Lest We Forget – The Balibo Five

This is the forty third anniversary of the death of the Balibo Five in Portuguese East Timor – can it have been that long ago?

Here is an excerpt from my book ‘Archipelago – A Journey Across Indonesia’.

On October 16 1975, APODETI and UDT militias backed by Indonesian Special Forces crossed the border from Indonesian West Timor for an attack on the town of Maliana. The Fretilin forces were able to hold their ground where the terrain was an advantage but Maliana quickly fell to the invading forces. A tragic outcome of this invasion was the killing by Indonesia Special Forces of five Australian-based television newsmen, Malcolm Rennie and Brian Peters of Channel 9, Greg Shackleton, Gary Cunningham and Tony Stewart of Channel 7, who had filmed the Indonesian advance from the ramparts of the historic Portuguese fort in the town of Balibo. Their bodies together with the film of Indonesian participation in the invasion were burnt.

Nearly a month later in Jakarta the remains of the newsmen were buried in a common grave in a ceremony attended by the Australian Ambassador, Embassy staff and Jakarta based journalists. At the funeral service Ambassador Woolcott stated “These five Australian newsmen were regrettably and tragically killed. No one could have expected it. We do not even now have legal proof or complete evidence of their deaths but all available evidence points to their being killed on October 15 or 16. Journalists are like soldiers. They take risks in the pursuit of their profession, in the pursuit of truth”. A wreath laid on behalf of the bereaved relatives read ‘They stayed because they saw the search for truth and the need to report at first hand as a necessary task’. I visited the gravesite in Kebayoran Lama to pay homage to these men before I left Jakarta. I thought it would be difficult to find the gravesite but as soon as I mentioned ‘Australian journalists’ the caretaker knew exactly what I was looking for and took me directly to their grave. The gravestone tells its own story as it reads – ‘No words can explain this pointless death in Balibo’.


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Oost-Indisch Huis (East India House)

East India House in Amsterdam, built in 1606, was the first building especially built for the United East India Company (VOC) and was the centre of all its business activities. The buildings have been preserved and are now part of the University of Amsterdam.

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Dutch East India House in Amsterdam, Rijksmuseum

The entrance into the inner courtyard from the Oude Hoogstraat street, as shown above, has been slightly modified to allow some light into a new window.


The entrance into the inner courtyard from Oude Hoogstraat


Looking back towards the entrance from the inner courtyard

It was at East India House where the ‘Gentlemen Seventeen’ (Heeren Seventien ), the directors of the joint company, gathered for their twice yearly meetings which rotated in turn, six successive years in Amsterdam and then two years in Middelburg. In 1663 Olfert Dapper described the great hall of East India House:

Hanging in the hall is the great city of Batavia, with its terrifying and invincible castle … hanging all around are the islands of the Moluccas, fortresses, orchards filled with spice trees, cities, harbours, capes that we occupy at the other end of the world.

East India House Directors room Willem V 1768

The Directors Room at East India House. Willem V taking his position as a director of the VOC. Simon Fokke, 1768, Rijksmuseum

In 1997 the room was restored to its original glory including reproductions of the paintings as they were originally hung. The VOC ports at Ambon, Canton (China), Cochin (India), Judea (Thailand) and that of Kasteel Batavia (Indonesia) hanging in its central position over the gilded decorative woodwork of the fireplace.

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The Directors Room at East India House

In the central position is the painting of Kasteel Batavia as seen from Kali Besar West by Andries Beekman, who had actually lived in Batavia at the time. The size of the Kasteel was probably exaggerated to demonstrate Dutch power, but it is a most important visual document of seventeenth century Jakarta and its citizens.

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Kasteel Batavia, Andries Beekman, 1661, Rijksmuseum

On the lower left is the first painting known to be commissioned by the Dutch East India Company. In 1617, the directors of the VOC commissioned a large-scale oil painting, known as View of Ambon  for the Great Hall of their Amsterdam headquarters, the Dutch East India House. The painting has exaggerated the size of Fort Victoria on Ambon and the cartouche shows the image of Frederick de Houtman, the first VOC governor of Ambon.

