Indonesia’s vanishing tropical glacier

In 1623, the Dutch East India Company sent Jan Carstensz and the vessel Pera on the second expedition to explore the south-land after the 1606 voyage of Willem Jansz and the Duyfken to the Cape York Peninsula.

Hendrick Hondius map - Copy

Chart showing the results of the 1623 expedition, Hendrick Hondius, 1641, State Library NSW


As a result of the continuing collision of Australia with Asia, the Papuan mountains have been thrust up to 5000 metres above sea level and are almost continuously covered in cloud. However, while sailing along the south coast of Papua, the clouds suddenly parted and the crew of the Pera saw the most amazing sight. It was what Jan Carstensz described as a sneebergh and what we would call a glacier:

‘At a distance of about 10 miljen by estimation into the interior we saw a very high mountain range in many places white with snow, which we thought a very singular sight, being so near the equator’.

His report probably caused some amusement in Batavia, because who had ever heard of a glacier formed in the tropics and just a few degrees south of the equator? However his sighting was duly recorded on the 1641 map by Hendrick Hondius showing the results of the Pera expedition.

Hendrick Hondius map 3

Detail of the mountains and snee bergh observed in Papua by Jan Carstensz

Later expeditions to the interior of Papua proved he was correct and the Dutch named the highest mountain in Indonesia, and at 4884 meters the highest mountain in Oceania, Carstensz Top in his honour. ( Later renamed Puncak Jaya by Indonesia).

As a result of global warming, the glacier has been rapidly shrinking as shown in these photographs.


Puncak Jaya around 1980

Indonesian glaciers+2 Tim Jarvis

Puncak Jaya around 2015

Unfortunately, it has been predicted that by this year, 2018, the glacier may completely disappear and later generations will never believe there was a tropical glacier in Indonesia and just north of Australia.


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Batavia – Onrust Island

Pulau Onrust is an island in Jakarta Bay that was developed by the Dutch East India Company (VOC) as a shipyard to repair their ships. Consequently it housed a permanent staff of artisans such as carpenters, sailmakers, ropemakers etc.etc.


Onrust Island by Abraham Storck, 1699


Map of Batavia Bay by Johan Nieuhof, 1682. Onrust is one of the group of four islands on the west.

The VOC constructed a small rectangular fort with two bastions in 1656 which was then enlarged in 1671 to gave it an asymmetrical pentagonal shape with a bastion in each corner. The whole structure was made of red bricks and coral, and in 1674 additional storage buildings were built.


Plan of Onrust Island showing the fort,its bastions and workshops built in 1671



Model of the shipyard and its fort from the Indonesian Maritime Museum (Museum Bahari)


This very realistic model is from the historical museum on Onrust Island

It was here on Onrust in 1770 that Captain Cook’s HMB Endeavour was repaired after it had run aground on the Great Barrier Reef off Queensland, Australia. It was also where seven of the crew died of malaria or cholera before they left Batavia in what Cook describes ‘as in the condition of a hospital ship’ and seventeen more crew died before they reached Capetown.

In 1795, the position of the Dutch in Batavia became quite uncertain due to the war in Europe, and the situation became worse with the appearance in 1800 of a British naval squadron which seized five Dutch armed vessels and destroyed 22 other vessels in the bay. Onrust island became under siege by the British and eventually destroyed. After the British departed, the Dutch rebuilt the buildings and facilities, completing the work in 1806. However, a second British attack destroyed the fort again when the British occupied Batavia in 1810.

Martello Towers with artillery were built on the adjacent islands to protect the fort and shipyard and one of these has remained still somewhat intact on the adjacent island of Kelor.


Onrust island was subsequently used as a quarantine centre, a prison for serious criminals, mutineers and political exiles, and then a leperosorium. Today all that is left from its VOC history is a small but excellent museum, a rusty cannon and the Dutch cemetery.


