The Jakarta – Bandung Railway

I have always considered the Jakarta – Bandung railway to be one of the great railway journeys of the world. The line follows the northern coastal plains until turning south near Cikampek when our train slows to a crawl as we grind our way up the first hill of the more than 700 metre climb to the city of Bandung. The railway crosses numerous viaducts and bridges as it winds its way upward through the rich cultivated lands of West Java. Continuously fertilized by ash from numerous volcanic eruptions this is some of the richest arable land in the world and these terraced rice fields produce three rice crops a year, a productivity which is unheard of in other parts of the world.

From the comfort of my seat I watch a ‘documentary’ of life on Java unfold. There are vast vistas of terraced rice fields, backed by distant lakes and rugged limestone mountains jutting skyward. The harvest has been completed and most of the rice fields are flooded with water in preparation for the next planting. Before me is a panorama of tiny terraced lakes separated by dark ridges of mud, each lake a mirror reflecting the sky as the rice terraces descend into the valley below. Peasants, men and women, clad in colourful batik sarongs and the conical straw hats typical of South East Asia work the fields, re-planting the bright green seedlings from their patch in the corner of the rice field into long wavering rows. Modern hand held tractors can be seen ploughing some of the fields. Have the water buffalo formerly used to plough the fields already been retired and turned into bifstek?

West Java Panorama

West Java Panorama

As we get higher into the mountains the rice fields are now confined to the floors of narrow valleys. Here the rice terraces appear to have been sculpted out of the earth, not by peasant farmers, but by an environmental artist trying to demonstrate on a grand scale the harmony of man and nature. Hillside slopes unsuitable for rice terraces have been cleared to grow cassava or bananas, and the land in between grows every conceivable type of fruit or vegetable found in this ‘Garden of Eden’. Around the villages, huge groves of bamboo bend and rustle in the wind, providing shelter, shade and a ready building material for the village houses still framed out of bamboo and with split bamboo matting for their walls.

West Java rice terraces

West Java rice terraces

When first opened in 1906 this track was an engineering masterpiece crossing 300 viaducts and bridges, including a 300 metre long bridge spanning a mountain ravine and a trestle bridge standing 100 meters above the Cisomang River. This trestle bridge now stands next to the new arched bridge that has been built to replace it, but looking down from the train into the white water below is still an awesome experience. At times the railway clings to a narrow track cut out of a rocky cliff and looking ahead I can see the front of the train curving around the next valley. We cross a deep ravine and look down to the torrent below, then we are plunged into the darkness of a 1000 metre long tunnel cut through a mountain.
The track is single narrow gauge which is doubled in places for trains to pass and we stop at least once for an oncoming train. On another occasion I can see an oncoming train across the valley and anxiously wait for our train to pull over and stop. This doesn’t happen and I am seriously afraid of becoming part of tomorrow’s headlines, but to my relief the oncoming train flashes past, and thankfully we were already on a double track.

The Cisomang Trestle Bridge from the early 1900's

The Cisomang Trestle Bridge from the early 1900’s

The above is an excerpt from Archipelago – A Journey Across Indonesia to be published September 1.


Indonesia is the world’s largest archipelago nation comprising as many as 17,000 islands spread over the same distance as Los Angeles to New York, or Perth to Sydney. Indonesia is also the most culturally diverse nation on the planet and its national motto had to be ‘Unity in Diversity’ as these islands are an extraordinary mixture of races, religions, languages and cultures.
Ian Burnet sets out on a journey across the archipelago to discover this rich cultural diversity. He describes how the early Malay people came to these islands and the influence of the Indian religions of Hinduism and Buddhism on the islands of Sumatra, Java and Bali. He discovers the heritage of the Indians, Chinese and Arabs who came here to trade in spices and sandalwood, he follows the rise of Islam and the traces of the first Europeans to enter Asia – particularly the early Portuguese traders and the priests who brought Christianity to these lands.
Travelling by bus, plane, train, ferry, boat, car and motorcycle from Java to Timor, he hops from island to island across the Indonesian archipelago, following the smoking volcanoes that form its spine.
Ian Burnet combines his love of adventure and travel with his knowledge of history to take us on a personal journey through geographic space and historical time, which will delight all armchair travelers.