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View of Ambon, attributed to David Mayne, 1617, Rijksmuseum

The reason that the wording in the cartouche has been painted out is because it credited Frederick de Houtman with capturing Fort Victoria from the Portugese, which was not correct.

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Frederick de Houtman, the first VOC governor of Ambon

In 1599 Frederick de Houtman had been taken prisoner by the forces of the Sultan of Aceh on his second expedition to the East Indies.  The Sultan offered him the position of his commercial agent if he could prove his loyalty by converting to Islam. De Houtman refused this offer but used the eighteen months he spent in captivity to learn Malay and compile the first Dutch-Malay-Malagasy dictionary.

Fredrick de Houtman_Kamus-Belanda-Melayu



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Indonesia’s path to Independence 1901-1945

1901        Under the aegis of what became known as the ‘Ethical Policy’ the Dutch Government slowly began to extend opportunities, to the children of the Indonesian elite to attend Dutch language primary and secondary schools. The best of the young Indonesian graduates were to continue their studies in the Netherlands.


A class in West Java in the 1920’s

1908        Perhimpoenan Indonesia (The Indonesian Association)  was founded by the Indonesian students in the Netherlands. It was important because it was one of the first organisation to campaign for full independence for Indonesia from the Netherlands (and to use the term Indonesia). Many of the P.I students, such as Mohammed Hatta, would later acquire prominent political positions in the independent Indonesia.

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The founders of Perhimpoenan Indonesia – G.Mangoenkoewoermo, Mohammed Hatta, Koesoma Soemantri, Sastro Moeijono and R.M.Sartono


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A meeting of Perhimpoenan Indonesia probably in Leiden around 1924

1908       The Doctor Djawa School was the first advanced educational institute in the Indies for Indonesians. Dr. Wahidin Sudirhusodo and Dr. Raden Soetomo and their colleagues founded Budi Utomo (Prime Philosophy) which would focus on improving the social, economic and cultural welfare of the Javanese people. Overtime, the organisation also demanded parliamentary rights and autonomy for the Indonesian people.


The Dokter-Djawa School in Batavia

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Dr. Raden Soetomo, one of the founders of Budi Utomo

1909        Muslim merchants formed the Islamic Traders Association to adance their economic interests compared to the Chinese merchants in Java. In 1912 this group became Sarekat Islam (The Islamic Union) under the leadership of R. Oemar Said Tjokroaminoto and from 1915 H. Agus Salim. Increasingly the outward religious emphasis of the organisation yielded place to a political one.

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Founding meeting of the Blitar branch of Sarekat Islam in 1914



H. Agus Salim, one of the leaders of Sarekat Islam

1912            Ahmad Dalan established Meohammadijah in Yogyakarta, aimed at adapting Islam to modern Indonesian life. It established schools along modern lines, where Western subjects as well as religion were taught. By the 1920’s it was the dominant force in Indonesian Islam and the most effective organisation in the country.

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Moehammadijah Congress in Solo, 1929

1912              The Indische Partij was a short lived but influential political organisation founded by the Eurasian journalist, Earnest Douwes Dekker and Javanese physicians Tjipto Mangoenkoesoemo and Soewardi Soerjaningrat. The parties aim was to unite all the people of the Indies in the struggle for an independent nation, using the slogan of ‘The Indies for the Indiers’. In 1913 the party was banned and its leadership exiled to the Netherlands.


Members of the Indische Partij probably taken in The Hague. Standing from left to right, F. Bording, G.L. Topee and J. Vermaesen. Seated from left to right Dr. Tjipto Mangoenkoesoemo, Dr. E.F.E Douwes Dekker and Soewardi Soerjaningrat.