A Dutch Cannon


The Dutch cemetery

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Toko Buku – Bill Dalton’s Review of ‘Where Australia Collides with Asia’

This ambitious, sweeping history surveys both the cataclysmic shifts of continents and also the lives of some of the world’s greatest scientist-explorers. The story, as told in the book’s Prologue, begins as the Australian land mass breaks away from Antarctica 50 million years ago – a gigantic raft of flora and fauna from Gondwanaland adrift on a slow-motion journey north towards the equator.

Though my personal bias leans more to historical, biographical and cultural rather scientific, I found the geological, zoological and botanical information in the first several chapters necessary to set the scene by describing the region’s physical world. Author Ian Burnet’s focus on the earth sciences reflect his background as a geologist. Burnet gives special attention to the birth of the Australian subcontinent, an extraordinary domain of marsupials, startling plant life, colorful parrots and exquisite songbirds that had evolved during its 30 million years of isolation. His precise, erudite and quietly exuberant writing is an expression of the obvious pride and wonder that he holds for his native land.

The chapters dealing with Alfred Russel Wallace – the most famous scientist that you’ve never heard of – are the most revelatory. Wallace financed his first trip to the Amazon by selling specimens to museums and private collectors in England. After exploring South America, he became interested in South East Asia. He met Rajah Brooke of North Borneo who secured the help of the Royal Geographic Society for a free passage to Singapore, using the old colonial port as a springboard for his forays into the archipelago.

Not just a preeminent naturalist, Wallace was also an anthropologist who studiously observed the habits of native peoples he encountered. He recorded the vocabularies of 57 distinct regional languages in the islands. An endearing characteristic of Wallace was his boundless enthusiasm, even during the course of a terrifyingly difficult and life-threatening nine-month sea voyage to the eastern extremity of the archipelago on a Bugis perahu in which he faced disease, shipwrecks and raids by Maguindanao pirates from the Sulu Sea.

As a collector, Wallace shot and skinned 15 orangutans and wrote three scientific papers on the “Man of the Forest.” He was the first to capture the magnificent golden Birdwing butterfly, the first to sight birds of paradise in the wild and the first to bring live birds of paradise to the Western world. On a collecting trip to Halmahera Wallace fell ill with malaria. In a state of delirium, he independently conceived of the idea of the survival of the fittest. His famous ‘Letter from Ternate’ dispatched to Charles Darwin forced Darwin to finally publish his landmark work.

After an eight-year absence, the 39-year-old Wallace arrived back in England in 1862. In 1864, he began working on The Malay Archipelago. Based on field journals he had kept during his years traveling in Malaysia and Indonesia, the opus was published in 1869. Never out of print, written with simplicity, clarity and literary elegance, this wonderful book is both a travel journal and scientific work. To this day, it remains the greatest travel book on the region and one of the greatest of all time. The zoological demarcation between Asia and Australasia, called The Wallace Line, is today named in Wallace’s honor.

On every page of Where Australia Collides with Asia, the reader is embarking on yet another adventure – whether it be to the isolated Galapagos Islands, upriver on the wild Amazon, to the Land Down Under, to the deep interior of Borneo, to the remote islands of the Banda Sea or across the Argentine pampas while discovering surprising new worlds of landforms, animal and plant life and races of people. One can sense the author’s excitement and his desire to infect others with his love of nature.

Burnet has a knack for revealing the most beguiling personality traits and idiosyncrasies of historical figures – the vanity of scientist Joseph Banks, the puritanism of the landscape painter Sydney Parkinson, Darwin’s inordinate predilection for collecting and cataloging exotic insects and Wallace’s good nature and unbreakable fortitude even under the most trying of circumstances.

In my mind, the passages relating Darwin and Wallace, their epic voyages, nearly simultaneous discovery of the theory of evolution and their literary accomplishments are the most readable parts of the book. The frequent quotes – as many as three to a page – from the journals and letters of the main characters enable us to peer inside the minds of these great scientists to learn of their innermost doubts, jealousies, prejudices and secret pleasures. But above all this is an explorer’s book about the adventures of intrepid men with ample doses of science, anthropology and natural history thrown in for good measure.


