The British Empire Library

Solomon Island Years: A District Administrator in the Islands 1952-74

by James L O Tedder

Courtesy of OSPA

John Smith (Nigeria 1951 - 1970, Western Pacific 1971 - 1978)
Jim Tedder achieved what all colonial administrators claimed to have wanted. He remained in district administration throughout his career except for a few brief months in the secretariat. He did become Director of Broadcasting and Information, but with districts in mind, he established a reference library, making sure that copies of all research were deposited and took the lead in setting up a museum. Broadcasting played a unique communications role in the islands with crucial service messages alongside the usual fare and Jim being Jim, he toured widely to engage and bring the districts into the system, recording the rich music of yesteryear to compete with the country and western popular with urbanites and encouraging the broadcast of custom stories in pidgin, renewing acquaintance with the districts he knew so well.

He served in them all, Malaita, Eastern, Western and Central, his memoirs concentrating upon the job he did, with just sufficient about the life he and his family led to set the scene and remind us of the immensity and occasional ferocity of the Pacihc. He writes warmly and well so that anyone with district experience, wherever it might have been, will be reminded of the variety of the tasks, significant, trivial, in between and unexpected (an amputation using a ship engineer's hacksaw), that had to be performed, the strong identity with the peoples one served, the difficulty of communications, the frustration with the secretariat but, above all, with the glow of satisfaction that so many evenings brought as one sat on the verandah admiring the sunset and enjoying a drink. Jim has no doubt that it was the best job in the world. I suspect, too, that the people lucky enough to have him as their DC were aware that he was as good as they come. He was clearly both a very successful DC and a critical one, a man of ideas, some getting adopted, others cast aside.

Jim tells us the minimum necessary about his Australian upbringing and what led to his joining the Colonial Service. His chapters then follow his career chronologically from his Auki apprenticeship to his role as DC Central at a time when constitution making and politics prior to independence dominated and he was an invaluable guide to those of us without local district experience. His final chapter, A Useful Life?, is a thoughtful reflection on those questions we must all have asked ourselves time and time again.

This is followed by eight stories, graphic and nostalgic vignettes of life in the Solomons, some published in the Overseas Pensioner, and two of his early touring reports. You breathe the islands again. Jim not only stayed in district administration, he has written a model memoir about it.

British Empire Book
James L O Tedder
Stuarts Point, NSW: Tautu Studies


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