Archipelago - A Journey Across Indonesia

Archipelago – A Journey Across Indonesia

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The Ombak Putih – A traditional yet modern Bugis Pinisi

The Ombak Putih

The Ombak Putih

The Bugis Pinisi is in part a copy of a western schooner of the mid-nineteenth century and the word pinisi is thought to have come from the english word pinnace. They are recognized by their tall ketch-rig of seven sails including two tops sails and three jibs, with a bipod or tripod mast and fixed gaffs. Most have a long raking bow and bowsprit. The other characteristic is the two lateral rudders which are supported on heavy beams which run right through the stern.

I first saw the Ombak Putih when anchored off Sumbawa in another vessel. When the Ombak Putih with her sleek white hull and large blue sails came into view and anchored nearby -it was ‘love at first sight’.


The Ombak Putih is a mix of traditional and modern ‘pinisi’ design. Her hull and rigging are traditional, while the deckhouse and interior are custom-designed to fulfil the need for a spacious, open and comfortable vessel. An important design principle was the need for a boat, which would provide ample room for both 24 guests plus crew, with each cabin air conditioned and with an ensuite bathroom. The design therefore incorporated a large deckhouse that was low enough to maintain the original sail plan, while also providing sufficient sleeping and living quarters for the crew and a spacious lounge and kitchen for the guests. Behind the bridge on top of the deckhouse, the design incorporated a large sundeck with a canopy to provide shade.

The spacious lounge area

The spacious lounge area

The Ombak Putih was built alongside a muddy river in Batulicin, Kalimantan. On a deserted piece of land, the keel was laid on 11 May 1996. Finding suitable timber for the keel was not easy as ideally it should consist of only one piece. The Ombak Putih’s keel measures 23m by 40cm by 40cm.

Construction then started with the adding of the bow and the stern pieces of the keel. The position and length of the keel, stern and stem will always determine the shape of the hull. The shipbuilders’ technique was to place the first skin planks from the keel upwards. No moulds were erected before the skin planking reached at least 1.5m above the keel.The Buginese boatbuilders are renowned for their skills but it’s still amazing that this huge structure (36m in length, with a beam of 10m and a draft of 4.5m) was made without any drawings, fully relying on the craftsmanship of its builders. A Dutch naval architect was hired to design the interior and the deckhouse and to recalculate all of the dimensions.

On 27 May 1997, the Ombak Putih was launched. Buginese tradition demands that a goat is ritually sacrificed and its blood scattered over various important parts of the ship. In June, the owners received the official ownership documentation, and the crew then navigated the boat to Surabaya where suppliers were already waiting to install air-conditioners, electrical cables and bathroom fittings etc.

In Tanjung Perak, the old canal-type harbour of Surabaya, the boat finally began to look like a real sailing vessel. The top masts were positioned with the help of a huge crane, and the hull was painted white, initially with just two coats of paint although it would take ten coats before the boat really looked white. On 9 August 1997, the beautiful Ombak Putih triumphantly set off on her maiden voyage to Bali.

Ombak Puith with sails 2

The Ombak Putih sails with Ian Burnet on its ‘East Indies Spice Exploration’ voyage around the Eastern Indonesian Archipelago from September 26 to October 7, departing from Maumere in Flores. For more information and bookings contact Sea Trek Sailing Adventures at

Maumere to Ambon

Maumere to Ambon

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Treasure Ships – Art in the Age of Spices – Part 1

This exhibition at the Art Gallery of South Australia includes 300 outstanding and rarely-seen works of ceramics, decorative arts, furniture, metalware, paintings, prints, and textiles from public and private collections around the world.
The selected works of art reveal how the international trade in spices and other exotic commodities inspired dialogue between Asian and European artisits, centuries-old conversations whose heritage is the aesthetic globalism we know today.

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The map by Petrus Plancius is a masterpiece of cartographic art, the sharpness of the image shows that it was one of the first maps to be engraved on copper plate. On the base of the map are the spices, the nutmeg and cloves that the Portuguese, Dutch and English were seeking and the map served as a prospectus for the raising of funds for the first Dutch expedition to the East Indies in 1595 by ‘The Company for Far Distant Lands’ which was a forerunner to the Dutch East India Company (VOC).

