A Journey Across Java

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Beyond Bali, much of Indonesia is unknown to many Australians. But in many respects, Indonesia is Australia’s most important overall relationship.  Yet the historical and cultural differences of our nearest neighbour are vast, possibly among the widest of any pair of adjoining countries.

Strong relationships are based on mutual knowledge and understanding – and travel plays an important role. So it is a good time to visit one of the most interesting societies in the world, accompanied by an authoritive and highly qualified leader.

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For the traveller, opportunity knocks, and here is a frequently overlooked destination that begs exploration. Join Heritage Destinations on a 14 day tour across Java from August 17 – 30, 2016, with Ian Burnet, the author of the recent book Archipelago – A Journey Across Indonesia, as your leader.


Our starting point is the capital Jakarta, centre for government, politics and business – the brain of Indonesia. West, Central and East Java follow including travelling by train to Bandung and Yogjakarta, the World Heritage listed sites of Buddhist Borobodur and Hindu Prambanan and other interesting centres such Solo and Malang before we depart Java at Surabaja. The program concludes in Bali with an optional extension to the rugged Nusa Tenggara island of Flores and the dragons of Komodo National Park another World Heritage listed site. The 8 day Flores extension is from August 31 – September 8.

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For all the tour details please go to the Heritage Destinations website:



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A Little Flight Reading

Archipelago: A Journey Across Indonesia

Ian Burnet, Rosenberg Press, $39.95

An article from ‘The Australian’ – January 16, Travel Section – Graham Erbacher

Is your body back at work but head and heart still on holidays? Time for a good travel book and none more engaging than Ian Burnet’s new title. He hops from island to island (Java to Timor), folowing the volcanoes that form Indonesia’s spine. Join him for his favorite Balinese meal, rice field duck “fried so crispy you can crunch on the bones”. Or feel the fear of facing a Komodo dragon. Baron Rudolf Von Reding Biberegg had the most unfortunate of encounters in 1974 after he fell behind a walking party. All they found on return was the baron’s hat, camera and a bloody shoe. On his memorial : “He loved nature throughout his life.” Burnet recounts a rule: “Nature lovers should always stick to the group, otherwise nature may love them back.”

Archipelago Map

Archipelago – A Journey Across Indonesia


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Spicing things Up! – with Spice Art


Laurent Mareschal

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Laurent Mareschal was born Paris, where he is still based. Much of his work is underpinned by a preoccupation with incommunicability, and therefore invites audience involvement. Mareschal lived in Israel for several years, and his work displays Hebrew and Arabic influences. In his studio, Mareschal explains why he uses ephemeral materials such as spices, soap and food in order to evoke memories and highlight our own fragility. The works are heavily influenced by decorative elements of Middle-Eastern art and design.
Most of my work is quite ephemeral. There is something about the smell that you can’t really refuse. It gets inside of you and makes you remember something. You can play with the colour and the smell and what it makes you remember and I am playing with that. You’ve just got a very thin layer of spices and it affects your effected memory in a way.

My work is often site specific. When I will install the piece Beiti at the V&A I will use ten different stencils. There will be five different spices and of course it deals with time since the work is fading away, so I love to work with time and that the work in fact is not a sculpture made out of marble but is fading away after some time.

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The patterns are influenced by Arabic geometry. The first time that I made it we didn’t put a rope around it so people just walked on it and ruined it completely as they thought they were real tiles. So I want people to look and think OK, they are real tiles and suddenly if they look another time they will realise it is made out of spices and it will surprise them and they will think wow, this guy is completely nuts, he has been working for a week and it will just vanish in a second. So I think it is quite a funny way to look at the work and most of the people are looking at it like that I think.

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Photo from the Jameel Exhibition at the National Library Singapore (Ian Burnet)

Watch Laurent Mareschal create his spice art on V & A video


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The (almost) Forgotten Founder of Singapore

I posted the following blog about William Farquhar and Singapore a year ago.

I have always been surprised by the lack of recognition in Singapore for its co-founder William Farquhar. Please correct me if I am wrong but I cannot find a street or place named after him anywhere in the city.

