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.

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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.

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The Banda Islands – Fort Belgica

The original Fort Belgica was rebuilt in 1673 and the new design consisted of a low outer pentagonal structure with five angled corner bastions and a higher inner pentagon with five tall circular towers. The fort was built by the Dutch East India Company (VOC) to protect their monopoly of the nutmeg trade from the Banda Islands and particularly by attack from the English East India Company.

The original plans for the new fort drawn in 1667.


An arial photo showing the outline of Fort Belgica today.

Fort Belgica Alexandre Girardeau

Drone photograph by Alexandre Giradeau

Notwithstanding its massive design, an armanent of 50 cannon and a garrison of 400 men, the fort was captured twice by the English. Once in 1796 when it surrended to an English fleet without a shot being fired and once in 1810 when the fort was captured by British marines led by Captain Christopher Cole.  As he described the attack:

The gallantry and activity with which the scaling ladders were hauled up after the out-work was carried and placed for an attack on the inner-work, under sharp fire from the garrison exceed all praise. The enemy, after firing their guns and keeping up an ineffectual discharge of musquetry for ten or fifteen minutes, fled in all directions through the gateway, leaving the Colonel-Commandant and ten others dead, and two officers and 30 prisoners in our hands. 

(Extract from the book East Indies by Ian Burnet)

The commanding position of Fort Belgica can be seen from this drone photograph.

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Drone photo courtesy of the Nutmeg Tree Hotel

The massive walls of the fort seen from the ground.


It is a great location to entertain visitors with cultural dances and here are the nutmeg girls resting on the ramparts of Fort Belgica.

Nutmeg Girls

And it is a great location to take sunset photographs.

Belgica Sunset

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Ubud Writers and Readers Festival 2017

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From humble beginnings in 2002, the Ubud Writers & Readers Festival has evolved into one of the world’s most celebrated literary and artistic events – an annual pilgrimage for lovers of literature and conversation.

Bringing together some of the world’s most powerful voices in a melting pot of artists, authors, thinkers and performers, the Festival is a platform for meaningful exchange and cross-cultural dialogue. A place where artists and audiences alike can discuss shared inspirations, ideas and concerns, the Festival transcends cultural and geographical borders to create a truly global community.

Not withstanding the rumblings of Gunung Agung, this years UWRF will be another outstanding event. Featuring writers such as Jung Cheng (Wild Swans), Robert Dessaix (Night Letters), Tim Flannery (The Future Eaters), Madelaine Thien (Do Not Say We Have Nothing), Ian Rankin (Inspector Rebus stories) and Simon Winchester (Krakatoa). Personally I will be following the adventurers such as Tim Flannery (The Future Eaters), Per Andersson (The Amazing Story Of The Man Who Cycled From India To Europe For Love), Nigel Barley (The Island of Demons), Simon Winchester (Krakatoa) and Rob Henry (the documentary As Worlds Divide).

Below are some of the ‘blurbs’ regarding my participation in the Festival:


Ian Burnet has spent 30 years living, working and traveling in Indonesia. His previousthree titles, Spice Islands, East Indies and Archipelago – A Journey Across Indonesia, reflect his fascination with the nation’s diverse history, ethnicity and cultures. His latest book, Where Australia Collides with Asia, follows the epic voyages of British naturalist Alfred Russel Wallace around the eastern archipelago.

Ian Burnet telah hidup, bekerja, dan berkeliling di Indonesia selama 30 tahun. Tiga karya Ian yang berjudul Spice Islands, East Indies dan Archipelago – A Journey Across Indonesia adalah karya-karya yang mencerminkan ketertarikannya akan beragam karakter, etnis dan budaya di Indonesia. Buku terbarunya, Where Australia Collides with Asia, mengikuti kisah perjalanan hebat dari naturalist asal Inggris Alfred Russel Wallace yang mengelilingi bagian Timur nusantara.

Main Program: Banda Tales

26 Oct 2017 13:00 – 14:15
/ 4-Day or 1-Day Main Program Pass
Taman Baca. Festival Hub, Jl. Raya Sanggingan (Google Maps)

350 years ago when nutmeg was worth more than gold, the tiny island of Run played a dramatic role in Indonesia’s colonial history when it was ‘swapped’ by the British for Manhattan. Rich in precious spices, Run and the Banda Islands were the battleground of the legendary spice trade. 350 years on, these writers share their connections to the fabled Spice Islands.

Saat buah pala lebih berharga dibandingkan emas 350 tahun yang lalu, pulau kecil Run memainkan peran penting dalam perjalanan sejarah kolonialisme di Indonesia saat pulau tersebut ditukar dengan Manhattan oleh Inggris. Kaya akan rempah-rempah, Pulau Run dan Banda merupakan ladang pertempuran dari perdagangan rempah. 350 tahun kemudian, para penulis ini bertukar pikiran dan berbagi cerita tentang keberadaan pulau rempah-rempah tersebut.


