Swimming with Whale Sharks in Papua

The map below shows our October 2018 voyage with Coral Expeditions from Biak to Darwin. There is no doubt that the highlight  of the voyage was swimming with whale sharks in Cenderawasih Bay in Papua.

October 2018 facebook


The whale shark is the largest non-cetacean animal in the world with an average length of 10 metres and weighing 9 tonnes. They are actually sharks although they have tiny teeth because they are filter feeders like whales, living on plankton and small squid or fish. The whale shark inhabits warm tropical or temperate waters, is pelagic and lives in the open sea, but seasonal feeding aggregations occur at many sites around the world including Cenderawasih Bay shown in the centre of this map of Indonesian Papua.

Cendrawasih Bay

We fly from Darwin to Biak where we join the Coral Discoverer and sail south into Cenderawashih Bay (Bird of Paradise Bay) looking for the Bagans (floating fish traps) to which the whale sharks are attracted by an expansive seafood menu.



We leave the Coral Discoverer on the smaller Xplorer vessel and approach the Bagan with some of our group already in the water.


A whaleshark feeding next to the Bagan net. It feeds by sucking in large volumes of water and then expelling it through its gills



Is that me on the right? Look for another whaleshark in the background left. It was a fantastic morning and we had nine whalesharks around us including an infant.

WS3Oh My!  What a big mouth you have. Think of Jonah and the whale. The small fish attached to the bottom of the whale sharks live off whatever they clean off their skin.


Thank you to my fellow Coral Expedition explorers for their underwater photographs


To complete a wonderful day we went ashore at Kwatisore to meet the villagers, to be entertained with some traditional singing and dancing, and to browse their market


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The next voyage to Papua, Cenderawasih Bay  and the Spice Islands with Coral Expeditions will be in December 2019 and January 2020 aboard the Coral Adventurer. Please go to their website for more details.




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Ian Burnet talking at ‘Better Read than Dead’


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Where Australia Collides with Asia – the latest book review

Where Australia Collides with Asia - IHS poster 2

Ian Burnet, with his thirty years’ personal experience in the culture and history of the area, gives competent, intelligent and entertaining accounts of the voyages of the three main protagonists whose discoveries transformed our understanding of the processes of evolution and species formation. Specifically, he discusses Joseph Banks, Charles Darwin and Alfred Russel Wallace, after whom the Wallace Line is named. The book is superbly illustrated with eighteenth and nineteenth century paintings, etchings, drawings and maps, some of which hail from the diaries of the explorers. It also features modern photographs of animals, birds and locations. Extracts from Banks’, Darwin’s and Wallace’s diaries and books also form a substantial part of the narrative and are used to great effect by Burnet to enhance and illustrate his story.

The books style is somewhat journalistic, giving us ‘just the facts’. Considering his knowledge of this part of the world, it is a shame that the author did not enlist his own experiences to influence the narrative, by allowing the reader to see the area through an explorer’s or scientist’s eyes. While he does a very good job of telling the reader what happened, showing us a little more would, perhaps, have enhanced the tale.

However, this remains a very good book. It has been thoroughly researched and contains a useful bibliography enticing readers to pursue the subject further. It is well written, informative and engaging, all of which are essential in a work aimed at a general audience. I found much to admire and to keep reading without effort. The quotations have been well chosen and enhance the narrative. The characters of Darwin, Wallace and Banks are fleshed out nicely and their stories are presented in a sensible chronological order. I can see how Burnet’s account could encourage anyone interested in evolution, exploration or natural history to read Darwin’s Voyage of the Beagle and the two volumes of Wallace’s Malay Archipelago for themselves. In this sense, Burnet has done a very good job indeed.


Susan Double, Paleontology Department, Flinders University, South Australia.




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‘Friends in Australia’ – a message from Sutan Sjahir, the Prime Minister of the newly declared Republic of Indonesia, November 1945.

On 17 August 1945 and two days after the Japanese surrender, Soekarno and Hatta unilaterally declared Indonesia’s Independence and became the first President and Vice President of the Republic of Indonesia.


Hatta and Soekarno preparing the declaration of Independence


Soekarno Proclamation

Soekarno reading the Declaration of Independence on 17 August 1945

Brothers and Sisters All!

I have asked you to be in attendance here in order to witness, an event in our history, of the utmost importance.

For decades we, the People of Indonesia, have struggled for the freedom of our country- even for hundreds of years!

There have been waves in our actions to win independence, which rose, and there has been those that fell, but our spirit still was set in the directions of our ideals.

Also during the Japanese period, our efforts to achieve national independence never ceased. In this Japanese period it merely appeared, that we leant upon them. But fundamentally, we still continued to build up our own powers, we still believed in our own strengths.

Now has come the moment, when truly, we take the fate of our own actions and the fate of our own country into our own hands. Only a nation bold enough to take its fate into its own hands, will be able to stand in strength.