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In 1818 the Governor-General of India authorized Stamford Raffles to establish a post at the southern end of the Strait of Malacca provided it did not cause a conflict with the Dutch and his orders stated:

The long experience and peculiar qualifications of Major Farquhar, the late resident of Malacca, and his late employment at Riau and Lingga, eminently fit him for the command of the post which it is desirable to establish, and the local superintendence of our interest and affairs.

While the British Resident in Malacca from 1803 to 1818, William Farquhar had established friendly relations with the Temenggong Abdu’r-Rahman of Johor. Knowing that the Dutch would soon be returning to the Strait of Malacca after the hand-over of Java and its dependencies by the British in 1816, he concluded an agreement with the Temenggong (A Malay Chief) allowing the British to establish a settlement in the Riau Islands. Subsequently the Dutch had installed their Resident in the Riau Islands and forced the Temenggong to annul the agreement with Farqhuar.
It was Raffles and Farquhar who landed together at the Singapore River on 29 January 1819. The Temenggong who lived nearby came out to welcome his old friend William Farquhar. Introduced to Raffles, he told them of the current dispute within the Johor-Riau Sultanate. In 1810 the Sultan of Johor had died, his eldest son Tengku Long was his successor; however, the powerful Bugis faction in the Johor-Riau court exploited Tengku Long’s absence at his own wedding to declare his more compliant younger brother as Sultan.

Raffles took advantage of this dispute to sign an agreement on 6 February 1819 with ‘the legitimate successor to the empire of Johor’ for the British to set up a trading settlement on part of Singapore Island and his official Proclamation reads:

The Honourable Sir T.S.Raffles, Lieutenant-Governor of Bencoolen and its dependencies, Agent to the Governor-General is pleased to to certify the appointment by the Supreme Government of Major William Farqhuar of the Madras Engineers to be Resident and to command the troops of Singapore and its dependencies and all persons are hereby directed to obey Major Farquhar accordingly.

Farquhar with his long experience in Malacca was an effective Resident of Singapore for the next four years until churlishly dismissed by Raffles on 1 May 1823, just before his term was about to end.

In that blog post, I challenged anyone in Singapore to find a street or place named after its co-founder. There was no response, so this year I decided to check with Mr. Google – a search found 77 business and place names with the prefix Raffles and nothing for Farqhuar.

Imagine my surprise when this year I found some ‘official graffiti’ under one of the bridges across the Singapore River showing Major William Farquhar and the Temenggong witnessing Stamford Raffles signing the lease agreement with Tengku Long, on behalf of the British East India Company.

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During his twenty years in Malacca and Singapore, William Farquhar amassed a unique collection of 477 paintings of native flora and fauna especially commissioned from local artists. The William Farquhar Collection of Natural History Drawings was presented to the Royal Asiatic Society London in 1827 where it remained until put up for auction in the 1990’s. Thanks to the generosity of Goh Geok Khim, founder of the brokerage firm GK Goh, the collection was purchased for S$3 million in 1995 and donated to the Singapore History Museum in honor of his father. The William Farquhar Natural History Collection is now listed as one of the National Treasures of Singapore.

William Farquhar Book

It is therefore appropriate that the other ‘graffiti image’ under the bridge shows William Farquhar observing the flora and fauna of Malaya and Singapore

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I hope that next year I can report on the offical naming of a Farquhar Place somewhere in Singapore or perhaps the addition of his name to the plaque at the landing site on the Singapore River.

The history of the founding of Singapore and its regional context can be found in the book ‘East Indies’ by Ian Burnet. Go to http://www.ianburnetbooks.com/east-indies

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Giant nutmegs found in Singapore!

Long before it became a temple to the gods of conspicuous consumption, Orchard Road in Singapore was named after the orchards and nutmeg plantations that were developed there in the early 1800’s. Nutmegs only grew in the Spice Islands of Eastern Indonesia and were highly valued. For centuries the location of these islands was a closely guarded secret until their discovery by Portuguese, Dutch and then English traders.

After the capture of the Banda Islands by the British from the Dutch in 1810, nutmeg seedlings were brought to Singapore and Penang for commercial development on these islands.


This two ton bronze sculpture outside the Ion Centre is by Singapore artist Kumari Nahhapan. It represents an opened nutmeg fruit revealing its distinctive crimson membrane known as mace wrapped around the seed which contains the actual nutmeg. Both have the characteristic nutmeg flavour but the mace is considered better and thus more valuable.