1918         Jong Java was founded by Raden Satiman Wirjosandjojo. The major aim of the association was to establish good relations between the Indonesian students in Java, so they could come to some agreement about the future direction of their land and people. This was followed by Jong Sumatren Bond (The Young Sumatren Association) led by Mohammed Hatta and Mohammed Yamin, and other groups such as Jong Minahasa, Jong Ambon and Yong Celebes.

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Mohammed Yamin, one of the founders of the Yong Sumatren Bond

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Dr. Sam Ratulangi, one of the founders of Jong Celebes

1924              The Algamene Studie Club (General Study Club) was formed in Bandung by Sukarno, a student at the Technische Hoogeschool (Technical College), who was familiar with the the ideas and work program of the Perhimpoenan Indonesia. A year later a new student association came into being which was the P.P.I.I (Perhimpoenan Pelajar-Pelajar Indonesia, which sought to unify the existing youth associations and the committee was the driving force behind the organisation of the first (1926) and second (1928) Youth Congress.

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1927                          The Partai Nasional Indonesia was founded in Bandung by former student leaders (Sukarno) and ex-Perhimpoenan Indonesia members. In an important move towards independence the P.N.I was based on the idea of non-cooperation with the government of the Dutch East Indies.

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P.N.I. Congress in Batavia, including Sukarno in the centre, 1928

1927                 Four members of the Perhimpoenan Indonesia (The Indonesian Association) were arrested by the Municipal Police in the Hague and charged with subversion in alliance with the Communists.

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Abdul Madjid Djojoadhiningrat, Ali Satromidjojo, Mohammed Hatta and Nazir Pamuntjak together with their Dutch lawyers, J.E.W.Duys, Eleonara P.A. Weber and Tj. Mobach.

1928                   The second Indonesia Youth Congress was held in Batavia on the 28 October, the following resolution was passed and became known as the Sumpah Pemuda or Youth Pledge:

Pertama. Kami poetra dan poetri Indonesia mengakoe bertoempah darah yang satoe, tanah air Indonesia. We the sons and daughters of Indonesia acknowledge one motherland of Indonesia.

Kedoea. Kami poetra and poetri Indonesia mangakoe bebangsa yang satoe, bangsa Indonesia. We the sons and daughters of Indonesia acknowledge one nation, the nation of Indonesia.

Ketiga. Kami poetra dan poetri Indonesia mendjoendjoeng bahasa persatoen, bahasa Indonesia. We the sons and daughters of Indonesia respect the language of unity, Bahasa Indonesia.

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Delegates from Pemuda Indonesia at the Second Indonesia Youth Congress, 1928

1929           P.N.I meetings and activities are infiltrated and disrupted by agents of the colonial secret police and Sukarno and other key P.N.I leaders are arrested. In 1930 he gave his famous speech against colonialism, ‘Indonesia Menggugat’ or ‘Indonesia Accuses’ in the Langraad courthouse in Bandung, before the court process was interrupted and he is sentenced to four years in prison. He was released from prison in 1932 and then exiled to Ende in Flores in 1933 and Bengkulu in 1938


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Soekarno, his three co-accused and their lawyers at the Langraad Courthouse


1934           The New P.N.I leaders, Hatta and Sjahir are arrested and later sent into internal exile first to Boven Digoel in Papua and then to the island of Banda in the Moluccas. Where they joined other exiled nationalists such as Iwa Kusumasumantri and Dr. Cipto Mangunkusumo.

1942                            After the Japanese invasion and the collapse of the Dutch Colonial Government, Sukarno, Hatta and Sjahir meet again in Batavia and start working towards Indonesian Independence under the Japanese Occupational Government.

17 August 1945.        Two days after the Japanese surrender, Indonesia’s independence is proclaimed in a short statement signed by Sukarno and Hatta.

