Fires races up ravines near the summit of Foho Madanaga

Above Ainaro wild fires raged up steep gullies towards the towering prominence of Foho Madanaga. Driven by strong winds from Australia’s dry heart billowing white smoke obscured flames, a sign of intense combustion. Coming just days after the Dry’s official onset this was an ominous sign for the bushfire season across the southern continent.

Racing towards the north-west and soon to starve on the tilted rocky layers of Madanaga’s summit there was no threat to my planned southerly route towards Jakarta Dois (Jakarta Two). First winding through the outskirts of the Ainaro traversing small water courses and hills the route eventually makes a gradual descent between the Maumali and Sarai Rivers. This last stretch is gun-barrel straight in parts, lined by a scattering of simple houses separated by stands of young teak trees, corn gardens and patches of green leafy vegetables.

A vegetable garden on the road to Jakarta Two

As I stepped onto the road a cavalcade of motor bikes and table top trucks bedecked with national flags, some bearing the name Fretlin, raced passed. Fretlin flags are common and the cavalcade a sign that horse trading over ministerial portfolios in the new Fretlin led colalition government had concluded. Falintil flags were also present. Originally the  military wing of Fretlin, Falintil was officially dissolved in 2001 replaced by the Força de Defesa de Timor Leste (F-FDTL), the armed forces of Timor L’Este.


Old habits die hard and Timor-Leste still retains many elements of an assertive anti-colonial spirit. Electors have shown a tendency to choose candidates who are part  of “Generation 75”. Current President, Francisco Guterres, is a former guerrilla fighter. Some have found it difficult to leave the past behind.

In 2006 Minister of Interior Rogerio Lobato, armed members of the Fretilin Congress. This episode in Timor L’Este’s recent history was captured by a Four Corners team headed by journalist Liz Jackson.

Lobato’s actions led to a seven-year gaol term. Yet after serving a mere 12 months in gaol he was pardoned by then President Jose Ramos Horta. Such events not only underscore the volatile nature of the country but also the close connections amongst the country’s political elite, connections that cross political lines.  As one observer wrote “ . . . it is hard to separate titles and office from personal relationships, friendships, fall-outs and long histories.”[1]

The Indonesian Invasion

To understand the background to Jakarta Dois (Jakarta Two) it’s best to start back with the Indonesian invasion of Timor L’Este on 7 December 1975.  Essentially it had the approval of Australia, the USA and Portugal. Final approval from the USA was obtained the day before the invasion. Writing in War, Genocide, and Resistance in East Timor, 1975–99: Comparative Reflections on Cambodia, Ben Kiernan reports a conversation between Suharto, Ford and Kissinger on 6 December, 1975:

Even as Ford and Kissinger aimed to strengthen the independence of Pol Pot’s Cambodian communist regime, another Southeast Asian humanitarian disaster was in the making. In that same December 1975 conversation, Suharto now raised “another problem, Timor.” He needed U.S. support, not condemnation, for planned Indonesian expansion into the small Portuguese colony. “We want your understanding if we deem it necessary to take rapid or drastic action.” Ford replied, “We will understand and will not press you on the issue.” Kissinger then added: “You appreciate that the use of U.S.-made arms could create problems. . . . It depends on how we construe it; whether it is in self-defense or is a foreign operation. It is important that whatever you do succeeds quickly. We would be able to influence the reaction in America if whatever happens happens after we return. This way there would be less chance of people talking in an unauthorized way. . . . We understand your problem and the need to move quickly. . . . Whatever you do, however, we will try to handle in the best way possible. . . . If you have made plans, we will do our best to keep everyone quiet until the President returns home.”

His notes are drafted from a telegram sent from the US Embassy to the US Department of State summarising a meeting between President Ford, Secretary of State Henry Kissinger and Indonesia’s President Suharto.

Indonesia occupied East Timor for 24 years until 1999.

In 1975 East Timor had a population of 650,000. Over the ensuing 24 years there were 150,000 deaths as a direct result of Indonesian violence.  How many more occurred as a result of starvation and neglect is difficult to say.

Sian Powell, Jakarta Correspondent for The Australian reported on January 19, 2006 that:

The Indonesian military used starvation as a weapon to exterminate the East Timorese, according to a UN report documenting the deaths of as many as 180,000 civilians at the hands of the occupying forces.

Napalm and chemical weapons, which poisoned the food and water supply, were used by Indonesian soldiers against the East Timorese in the brutal invasion and annexation of the half-island to Australia’s north, according to the Commission for Reception, Truth and Reconciliation report.