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After Vasco da Gama rounded the Cape of Good Hope in 1497 the Portuguese came to the East ‘In search of Christian and Spices’. Their superior ships and weapons allowed them to establish trading bases in Goa, Malacca, Ternate, Banda, Macao and Nagasaki and extend their trading network across Asia.They were followed almost hundred years later by the Dutch and the English in 1595 and 1601 respectively.


At the entrance to the exhibit are examples of the weapons and armour that the Europeans used to establish their trading bases across the Eastern Seas. A Portuguese helmet and a Dutch cannon are on display


This is a kris made for a Sultan, its blade is inlaid with gold and its sheath decorated with diamonds and semi-precious stones and although purely decorative it represents the weapons used by the islanders to fight the Portuguese and the Dutch intruders.

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The Portuguese captured the island of Goa on the west coast of India and used it as the base for their Estado do India and their expanding trade routes across the East Indies and the Orient. This map shows the development of the city Goa in 1699.

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Francisco de Almeida became the first Governor of Goa and the Estado da India


This large wooden chest with a VOC insignia on its front was probably used by VOC personnel to bring their possessions by ship to the East Indies or to be filled with silver dollars to purchase spices and other trade items in the archipelago.

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Spanish silver dollars were the common trade currency but these are German silver thaler coins dated 1592 to 1624 and were recovered from the wreck of the Batavia which sank in 1629 off the coast of Western Australia.


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Treasure Ships – Art in the Age of Spices – Part 2

This exhibition at the Art Gallery of South Australia is the first exhibition in Australia to present the complex artisitic and cultural interactions between the East and the West from the 16th to the 19th centuries – a period known as the ‘Age of Spices’.

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A feature of the exhibition is the diverse range of Christian artwork created at ports such as Goa and Nagasaki and on loan from Portugal and India. Especially this large golden salver used in religious ceremonies and illustrating the Manueline taste of the period. When filled with water the central part represented an island surrounded by the sea.

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It is decorated with animals, foliage and a maritime scene of a caravel in stormy seas.


Speaking of stormy seas the Jesuit priest Saint Francis Xavier sailed to Goa, then Malacca and then the Spice Islands to bring the Christian message to the Eastern Seas. A frightful storm arose off Ambon and the saint immersed his cross in the water to calm the seas but the cross was lost in the water. It is believed that later when Saint Francis was walking on the beach a crab emerged from the sea holding the cross in its claws and the cross was later enshrined in this silver reliquary.

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The Portuguese, Dutch and English traders soon learned of the popularity of Indian textiles throughout the archipelago and that textiles could replace silver as a trading currency. Here is a baju or jacket in the style of Indian chintz and a sembagi or waist wrap garment made in India and both found in Indonesia.


Court garments like this voluminous dodot waist wrap were popular with the aristocracy throughout Indonesia and have often been preserved as heirloom items.

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The most valued Indian cloth was the patolu or double ikat cloth from Gujarat such as this one displaying a procession of elephants with their royal passengers and foot-bearers found in Indonesia.

Elephant patula

Here is the Rice Godess Dewi Sri and her consort Mas Sadono seated in front of a Gujurati patolu with a ‘flowering basket’ design. Mas Sadono is also wearing an Indian silk patolu cloth as a waistwrap under his belt.

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The exhibition will be at the Art Gallery of South Australia until the end of August when it will move to the Art Gallery of Western Australia until the end of January.

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Terra Australis 1606

Terra Australis 1606: The Voyages of the Duyfken & the San Pedrico
Tuesday, 16 June 2015, 12:30pm – 1:30pm
Venue: SMSA Mitchell Theatre
280 Pitt Street
Sydney NSW 2000

Hendrik Hondius 1641 State Library of NSW

Hendrik Hondius 1641
State Library of NSW

Maritime historian Ian Burnet discusses the background of these significant voyages, and their impact on subsequent events. Although Torres’ charts of his crossing were lost, Ian will review the available maps showing their voyages and reveal Australia’s first appearance on a subsequent world map.

The year 1606 saw Europeans sighting Australia twice.