Meet Bill Dalton, Travel Writer

Bill has spent much of his life travelling and writing. His saga took flight in 1971 as he embarked on an eight-year backpacking journey across 65 countries that was the journey of a lifetime and would later result in his highly-acclaimed travel guidebooks.  Bill Dalton’s Indonesia Handbook was first published in the mid-1970’s and ran for six editions until the early 1990’s and The London Sunday Times called it “One of the best practical guides ever written about any country”. Today Bill resides on the island of Bali and continues his travelling and writing, including his column Toko Buku for the Bali Advertiser.


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Where Australia collides with Asia – An animation of the amazing voyage of Continent Australia



Continent Australia started to break away from Gondwanaland and Antartica more than 100 million years ago and finally seperated 50 million years ago to make its journey north towards the equator. Continent Australia, which includes Papua-New Guinea slowly drifted north until 20 million years ago it crashed into the Pacific Plate which is moving westward.  This movement westward sliced off segments of Continent Australia and inserted them into the Indonesian archipelago, the continued northward movement (at around 7 cm per year) has thrust up the mountains of Papua-New Guinea and it is this continued movement which has caused the recent earthquakes there.

Sabin Zahirovic of the University of Sydney has produced a brilliant animation  showing the amazing voyage of Continent Australia over 150 million years. To view please follow the link below and it is recommended to watch in full screen mode.

Sabin Zahirovic animation

What is equally remarkable is that 50 years before Alfred Wegener’s theory of continental  drift and 100 years before the science of plate tectonics, the British naturalist Alfred Russel Wallace had already deduced in 1856, from his observations of the birds and animals of the eastern Indonesian archipelago, that Australia had collided with Asia.

Where Australia Collides with Asia - IHS poster 2

To read more about ‘Where Australia Collides with Asia’, Alfred Russel Wallace, the Wallace Line and the biogeographic region of Wallacea please follow the link below:



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Mapping where Australia collides with Asia

This map from the University of California, San Diego, shows both height above sea level and depth below sea level. The height above sea level is a direct measurement from NASA altimetry data. The water depth below sea level is a combination of ship soundings and NASA altimetry measurements of the sea surface, which is affected by gravity and can be converted to the relative depth of the sea bottom. These two measurements can then be combined to give a continuous image of water depth below sea level as shown in the resultant map.

Nasa Map

NASA altimetry map (University of California, San Diego)

The NASA altimetry map shows the deepest part of the worlds oceans along the Mariana Trench, where the Pacific Plate is subducted under the Phillipine Islands and reachs a depth of 11,000 metres below sea level.

The continuing collision of the Australian Continent which includes Papua New Guinea, with the Pacific Plate has caused the thrusting and uplift of the east-west mountain range formed across Papua New Guinea. The NASA altimetry map includes Mount Puncak Jaya or Carstensz Pyramid which at 4884 metres above sea level is the highest mountain in Australasia.

Puncak jaya

The summit of Mount Puncak Jaya at 4884 metres in Papua

The collision caused by the continuing northward movement of the Australian Continent and the continuing westward movement of the Pacific Plate has caused the westward curvature of the Indonesian Island Arc and the slicing off of large segments of the northern part of the Australian Continent (Papua New Guinea) and inserting them into the Indonesian Island Arc system.

One does not have to be a geologist to observe the westward curvature of the Indonesian Island Arc and the obvious large transform fault which has moved part of Papua New Guinea 500 kilometres to the west to collide with the central part of the Indonesian island of Sulawesi, which has been offset a similar distance from the northern part of the island.

These segments of the Australian Continent brought with them characteristic Australian fauna such as marsupials  and birds to Eastern Indonesia. When the British naturalist Alfred Russel Wallace crossed from the island of Bali to Lombok in 1856 he observed the difference in the bird life:

During the few days which I stayed on the north coast of Bali, on my way to Lombok I saw several birds highly characteristic of Javanese ornithology … On crossing over to Lombok, seperated by a strait less than twenty miles wide, I naturally expected to meet with some of these birds again; but during a stay of three months I never saw one of them, but found a totally different set of species, most of which were entirely unknown not only in Java, but also in Borneo, Sumatra and Malacca. For example, among the commonest birds in Lombok were white cockatoos and honeysuckers, belonging to family groups which are entirely absent from the western region of the Archipelago.