The Referendum

After Suharto’s fall in 1998, elections were scheduled in Indonesia for June 1999. On 27 January 1999, Indonesia’s Foreign Minister Ali Alatas and Information Minister Yunus Yosfiah announced that the East Timorese would be granted a referendum on independence. Indonesia’s President Habbie authorised a referendum to be conducted on the following question, in East Timor:

Do you accept the proposed special autonomy for East Timor within the unitary state of the Republic of Indonesia?  

450,000 people were registered to vote in the referendum including 13,000 outside East Timor. The result was 78.5% answering no, and voting for independence.

In early 1999, as the UN referendum approached, Indonesian military and militia commanders formulated a plan to ‘cleanse’ East Timor of resistance, as outlined in the quote below.

The political cleansing of East Timor was planned as early as February, one of the militia leaders present at a meeting which hatched the deadly plot has revealed. Tomas Goncalves, 54, the former head of the 400-strong PPPI (Peace Force and Defender of Integration) militia said the killings had been agreed at a meeting on February 16 in the East Timorese capital, Dili. He said the talks were organised by the head of the SGI, the secret intelligence organisation of the military’s Kopassus special forces.

The head, Lieutenant-Colonel Yahyat Sudrajad, called for the killing of pro-independence movement leaders, their children and even their grandchildren, Mr Goncalves said. Not a single member of their families was to be left alive, the colonel told the meeting.

A thorough account of the systematic violence unleashed on the people of East Timor can be found in Masters of terror: Indonesia’s military and violence in East Timor in 1999 (PDF, 187MB)

As the report explains:

This crime was more than a series of massacres and murders, in which perhaps 2,000 people died, and of incidents of torture, rape and assault. It involved the forced deportation and flight of three-quarters of East Timor’s 800,000 people by September 1999, and the organised destruction of the territory’s infrastructure and housing stock. It involved an attack on the territory’s religious institutions. It was a frontal attack on democracy and freedom, an attempt to dismantle an emerging nation.

Arriving at Jakarta Two

Jakarta Two is on a narrow spur. on its western side there is a steep drop of some 30 to 40 metres running perilously close to the road. My first understanding was that an act of mass murder took place here in 1999 when the Indonesian military pushed people deemed to be supporters of Fretlin over the cliff in the period following the independence vote.

The edge of the road drops away abruptly at Jakarta Two. This view is towards the Sarai River

Thanks to Rob Wesley-Smith, I realise this isn’t the full story. He pointed me to some important observations by Max Stahl who wrote:

I went to Jakarta One and Jakarta two in early October 1999, days after the Indonesian forces left and before the Australians leading International Forces arrived there. I had been told in 1991 about these cliffs where people had been thrown to their deaths beginning in the early years of the occupation in Ainaro. Loved ones were  told their missing relatives had “gone to Jakarta”. I  wanted to see if there was continuity to the way of killing which was everywhere in September 1999. The habits of killers are  guides to their identities in police and journalistic investigation.
What I found stays with me. 30 or 40 meters below the roadside cliff top  was a tangle of bodies, shrivelled  under the hot sun, crumpled on the rocks. Their hands were tied behind their backs. The bare feet had been hacked off at the arch. To this day as far as I know they have no names.
They could have been victims of the mass killings in 1978 and 1979, or the massacres at Kraras where at least 400 people perhaps as many as 1000 died-some made to dig their own graves  just months after Gough Whitlam passed by observing how safe it was to travel in Indonesia’s 27th province known as Timor Timur.


People I spoke with in Ainaro might have been too young to remember earlier killings. Timor L’Este has a median age of 19 years with 62% of the population under 25 years. Such demographics are consistent with a period of mass killings.

Arriving at Jakarta Two my intention was to read the prayers for the departed.

I expected to find some traces of the pain this place must have witnessed. Certainly, in my experience, acts of mass murder can leave an emanation of deep pain yet here on the brink of Jakarta Two, I felt little. Adding my prayers I was content with the notion that the prayers of countless others had brought peace to the precipice, a sense of spiritual calm. While a moral outrage remained acrophobia and a feeling of bewilderment were my dominant feelings.

An enigmatic of landscape

Something else haunted me. Here and there I saw evidence of a once more intensive land use. Relics of terracing on the steeper land a most prominent sign.

At first I thought this was just weathering but now I’m beginning to see it differently.


Again, thanks to Rob, I eventually found Professor ‘s comments.  In The Conversation, he wrote:

And with that, my imagination cut loose flashing terrifying images of just what might have been perpetrated at that cliff under Indonesian occupation? To help deal with my growing sense of unease, I changed our itinerary and set about finding other outcrops to do our work.

And as we did so I began to see the landscape in an entirely new light. Now as I scanned the mountain slopes, the faint remnants of paddy terraces, now largely washed away, shouted “why did you not notice us before”.

The landscape was now everywhere imbued with a dark shadow as testimony to the brutal rural depopulation that had occurred under the Indonesian occupation in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s.