Festival Club @ Bar Luna: Where Australia Collides with Asia

26 Oct 2017 18:15 – 19:15
/ / Free
Bar Luna. Jl. Raya Ubud (Google Maps)

Stow away on some of the most epic voyages of natural history with author and historian, Ian Burnet. Follow the fascinating footsteps of Banks, Darwin and Wallace and explore the remarkable biogeographical boundary that lies just east of Bali and separates the fauna of Asia and Australasia.

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Special Event: Set Sail for the Spice Islands

29 Oct 2017 11:00 – 13:30
IDR 350,000
Casa Luna. Jl. Raya Ubud (Google Maps)

Set sail for the legendary Spice Islands over a three-course long table lunch at Casa Luna. Restaurateur and Festival Founder and Director Janet DeNeefe joins forces with culinary activist and filmmaker Rahung Nasution to evoke the extraordinary flavors and coveted ingredients that changed the course of history. Historian Ian Burnet and photographer-documentary maker Muhammad Fadli will help steer the ship.

Includes three-course long table lunch.

Berlayar ke Kepulauan Rempah-Rempah legendaris selama makan siang meja panjang tiga haluan di Casa Luna. Pendiri dan Direktur Restoran dan Festival, Janet DeNeefe akan bergabung dengan pegiat kuliner dan pembuat film, Rahung Nasution untuk membangkitkan rasa yang luar biasa dan bahan-bahan yang didambakan yang mengubah jalannya sejarah. Sejarawan Ian Burnet dan fotografer pembuat karya dokumenter Muhammad Fadli akan membantu mengarahkan sesi tersebut.

Termasuk makan siang meja panjang tiga haluan.

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‘Where Australia Collides with Asia’ – Book Review by Maximos Russell Darnley

Some historical narratives can be difficult to follow when they are punctuated by countless footnotes and bibliographic references, or broken by a frequent need to delve into appendices. Ian Burnet frees his work from these impediments. By seamlessly embedding his sources he has produced an almost conversational style. The result is an erudite narrative flow, free of distractions.

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Where Australia Collides with Asia chronicles the reflections and discoveries of great minds and adventurous spirits. Both Darwin and Wallace who feature read Humboldt’s Personal Narrative of Travels to the Equatorial regions of the New Continent. This work introduced the notion of a web of life where no single fact could be considered in isolation. Humboldt created a new genre in writing that eloquently described nature as part of this web of life. Ian’s book is firmly in such a tradition.  It is not just a treatise on Alfred Russell Wallace any more than it is a static account of biogeography. He draws on his extensive knowledge of geology and his long engagement with the Indonesian archipelago to reveal a world shaped by tectonic dynamism producing countless variations and contrasts.

Plate movements create areas that are distinct yet often close to one another.  Both the Galapagos islands and the Indonesian archipelago display such features. In these places, biogeographic contrasts and transformations are easily observed. We learn that it was the distinct differences in distribution of flora and fauna along the archipelago, abruptly changing between the islands of Bali and Lombok that so intrigued Wallace. Through his research, he established this as a biogeographic boundary between Asia and Australasia.

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This work allows us to see the development of Wallace’s research to the point where he summarised all the main principles of Darwin’s ideas on species. When he received Wallace’s ‘Letter from Ternate’, in 1858, Darwin’s surprise was such that he was prompted to write: ‘I never saw a more striking coincidence, if Wallace had my manuscript sketch written out in 1842, he could not have made a better short abstract.’

Darwin’s fear of challenging the literalist account of creation in Genesis certainly placed a break on this desire to publish.  Wallace’s work pressed him to finally publish in 1859. All of this is and the warm friendship that developed between the two men is well covered, so too is their subsequent collaboration.

The selection of photographs, maps and illustration in this publication not only add graphical power to the work but also display Ian Burnet’s meticulous patient gathering of archival material.



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The Mardijkers of Batavia – The music of the Keroncong Tugu Band

For those who like some of the best of keroncong music, follow the link to various performances of the Keroncong Tugu Band:

For all SeaTrekkers, don’t forget to watch the Medley Ambon as it will will bring back white waves of nostalgia


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The Forgotten Mardijkers of Batavia

In 1699 the population of Batavia consisted of 3679 Chinese, 2407 Mardjikers or Portuguese Eurasians, 1,783 Dutch, 670 Dutch Eurasians and the original inhabitants or Orang Betawi.

These Portuguese Eurasians had been brought to Batavia as slaves or indentured labour after the Dutch East India Company (VOC) captured Malacca and Galle from the Portuguese in 1640. They became a vital part of the VOC workforce as labourers, artisans, clerks and soldiers.

However, the presence of Christian slaves in Batavia became an ethical dilemma for the Dutch Reform Church and in 1661 they were freed and granted land outside Batavia on the condition that they convert from Catholicism and they became known as the Mardijkers  or Freedmen.


A Mardijker couple, presumably on the land granted to them outside Batavia in 1661, with possibly their original church in the background

The Mardijkers were granted land at Kampong Tugu (Toegoe) which is now near the port area of Tanjung Priok. At that time 150 Mardijkers moved to this area and after three centuries there is still a community living there. They have retained their original identity over this time and their land contains their own church, graveyard, schools, community centre and cultural centre.

