of the development of the electoral system of Vanuatu. This was devised for elections to the Representative Assembly in 1975 and the basic structure of the multi-seat constituencies remains in place to this day (minus the specially reserved seats for Chiefs and the Chamber of Commerce).

This book would be of benefit to people interested in the history of political change in Vanuatu in particular and in the Pacific generally, and most especially in French-British relations, particularly their divergent colonial policies.

British Empire Book
Keith Woodward
Australian National University Press
Online Version of Book
Australian National University
New Hebrides to Vanuatu The Contribution of Keith Woodward, OBE (1930-2014)
by Brian Bresnihan
Further Reading
Towards Political Awareness in the New Hebrides, The Journal of Pacific History 7(1): p155-162
by Jackson, A. 1972

To Kill a Bird with Two Stones
by MacClancy, J. 1980

Bridging Mental Boundaries in a Postcolonial Microcosm: Identity and Development in Vanuatu
Miles, F. 1998

The Politics of Land in Vanuatu: From Colony to Independence.
by Van Trease, H. 1987


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