Fortunately for the young, in times of peace memories of past loss and pain have little place since the purpose of childhood is to play, explore and learn.

As I approached Jakarta Two an anguna (local public transport) stopped.  Several youths disembarked, perhaps they were around 13 years old.

“Good afternoon,” I said.
“Good afternoon. Where are you going?” one asked.
“I’m going to Jakarta Two. To pray.”
“To pray?”
“Yes, to pray for the people who perished there.”
“Did people perish there?” he asked.

Still the legacy of those dark times is embedded in the landscape and in the relative absence of an older generation, those who might offer wise counsel.

[1]    Gordon Peake is a Visiting Fellow at the State, Society and Governance in Melanesia Program, Australian National University.

Posted by: maximos62 | September 5, 2017

Where Australia Collides with Asia – by Ian Burnet

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.

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.

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 him 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.

Posted by: maximos62 | August 31, 2017

Cairo Mon Amour: a review by Russell Darnley


Stuart Campbell has crafted a richly faceted novel taking full advantage of Cairo as an ancient centre of cultural and linguistic confluence. He weaves a tale of intrigue and duplicity that, through his descriptive brilliance, takes the reader beyond the façade of material culture into the complex histories and geopolitical realities of the region.

An occasional visitor to Cairo I found his descriptions of the city and its precincts astutely and artistically rendered. Whether in affluent Zamaleck or the City of the Dead he engages us allowing us to walk with his characters entering, as it were, an impressionistic Cairo transformed by the emotions and plight of the players. His work reveals familiar places, at a different time and under different social and political circumstances.

City of the Dead, Cairo Bertramz. CC BY-SA 3.0

Though a sometimes a reluctant reader of fiction Cairo Mon Amour held my attention to the end. It has its heroes and its villains often with a little villainy in the heroes and heroism in the villains. But who are the heroes and the villains? Why has Bellamy been sent to Cairo in the first place? Is his great love really a Soviet spy? Is MI6 the real villain or the Egyptian army or the Israelis? What of the crafty Pierre?

His work makes thorough use of the Cold War back drop. Politically this is not some simple monochromatic rendition of Cold War dynamics but an intriguing and believable story set against the imminent outbreak of hostilities as Egypt prepares to take back control of the Suez canal and the Sinai.

Egyptian soldiers celebrate the successful crossing of the Suez canal during the Ramadan War (1973-1974)

Now when fundamentalism have taken all too prominent a role in the world, his treatment of the Abrahamic religions, their diversity and their consonance, is a timely reminder that those of us who follow such paths all have so much in common.

Obtain your copy from Goodreads, Amazon or the publishers Austin Macauley. Find more information about the book on Facebook.

Also visit the Cairo Mon Amour website.

Posted by: maximos62 | August 28, 2017

Peoples’ Movement to Stop the Haze #GoHazeFree

As I approach my 70th birthday I find a need to consolidate my energy and spend time on those matters that present as the more serious and immediate. One of these matters is the health of our atmosphere and the allied issues of climate change and global warming caused by humanities over dependence on fossil fuels as sources of energy.

Many industrial societies have been lazy, content to ignore the serious legacy of external costs seeking quick profits through a dependency on apparently cheap fossil fuels like coal and oil. Neoliberal economics, with its magical trust in the market as the ultimate determinant of rationality and balance in the world, has gravely worsened matters.

Life in Singapore

Several years ago when I came to live in Singapore it was with some uncertainty. This busy entrepôt with global connections seemed like a model of the market driven approach but this proved to be untrue. Governance takes an appropriate role and although this small island is by no means perfect, there is great concern for the environmental impact of change and development.

Singapore has no extensive natural resources but it has a well-connected society made easier by excellent public transport and communications. With an average population density of 8500 people per sq. kilometre this is a much cheaper goal to achieve than in my own less densely settled city of Sydney with around 400 people per sq. kilometre.

Green corridors are a feature of Singapore.

Singapore also has a locational advantage at a pivotal point between the Pacific and Indian Oceans, at the head of the Malacca Straits. Alongside this is its highly educated population.

Haze and the El Niño year of 2015

Life in Singapore proved very comfortable, until 2015. That year, an El Niño year, the city was enveloped in smoke haze.

A bad haze day in 2015

A began blogging about this problem, first in September of that year as the haze grew in intensity then again in October. Around about this time I left for Bali which was well clear of the smoke haze.

Encountering PM.Haze

Not long after this a colleague from the ANZA Writers group that I convene mentioned a group called the ‘Mother Earth Toast Masters Club”. I went along to a meeting and it was there I met Tan Yi Han of the Peoples’ Movement to Stop Haze.

Since then I’ve become involved with the group. I’m probably the oldest member the group has ever had, but I find nothing but acceptance and a willingness to use what little life experience that I’ve accumulated over the past 70 years.