A search of the cemetery shows the family names of Michiels, Qiuko, Thomas, Corua and Abrahams are prominent. The most successful of the Mardijkers was Augustin Michiels who became commander of the indigenous militia and a wealthy landlord.

After 350 years the Mardijkers of Kampung Tugu are still proud of their identity and the photo shows one of the Michiels family wearing a T-shirt showing the Portuguese shield and the breaking of the chains of slavery in 1661.

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A modern day Mardijker from Kampung Tugu

The original wooden church built in Kampong Tugu after 1661, burnt down and was rebuilt in stone, this was renovated in 2007 and is now designated as an historic landmark by the city of Jakarta.


The bell tower and entrance to the historic Tugu church

Cagar Budaya

Gereja Tugu. A designated historic landmark by the City of Jakarta

The Mardijkers have kept their musical tradition alive until today through the small ukulele style instrument known as the keroncong. It is this instrument that has given its name to their music which is derived from old Portuguese folk songs influenced by the music of North Africa and known as Portuguese Mouresco. Originally played by street musicians the music gained wider acceptance during the Dutch colonial period when it was played together with a violin, guitar, bass, tambourine and flute. It evolved to include Dutch and Indonesian songs and the Krontjong Toegoe band has performed in Holland where the song ‘Oud Batavia’ brings tears of nostalgia to a generation of Hollanders who still remember the old times or the ‘tempo doeloe’ in Indonesia.


The Krontjong Toegoe band preparing to play ‘Oud Batavia’

The Mardijkers celebrate the New Year with great gusto in an event called Mande-Mande, whose origins probably belong in India or Sri Lanka, which includes the custom of smearing each others faces with a mixture of water and face powder.


Here Andre Michiels celebrates Mande-Mande with other members of the Mardijker community in Kampung Tugu

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‘Where Australia Collides with Asia’ – the first book reviews are in

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Published by Rosenberg Publishing in August 2017

What Burnet achieves in his wonderfully illustrated and narrated book is to relate the important role the Indonesian archipelago has played in the intellectual history of the West. In their separate voyages Banks, Darwin and Wallace discovered the astounding diversity of the southern hemisphere’s natural world, and it was through their observations that the enlightenment truly came of age. Western thought found it could not reconcile the static divine word of the Bible with the diverse and ever-evolving scientific reality of the natural world.
… Ian Burnet’s very perceptive use of quotes from their public writings and private diaries allow us to see through their eyes the world they found and understand the intellectual problems it raised for them.
… Like the geology of the earth we live on, and like British society that founded modern Australia this wonderfully enlightening and delightful book is many layered

— The Indonesia Institute, Dr. Ron Witton

I would like to thank Ian Burnet for writing ‘Where Australia Collides with Asia’. In his book he explains the significance of the work of these great scientists and states clearly the key place that our Asian neighbourhood has played in their ideas. It brings to life not just Darwin and Wallace but others such as Joseph Banks, Captain James Cook, Captain Robert FitzRoy of the Beagle and many others. Written in an easy to read style, with many illustrations, we are introduced to these individuals as real people and the personalities behind their famous names …
The decades Ian has spent living and travelling in Indonesia and his training as a geologist, have contributed many wonderful layers to this book. The fact that the first of the voyages he writes about is the voyage of the tectonic plates – the voyage of continent Australia – is a wonderful way to start his narrative as it ideally provides background to what is to come.
I commend this book – you will be drawn into another world – a world that has a deep effect on the way we see ourselves and life around us today.

— Asia Bookroom, Sally Burdon

These voyagers are the three brilliant English naturalists who take the empirical natural sciences from their infancy to an epiphany in a bit less than a century. The first is the wealthy young Banks who self funds himself onto James Cook’s circumnavigation, England’s first great voyage of deliberate scientific discovery. En route, Banks and his entourage are the first to scientifically record Australia’s utterly unique flora.
Darwin is even younger when good luck puts him on HMS Beagle for its five-year charting voyage. This exposes him to South American fossils, Galapagos Islands finches and New South Wales platypuses. Back home, Darwin incubates the idea of natural selection, but nervous about dethroning the stern Victorian Lord God of Creation, makes no anouncement.
Wallace is a self-educated working man who sells rare beetles, bird and animal skins for a living. He journeys across the East Indies travelling on mail boats, sailing ships, early steamers, schooners, native prahus and dugout canoes. In a malarial fever-dream he hits upon the idea of natural selection, synthesising all that he has observed in his many years of tropical travels, his letter from Ternate forces Darwin to finally get his masterpiece ‘On the Origin of Species’ into print.

Ian Burnet reminds us that Alfred Russel Wallace is not only the independent co-discoverer of evolution but also a founder of the science of bio-geography as in the discovery of the Wallace Line which separates the species of Asia from Australasia. He has applied his customary skills, in taking the vast bibliographies that document the lives and voyages of the three English naturalists and turning them into an easy and engaging read.

— Jeffrey Mellefont, Research Associate, Australian National Maritime Museum

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