SOLO: life in the Solomon Islands

Three years on an island

A little over three years ago, I was given what I now understand was a sort of Golden Ticket to an extraordinary experience. Taking a job in the Solomon Islands, a country I knew very little about – beyond the fact that it was north of Australia, and that the Australian and New Zealand military and police had gone in a few years earlier – felt like a scary step, a complete unknown.

My initial few days were hardly the perfect start. Out on a police patrol boat within six hours of being in the country, I was involved in a rescue of 13 people, whose fibreglass boat had sunk in rough seas. Thankfully, all survived, but the faces of those freezing, terrified children is something that still makes me wince whenever I think of that bizarre first afternoon in the Solomons.

And a few days later back in the capital Honiara, I was checking out the shops in my new town, and was put in a headlock by a spakamasta (the pidgin word for a drunk), whose equally-spaka mate then tried to take my wallet. While I pushed them off and got away, it was a bizarre entrance to a country that I was supposed to be calling my home for the next 12 months.

In the end… I’ve stayed in the Solomons for three years, two years longer than I’d planned. Maybe this is the point where those wiser than I will talk about ‘baptism by fire’, etc and talk about the symbolism of those tough first few days. Who knows. All I know is that while that headlock was definitely not a reflection on the warmth and generosity of Solomon Islanders, the rescue of those 13 people was definitely a reflection on the adventure that would lay ahead.

And these past three years have been a pretty extraordinary existence. I worked for two and a half years as the on-staff journalist/photographer for the Australian-led peacekeeping/aid mission known as the Regional Assistance Mission to Solomon Islands (RAMSI). The job gave me the chance to travel to some of the most remote parts of the Solomons, and throughout the Pacific: to Samoa, Vanuatu and Kiribati, countries I knew almost nothing about.

Early on I came to realise just how special the opportunity in front of me was. The Solomon Islands are, in many ways, a photographer’s dream. It is beautiful, it’s incredibly diverse, and it is completely unexplored. There are thousands and thousands of stories just waiting to be told. As a result, I’ve carried my camera every day, nearly everywhere I’ve gone, for three years. During these three years I’ve seen some extraordinary things, some truly stunning places, and met some inspiring, genuinely unique people. And (the key reason for somewhat self-indulgent blog post), I’ve been able to photograph a lot of this stuff too.

The result? It’s called SOLO: life in the Solomon Islands.

It is my first book, a 68-page book of my photographs that document of life in the ‘modern’ Solomon Islands, the country that I’ve called home for the past three years. In SOLO I’ve tried to showcase the Solomon Islands that I’ve seen and come to know: as much a tropical paradise in the South Pacific as a country with more than its fair share of problems, where the balance between kastom (tradition) and the realities of modern life often do not sit well together.

Be sure to take a look at the PDF sample (2.2MB) to get a sense of the book, and if you’re keen to get hold of a copy, head on over to PayPal to order a copy and I’ll get it over to you quick-smart.

For those who are keen, there’s also a Facebook page where you can leave your comments, suggestions and ideas for Solomon Islands photography. Or if you’ve got any comments, feel free to leave them below.

So whether you’ve lived in the Solomons your whole life or are just looking to discover a bit more about a special part of the South Pacific, I do really hope you enjoy SOLO, as I can promise you that putting it together has been a pretty wild adventure.

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