The Wallace Line

In June 1856 the British naturalist Alfred Russel Wallace crossed the narrow strait between the islands of Bali and Lombok. During the few days when he stayed on the north coast of Bali he saw birds highly characteristic of Asian ornithology of which he was already familiar and would expect to see the same birds as soon as he crossed the Lombok Strait. After a turbulent crossing and being dumped on the shores of Lombok he never saw the same birds again. He found a totally different set of species, most of which were entirely unknown not only in Java, but also in Borneo where he had spent the last two years.

Among the commonest birds he found in Lombok were white cockatoos and honeyeaters which are characteristic of Australia and are entirely absent from the western region of the archipelago.

Where Australia Collides with Asia - IHS poster 2

Wallace wrote in his book The Malay Archipelago:

The great contrast between the two divisions of the Archipelago is nowhere so abruptly exhibited as on passing from the island of Bali to that of Lombok, where the two regions are in closest proximity … The strait is here fifteen miles wide, so that we may pass in two hours from one great division of the earth to another, differing as essentially in their animal life as Europe does from America.

The Lombok Strait represents part of the biogeographical boundary between the fauna of Asia and those of Australasia which was subsequently named the Wallace Line. On the Asian side of the Wallace Line are the Asian elephant, the rare Javanese rhinoceros, Sumatran tigers and Borneo leopards, all kinds of monkeys, the orang-utans of Sumatra and Borneo, and numerous birds that are specific to Asia. On the Australasian side are the marsupials such as the possum-like cuscus and the tree kangaroos, as well as birds specific to Australasia such as white cockatoos, honeyeaters, brush turkeys and the spectacular Birds of Paradise. By his observations Alfred Russel Wallace had made a major contribution to a new science, the science of biogeography, or of the relationship between zoology and geography.


That larrikan of the Australian bush, the yellow crested white cockatoo, made his presence felt all across Wallacea which is the name given to that part of the eastern archipelago which has Australian species.

Here he has pushed himself into an Indonesian market scene, which a Dutch artist has used to display the many varieties of tropical fruits found in Indonesia.

Rijksmuseum_Indonesian Market_Cockatoo

He also hitched a ride on a EastIndiaman to travel to Holland where he has pushed himself into a ladies boudoir in this allegorical scene by Jan Brueghel. Of course he will soon spoil this scene of happy domesticity by screeching the only sound he knows.


The Sense of Hearing by Jan Brueghel

Read more about the voyages of Alfred Russel Wallace, the Wallace Line and Wallacea in this recently published book entitled  ‘Where Australia Collides with Asia.

Rosenberg Cover Image 3

About ianburnet

Author of the book, Spice Islands. Which tells the History, Romance and Adventure of the spice trade from the Moluccas in Eastern Indonesia over a period of 2000 years. Author of the book, East Indies.Which tells the history of the struggle between the Portuguese Crown, the Dutch East India Company and the English East India Company for supremacy in the Eastern Seas. Author of the book 'Archipelago - A Journey Across Indonesia'. Author of the book 'Where Australia Collides with Asia' Author of the book 'The Tasman Map'. Author of the book 'Eastern Voyages'.
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7 Responses to The Wallace Line

  1. Grant says:

    Interesting Ian. Just had my 65th Birthday on the 13th of November. Grant.

  2. toni pollard says:

    I have had a print of the painting of the fruits on my dining room wall for nigh on thirty years! Used it to teach the names of Indonesian fruits when I taught private students at home! Do Australian readers know that the Indonesian word for cockatoo is “kakatua” – how did this come about? Not sure if the aboriginal word influenced the Indonesian or the other way round.

  3. and of course the bird in the Jan Brueghel picture is of a Major Mitchell cockatoo not the sulphur crested species. Look at the colour in the crest.

  4. Thanks for the link to your blog Ian. When time permits, I will browse through back issues.

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