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Hatta and Sukarno working on an early draft of the Proclamation of Independence

Soekarno Proclamation

Sukarno reading the Proclamation of Independence on 17 August 1945


Thanks to Erasmus Huis, in conjunction with the Nationaal Archief in the Netherlands and the Arsip National in Indonesia, for organising the exhibition on ‘The Birth of the Indonesian Youth Movement’ from 2 July until 3 September 2018, which is on display at the Kerta Niaga building in Jakarta Kota and from which much of this material was drawn.




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Explore the Spice Islands

This is your chance to explore the Spice Islands with Coral Expeditions at a special discount rate.

Ian Burnet promo

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425 kg of spices at the Art Gallery NSW !

Space Makers and Room Shakers until 21 October 2018

Ernesto Neto has made a large sculpture that you can smell before you see — a stretchy shelter filled with the following spices: cloves, tumeric, cumin, paprika, black pepper and fenugreek.



The body and its senses are integral to Neto’s work; his installations stretch the membrane that separates art and life. Neto’s use of transparent elastic fabric describes the tension of spaces he invades while anthropomorphising architecture. Vast masses of fragrant spice swell the fabric in voluptuous, almost bodily, forms that fill the gallery space and our olfactory organs with its aromatic intensity. Unlike vision, smell entails the physical invasion of the body by the scent’s particles. In this way the sensations evoked by Neto’s spice works are involuntary and almost instinctive.



‘I want people to see my sculpture through their pores, as well as their eyes, to feel it with all their senses’.


I suggest you don’t wait until October to view this exhibition, since the aroma of these aromatic spices will disappear over time.



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Amazing aerial views of the archeological sites of Indonesia

This amazing video has been produced for the ‘Society of Indonesian Archeologists’ by Feri Latief and is accompanied by the song ‘Tanah Airku’ with the wonderful voice of Shanna Shannon.

Please enjoy these remarkable images and I hope you will recognise some of the sites described in my books.



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The Singhasari Temple and the Volkenkunde Museum



Some of the statues from the Singhasari Temple at the entrance to the Indonesia exhibit at the Volkenkunde Museum

The Singhasari temple near Malang in East Java is believed to memorialize King Kertanegara, the last of the Singhasari Dynasty. A Javanese chronicle relates that Kertanegara was buried at Singhasari in 1295, three years after his death, and deified as a Shiva-Buddha. The temple tower is divided into two parts, the lower one Sivaïtic, the upper one Buddhistic, because in his life he prided himself on honouring the Hindu god Shiva as well as Buddha.


The Singhasari Temple after its restoration


The Singhasari temple during the Dutch Colonial period

King Kertanegara is believed to have been killed by an assassin during a Tantric ritual or a Tantric orgy as some have written. His deified statue is that of Bhairava, a demonic form of Shiva, who is portrayed standing on a pedestal of skulls, wearing a chain of skulls around his naked body and a crown of skulls on his head. This deified statue of King Kertanegara is missing from the central temple niche in Candi Singhasari and now stands at the Rijksmuseum voor Volkenkunde in Leiden.


This statue of Bhairava, a demonic form of Shiva, originally stood in the main niche of the Singhasari temple and now stands in the Volkenkunde Museum

Bhairava is a frightening form of Shiva. The statue symbolizes for his worshippers the destruction of ignorance and spiritual liberation. Shiva together with a jackal stands on a pedestal surrounded by skulls. His demonic traits are represented by his wild curly hair, his open mouth; and the skulls in his crown, earings and chains.


Bhairiva standing before a photo of the Singhasari Temple

Durga as a manifestation of Parvati, Shiva’s consort, originally stood in the northern niche of the Singhasari Temple and here she is shown as fighting a demon. The craftmanship and suggestion of movement makes this the very finest of the Singhasari statues.


Durga fighting a demon

In 1803 the Governor of East Java, N Engelhard, had the Singhasari statues placed in the garden of his official residence in Semarang. Since 1903, they are now among the masterpieces of the Volkenkunde Museum in Leiden.

You can read more about the Singhasari Temple in the book Archipelago – A Journey Across Indonesia by Ian Burnet.


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