Wallace had crossed the division between the fauna of Asia and Australasia which has since been named the Wallace Line in his honour. The altimetry map shows that this is the edge of the Asian Continent. On the Asian side of the Wallace Line are the Asian elephant, the rare Javanese rhinocerus, Sumatran tigers, Borneo leopards, the orangutans of Sumatra and Borneo and numerous birds specific to Asia. On the Australasian side are white cockatoos, the megapodes such as brush turkeys or maleo, the spectacular birds of paradise and marsupials such as the possum like cuscus.

Consequently Alfred Russel Wallace was one of the founders of the science of biogeography, also fifty years before the theory of continental drift and one hundred years before the science of plate tectonics he recognised that Australia had collided with Asia and along with Charles Darwin he was the co-discoverer of the origin of species.  Not bad for someone who had left school at fourteen and was self educated in the libraries and Mechanics Institutes of Victorian England.

Where Australia Collides with Asia - IHS poster 2

Read his story in ‘Where Australia Collides with Asia – The Epic Voyages of Joseph Banks, Charles Darwin, Alfred Russel Wallace and the Origin of On The Origin of Species’, and for more information please go to:





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Ancestral Art of the Indonesian Archipelago

Nias 003

                                              Niki van den Heuval                              Art Gallery of NSW

In 2010 the Art Gallery of New South Wales was fortunate to acquire a collection of ancestral works of art, from present day Indonesia, as part of a bequest in honour of the collector Christopher Worrall Wilson. This generous bequest also includes his extensive library and funds for the further acquisition of Indonesian ancestral art.

An exhibition of his collection and the accompaning book by Niki van den Heuval are currently on display (March 2018) at the Art Gallery of New South Wales.

My interest is in those works from the island of Nias which lies off the west coast of Sumatra and sits perched rather precariously on the leading edge of the Asian continent and above the major Indian Ocean subduction zone. Despite the threat of earthquake and tsunami a rich ancestral culture has developed on this isolated island.

Nias Map

Nias has a warrior culture and this picture shows the men posing with their weapons and shields before a communal adat house built from massive ironwood piles and with a towering roof. Pay attention to their unique sword and scabbard as well as the leaf shaped shields the men are holding.

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Portrait of warriors before an adat house. Bawomantaluo village South Nias, 1910/1916          (Nationaal Museum van Wereldculturen, Netherlands)

In former times warfare and headhunting were prevelant throughout Nias, with both activities considered vital to a society’s prosperity. The trappings of a warrior included adornments to signify success and rank, protective clothing  and weapons such as swords, spears and large shields. Carved in the form of a stylised leaf and shaped from a single piece of wood, the shield is embellished with cords of rattan that lend the surface a reptilian appearance.

Nias 005

                                           Warriors, Bawomataluo village, South Nias, 1910/1916                                              (Nationaal Museum van Wereldculturen, Netherlands

The sword and scabbard were among the most important items belonging to a warrior on Nias, serving both as a physical weapon and a protective device against enemies and malevolent spiritual forces. The swords are distinguished by ornate hilts in the form of mythical creatures and their scabbards incorporate a range of talismanic devices.

The hilt of this sword is a composite protective beast which combines the features of a hornbill, deer and crocodile. The amulet basket at the head of the scabbard is caged with animal teeth and tusks, which would offer powerful protection to the user.

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                                           Wood, iron brass, ratten, crocodile teeth and pigs tusks                                         (Christopher Worrall Wilson Bequest)

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                                                                 Wood, rattan, steel, wire                                                                              (Christopher Worrall Wilson Bequest)

A Nias tribal chief wearing a headress, his protective clothing and the decorative regalia of his office, together with his sword, scabbard and amulet basket.