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Further down Orchard Road near Orchard Central the mace and seed are displayed in another sculpture, this time in hand welded stainless steel with car paint, by the Italian born artist Michele Righetti . The spice-man has been inserted for scale.

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Nutmeg was so valuable that in 1667 the Dutch exchanged their claim to the island of Manhattan for the English claim to the nutmeg growing island of Rhun, which is part of the remote Banda Islands in the Moluccas (Maluku) of Eastern Indonesia.

Which was of course the real estate deal of not just the century, but of the millenium.


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The Tropical Spice Garden and Clove Hall- Penang

It is lovely to visit Penang Island again and explore the historic streets of multicultural Georgetown, now a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  Row after row of the historic shophouses are being converted into boutiques, restaurants, museums, coffee shops, and whatever else the dynamic citizens of Penang can think of.

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The Tropical Spice Garden at Teluk Bahang has become a major tourist attraction on the island and it is easy to spend most of a day enjoying the spice gardens and learning about the natural history of all the spices and their different uses in flavouring our food, healing our bodies, and providing the scents of aromatherapy.

Penang TSG shop

They have stocked the Spice Islands book since my last visit here four years ago and I am in Penang to give a talk entitled ‘Moluccas: The Spice Islands’ at their new shop in Georgetown itself called ‘Tropical Spice Garden – In the City’.

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I have previously been introduced as ‘the world’s leading expert on the Spice Islands’, so where would the spice–man stay if he comes to Penang? Well in Clove Hall of course! Believed to have once been owned by the Sarkie Brothers to house the manager of their famous Eastern & Orient Hotel, this Edwardian Anglo-Malay residence is typical of the ‘tropical bungalows’ built here in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s.

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The building has been restored to its heritage style and opened as a boutique bed and breakfast residence. The interior has the beautiful black and white tiled floors of the period and showcases a collection of local antiques, artwork, and heritage furniture.

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Breakfast can be had on the terrace overlooking the garden, the coffee is great and the omelets the staff prepare are the best I have ever tasted!

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Franklin Naik Pinisi

Franklin is a loveable tortoise character who gets involved in various adventures and in the process gives young Indonesian children access to reading as an early learning experience. There are both a yellow and green series for different age groups, but my untrained eyes could not see a lot of difference beteween them.

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Thanks to funding from the Rotary Club of Northbridge and the co-operation of the Ganesha Bookshop, we were able to buy the complete stock of the books available in Bali – a total of 167 books. These were made up into 8 bundles to deliver to schools on the remote islands of the eastern archipelago and the photo above shows a typical collection of books to be delivered to a school library (and most times there is no school library).

Maumere to Ambon

Maumere to Ambon

Thanks to Sea Trek Sailing Adventures we were able to load the books on the Ombak Putih before it left Bali for Maumere in Flores, where our voyage to Ambon in the Moluccas began. The Ombak Putih is a Bugis Pinisi. a classical Indonesian schooner, or in more nautical terms a gaff-rigged ketch fitted out for cruising with 12 luxury cabins. The image of our route shows some of the islands where we delivered books, such as Wetar, Romang, Damar, Banda, Run,Pisang and Hatta. Unfortunately we could not reach Nila after running into unseasonal high winds during the last two days of the yoyage.

The Ombak Putih

The Ombak Putih

One of the first schools to receive the books was on the island of Romang and here are photos of the formal presentation to the headmaster and staff in one of the classrooms. One of the delights of visiting Indonesian schools is that even in the poorest communities the parents take great pride in sending their children to school with big smiles and carefully pressed, clean school uniforms.

IMG_1704 - CopyIMG_1711 - CopyCongratulations to the headmaster and staff at this school because the children were highly discipined and after the presentation the pupils lined up in the school yard (in military fashion) for a lovely performance of songs on our behalf.

IMG_1694 - CopyThis same procedure occurred on many of the islands we visited and delivered books to the local schools. Banda Neira is one of the major towns in the region and actually has a town library filled with donated books. Here is a photo of some school children on Banda Island eagerly reading their new Franklin books after school hours.

IMG_1955 - CopyThe Ombak Putih will sail again to the eastern islands of Indonesia from September 15 to September 26, 2016. For more details go to the seatrek website:


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