The voyage of the Duyfken, captained by William Janszoon, is as important to Australian history as the Santa Maria is to Americans, producing the first chart of the Australian coastline. Reaching the west coast of Cape York, in northern Queensland, the crew of the Duyfken were the first Europeans to set foot on the continent. Their meeting with the local people was the first documented contact between the Indigenous Australians and Europeans.

Just months later, a Spanish expedition was looking for the reputed Terra Australis, the Great Southern Land of legend. After an unsuccessful search, the expedition split and second-in-command Luis de Torres, sailed west in his own ship, the San Pedrico, and a 20 foot launch. He eventually navigated the Torres Strait while contending with fierce storms and reached the Cape York Peninsula.


The replica Duyfken at Banda

The replica Duyfken at Banda

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Treasure Ships: Art in the Age of Spices — Symposium

Treasure Ships: Art in the Age of Spices is the first major exhibition in Australia which presents the complex artistic and cultural interactions between Europe and Asia from the 16th to 19th century, a period often referred to as the ‘Age of Spices’.

If you are planning on attending the exhibition why not join the one day symposium on Saturday June 13.

Treasure Ships: Art in the Age of Spices

Treasure Ships: Art in the Age of Spices

Join us for a one day symposium with exhibition curators James Bennett and Rusty Kelty and fellow scholars Ian Burnet, Father Warner D’Souza and Joanna Barrkman for a lively exploration of the artistic and cultural interactions between Europe and Asia during the ‘Age of Spices’.

Topics include the preservation of Christian art in India, the history and trade of exotic spices of Eastern Indonesia and the role and influence of Indian textiles in trade throughout the Indonesian archipelago.

When Saturday 13 June, 11am – 3pm
Where Art Gallery of South Australia, Radford Auditorium
Cost $45, $35 Members/Concession
Bookings essential Call 08 8207 7035 or Book online

All registrants are invited to attend lunch and post symposium drinks in the Function Room

Full Program
Nick Mitzevich, Director, Art Gallery of South Australia

Introduction and overview
James Bennett, co-curator, Treasure Ships: Art in the Age of Spices and Curator of Asian Art, Art Gallery of South Australia

Journeys around the Spice Islands
Ian Burnet, author, scholar and adventurer.
A talk about the history, romance and adventure of the spice trade from Eastern Indonesia over a period of 2000 years, and how this drove ‘The Age of Discovery’.

Preserving the heritage of Christian art in India and setting up the Museum of the Archdiocesan of Bombay
Father Warner D’Souza, a priest of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Bombay, Fr Warner speaks of his passion, inspiration and challenges encountered in the establishment of a heritage museum in Bombay.

lunch Break in the Function Room and exhibition viewing
Including a book signing by Ian Burnet – 1pm

Encounters with traces of Indian trade cloths in Eastern Indonesia and Timor-Leste
Joanna Barrkman, PhD candidate at the Australian National University researching the Baguia Collection.
This talk recounts encounters with Indian trade cloths and elucidates some of the key styles of cloths that were popular for trade into the Indonesian archipelago.

Guns, Christians, gold and lacquer: The arrival of the southern barbarians and their black ships
Russell Kelty, co-curator, Treasure Ships: Art in the Age of Spices and Assistant Curator of Asian art, Art Gallery of South Australia
The arrival of the Portuguese at the tiny island of Tanegashima in 1543, off the southern coast of Japan, was the first recorded contact between Japanese and the Europeans and initiated the nanban or ‘southern barbarian’ era. The art created during this era evokes the cross cultural atmosphere at ports along the spice trade routes particularly at the terminus of Nagasaki. The annual arrival of the Portuguese black ships and their exotic menagerie depicted on Japanese screens as well as sacred Christian paintings embellished with Japanese gold and black lacquer portray the confluence of European and Japanese aesthetics which took place during this era.

Panel discussion and Q&A

Post symposium drinks in the Function Room

Treasure Ships: Art in the Age of Spices

Treasure Ships: Art in the Age of Spices

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Insight Indonesia –Spice Islands Saga

I realised that the 2011 Berita Satu/Jakarta Globe TV interview on Spice Islands for Insight Indonesia had never been posted to the blogsite. I hope you find it interesting.

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