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                                       Portrait of a South Nias Chief,  by C B Nieuwenhuis c 1918                                       (Nationaal Museum van Wereldculturen, Netherlands)

The exhibition also includes collections from the Batak people of North Sumatra, the Dyak and Iban of Borneo, remote highlanders living in Central Sulawesi, various people of eastern Indonesia’s Lesser Sunda Islands, as well as those from the Cenderawasih Bay region of northern West Papua. The arts created by these communities include figurative sculpture, masks, amulets, weapons, textiles, adornments and utilitarian items.






























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Explore the Collision of Continents


Reposted with permission from an AIYA blog and my thanks to Lachlan Haycock

Prolific writer and historian Ian Burnet has authored numerous books about Indonesia, and has travelled expansively across the archipelago. With the recent release of his latest publication, Where Australia Collides with Asia, we decided to delve into what it is about the nation’s cultural and biological diversity that so fascinates Ian.

What is Where Australia Collides with Asia about? How did you come to write it?

Alfred Russel Wallace is one of my heroes. He left school at 14 and became interested in the natural world while working in the countryside as an assistant surveyor. He started collecting and pressing plants before he had any idea there was such a science as botany. He then educated himself through local libraries and the Mechanics Institutes that were being set up all over Britain.

He then decided he could make a living collecting natural history specimens (insects, butterflies, birds, animals) in the Amazon and sending them back for sale to collectors in England.

I always wanted to write a book about Wallace but had to find a way that was new and different to what had already been done. It was introducing the story of continental drift and where Australia collides with Asia that allowed me to do this.

What is the story behind the Wallace Line?

In 1856 Alfred Russel Wallace arrived for a few days on the island of Bali. Here he saw all the same birds that he had seen in his previous three years of collecting specimens in Singapore, Malaya and Borneo. When he crossed from Bali to Lombok and further into the eastern archipelago, he never saw the same birds again, instead seeing Australian species such as cockatoos, honeyeaters, bush turkeys and birds of paradise.

The Wallace Line represents the biogeographic boundary between the fauna of Asia (elephants, tigers, and all kinds of placental mammals including primates) and the fauna of Australasia (marsupials and all the different birds mentioned above).

Wallace was one of the founders of the science of biogeography. He was the founder of the idea of continental drift, because 50 years before Alfred Wegener had introduced the concept of continental drift and 100 years before the science of plate tectonics, Wallace had already concluded that Australia had collided with Asia. He was also, along with Charles Darwin, the co-founder of the most important scientific breakthrough of the last few hundred years – the concept of evolution through natural selection.

Not bad for someone who was self-educated!

What does your book have to say about Indonesia?

The fact that all these discoveries took place in Indonesia is something for Indonesians to celebrate. It should increase awareness by Indonesians of Indonesia’s unique position in the natural world and the importance of conservation of its already threatened species.

Can you tell us a little about yourself and your background?

I lived and worked in Indonesia for 15 years as a geologist and have visited Indonesia for work or travel almost every year for another 30 years. It was after I retired in 2004 that I started researching and writing books about the always fascinating history of Indonesia and its people (including Spice Islands, East Indies, Archipelago and Where Australia Collides with Asia).

How important is it for you to both explore personally and share with others the history of Australia’s interactions with Asia?

Indonesia, spread across seventeen thousand islands and stretching the same distance as from Perth to Wellington in New Zealand, is the most culturally diverse nation on the planet. All this is on our doorstep as Australians, but for varying reasons most of us remain unaware of how much there is to see and experience in Indonesia. My books, the tours across Java, and the sailing voyages around the eastern archipelago are my contribution to bringing the wonders of Indonesia to a wider world, especially those in Australia.

Where can we find out more information?

Details about the books and the tours/voyages are available at this website. About 130 blogs, written over five years, about my travels and interests in Indonesia are available here.

A big thanks to Ian Burnet for his time and passion for Indonesian biogeography and diversity – AIYA.




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