Vanuatu daily news digest | A political memoir of the Condominium

A Political Memoir of the Condominium

Keith Woodward, who died last week in the United Kingdom, is the author of a just-published political memoir of great importance in the history of Vanuatu. As a departing administrative officer in 1978 he was required to lodge an account of his work in the dependent territory with a report to the Foreign & Commonwealth Office. Writers and historians in Port Vila, especially those who spanned the last decades of Condominium and the first of the Republic, used it as valuable source material and a factual first-hand reference point for years.

However, official reports at the end of a lifetime’s endeavours often lack the colour and anecdote that has been amassed as the chapters unfolded. Keith Woodward possessed an amazing memory. His proximity to much of the history of the end of the Condominium and his role in devising the electoral system which would bring about Independence, together with his familiarity with the national languages, brought him into contact with all players in the political thrusting that saw the birth of a Constitution and tiny nation. Thus it was that the journalists asked Keith to record the stories as well as the bare history in a re-write of the official report. Some 90 pages long, the resulting small book is a political memoir now available to all.

It is available in hard copy, but also on-line free of charge using this link:

The memoir begins with Keith Woodward’s 1953 arrival in Port Vila and is accompanied by photographs of the time. "There was no agitation for change," Keith Woodward asserts. Quite right: the copra price was high. But then came the land question and Keith seriously considering whether the Resident Commissioners’ Advisory Council ought really to have some electoral basis.

Howard Van Trease, History Research Fellow at USP, says "Keith Woodward has produced an inside account of the intricacies of official politics in the later stages of the history of the Condominium which will be essential reading for anyone interested in the colonial period of Vanuatu… He focuses on issues relating to the difficulties the British faced in convincing the French that the two powers should come to an agreement on decolonisation." Howard Van Trease assisted with having the book published by the Australian National University.

Gregory Rawlings, the anthropologist of the University of Otago, says the memoir "will dispel a number of assumptions about French intentions" in the Condominium and will be of great benefit to those interested in political change in the Pacific.

Brian Bresnihan, former district and administrative officer who assisted Keith in the preparation of the Memoir, sees the book as being "of enormous benefit to students interested in the intricacies of the New Hebrides Condominium and its demise."

There is a wistful ending to the memoir. Keith Woodward wonders whether the instability of governments since 1991 would have come about had a different electoral system, rather than the one he devised, been in place. Keith remarks, however, "there is a danger of former Condominium administrators like myself being patronising about Vanuatu politics today and so I shall indulge myself no further on this subject."

Vanuatu has lost a good friend in Keith Woodward as well as an important player in its history. He died last Thursday.

Readers will soon be advised where and how they can obtain printed copies of A Political Memoir of the Anglo-French Condominium of the New Hebrides. You can already read it at the link given above.