Therefore last night, we had deliberations with prominent Indonesians from all over Indonesia. That deliberative gathering was unanimously of the opinion that NOW has come the time to declare our independence.

Brothers and Sisters:

Herewith we declare the solidarity of that determination.

The Dutch East Indies government in exile was based in Brisbane, Australia and the Dutch prepared ships to carry arms, munitions and troops to re-occupy Indonesia and re-establish their colonial state.  Indonesian seamen living in voluntary exile in Australia during the war,  together with other Asian seamen, and Australian Waterside Workers,  imposed a ‘black ban’ on loading Dutch ships bound for Indonesia in Australian ports. The efforts of the Indonesian seamen, the support of ordinary Australians for Indonesian Independence and the actions of the waterside workers who, maintained the  ‘black ban’, caused Dutch efforts to quickly re-occupy Indonesia to falter.

The Australian government  did not support the Dutch in their efforts to re-establish their colonial state and instead took the side of the new Indonesian nation. The Australian Government under Prime Minister Chifley refused to break the ‘black ban’ on the grounds that it was a dispute involving a foreign nation and their own subjects.

In November 1945, Sutan Sjahir, the Prime Minister of the newly declared Republic of Indonesia sent this message of thanks to the Australian people, who by their actions, helped support Indonesia’s independence at the most crucial point in its history.


‘Friends in Australia, I am unknown to most of you and yet I call you my friends. Most of you, who really are the workers, who refused to load the Dutch ships with arms and munition, which would be used against our Republic. The thousands, who are holding demonstrations, to protest against the onslaught against our independence, the thousands of you, who sympathise with our struggle for our freedom. You are all my friends.

When the war broke out, I was still a Dutch exile on the island of Banda. I heard of Australians being landed on the island of Ambon and the island of Timor. They came there to fight the Japanese, to defend their home country. Australians fought in Malacca, and  in Sumatra, Australians fought in Java. Australians fought all the way back from North Africa to Papua to defend their homeland. An invasion of Australia by the Japanese was threatening. Then things took a turn. Australians and the Americans fought the Japanese back through the jungles and over the seas to their homeland. Australia had a narrow escape. I think Australians are tough fighters. But, I admire most of all, that, you did not fight for territorial or political nor economical gains. You, Australians fought so bravely, because you wanted to defend your freedom. You are fighters for freedom, all the way long from North Africa to Australia up to Japan.

I think, that is why you ought to understand our position now, we are fighting for our freedom!

 With you, we want a world where freedom of the people and freedom of men are really safeguarded. With you, we want to stand to together against all enemies of freedom. If we have achieved our aims, become strong and independent country, we assure you, you need not fight anymore in Sumatra, in Java, in Borneo, Ambon, Timor, for freedom. We ourselves, we will withstand all onslaught on freedom of our country. And so defend, your freedom too, you will be able to keep your sons at home, working for the welfare of your people and for the welfare of humanity.

We know, that your country has come out of the war as an important industrial country. We are still an agricultural country. We need your engines and other industrial products.  I suppose, you can use our agricultural products. Therefore, we can and we will certainly, establish close relations as good neighbours, exchanging the goods of our countries.’

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Sutan Sjahir speaking to foreign journalists

My thanks to Anthony Liem for his research on this subject and his enthusiasm in making sure that this story is as widely known as possible.


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The Dukono Volcano on Halmahera

When our Coral Expeditions cruise arrived in the town of Tobelo on the northwestern arm of the island of Halmahera in October 2018, the Dukono volcano was erupting ash. This should not have been a surprise since research shows that the volcano has been erupting almost continuously  since 1978.


The Dukono volcano as seen from the Coral Discoverer

A rift in the earth’s mantle has caused a sea floor spreading zone between the islands of Sulawesi and Halmahere, causing subduction and related volcanic activity along the edge of both islands. There are sixteen volcanoes on the Halmahera volcanic arc, many of which are still active, and an equal number along the Sangihe volcanic arc.


This seafloor map shows the central ridge, like the larger mid-Atlantic ridge, formed by the intrusion of oceanic magma. This intrusion causes spreading of the sea floor and the related subduction zones are shown by the seafloor trenches developed on each side of the central ridge . The water filled sediments that are subducted into the earths interior then become superheated, melt the surrounding rocks, and cause the volcanic activity.

Google Map

The related volcanoes can be best seen on this topographical map of Halmahera which shows a line of volcanoes formed along the western side of the island, including the clove islands of Ternate, Tidore, Moti and Makian which are offshore.


The Dukono volcano is only 10 km from the town of Tobelo. While we were there it was continuously erupting ash, but fortunately the wind was blowing to the northeast and away from the town.

Ash cloud

The Dukono volcano as seen from the town of Tobelo


A closer view of the erupting Dukono volcano




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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.

East Indies House Outside

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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