This month they featured my picture of me and ran a short interview with me under the banner Volunteer Spotlight: Russell. I hope you enjoy the read.


Forest and peat fires in Riau, Indonesia Photo by Julius Lawalata, World Resources Institute.

Sound of an approaching motor bike broke a long reflection on the devastation caused by fires that have raged across Indonesia’s peatlands in recent years producing suffocating smoke haze across the region. Joining an expedition to explore the causes of the smoke haze was sure to provoke such thoughts. Here on Tebing Tinggi Island, close to Riau Province’s Kampar Peninsula had also drifted to the fire regime in my own country. In my lifetime now a few months shy of three score years and ten the great warming was undeniable.  Fire was increasing in incidence and I could only conclude that we were no longer theorising about global warming but dealing directly with it’s consequences.


Our small group parted opening the way as a solitary man on a Honda step-through moved between us. This was a common event in many parts of Indonesia, but the man rode with a small sway-back pig trussed and draped in front of him.

“Strange that he’s carrying a pig. Isn’t everyone here Muslim,” I asked the young man standing beside me.

“He’s from the forest.  His people don’t have a religion,” he replied.

“None, at all?”

“No, they believe in forest spirits.”

“Where is he going?”

“Into the forest. His people live there.”

Endangering the primal spirits of the land

The archipelago’s first people understand God as a host of presences in the forests, on the mountains, everywhere throughout Nusantara.  Mountains, had the most important status in the spiritual understandings. Early religion frequently involved the worship of mountain deities and a belief that ancestors also dwelt in the mountains. [i]

Forests too were important affording access to a realm crowded with forest spirits.This man no doubt followed such a primal path. In Riau, his people once called themselves Batin. They lived in swidden-clearings often close to rivers trading forest products downstream as Dayak groups did. Some came to be named after their rivers and, like other beings inhabiting the forests, were often forced from their places into areas of swamp forest or secondary re-growth.

Habitat loss and endangered species were well documented, tigers and orang utan the iconic faces of this process. Yet, El Nino’s smoke haze, plaguing Singapore and Indonesia’s cities masked another tragedy the threat to Riau’s Indigenous people. Sadness and disquiet filled me.

The People

The man on the motorbike was travelling into a forested area.  It seems that, as with the nearby people of the Kampar peninsula 20kms south on the mainland, he was Indigenous and most likely related. Where forests remain in this part of Riau the Indigenous people use them for hunting, charcoaling, fishing and small-scale farming, while supplementing their incomes with wage labouring for the concessionaires (oil, gas, logging and plantations).

Most of the communities with customary territories on the southern side of the Peninsula were relocated to the northern side of the Kampar river.  This isn’t a recent phenomenon in Indonesia.  I saw it being applied back in 1988 when visiting the Mentawai Islands.  Then people were taken from their Uma on the dendritic branches of rivers and concentrated in camps near the main branches.  The same process is evident in Kalimantan.

Despite this enforced relocation Indigenous people, all over Indonesia, still go back to their territories where they farm, hunt, fish, gather herbs, fruits and resins or do a little cash cropping.

Many Indigenous people, in the Riau area will refer to themselves as Melayu at first asking but their roots lie far back in prehistoric times.  In historic times they have been ruled by coastal Hindu, Buddhist and Malay kingdoms. Often referred to as Siak by the ruling kingdoms, they adopted the generic name Batin for themselves. They lived in swidden-clearings often close to rivers trading forest products downstream, just as Dayak groups did. Some came to be named after their rivers and, like other beings inhabiting the forests, were often forced from their places into areas of swamp forest or secondary re-growth.

Habitat loss in Riau

Riau has experienced one of the fastest rates of deforestation in Indonesia. When I attended middle school, 50 years ago it was known as an area of equatorial forest and swamp of great diversity but intensive resource extraction (logging, oil and gas) and conversion of forests to oil palm and pulpwood plantations means that today the province has lost over 80% of its original forest cover.

Asia Indigenous Peoples’ Pact

Just as I began to write this piece I received an email from Emmanuela Shinta.  It linked to a new book

HerStory3: Championing Community Land Rights and Indigenous Women’s Leadership in Asia, published by Asia Indigenous Peoples’ Pact. 

Click on the cover to download your copy.

The notes on the publication read

“This book, as a compilation of indigenous women’s “her stories”, is a reflection of the conditions and struggles on the ground of indigenous women. They are the stories of Katima, Jannie, Endena, and 13 other indigenous women who are extraordinary women in their own right. They are in the hearts and minds of other women and villagers because of their suffering, struggles, sacrifices, commitments, dedication and lifetime achievements in advancing the dignity of women and indigenous peoples.

This is now the third volume of her stories to be produced by AIPP to amplify the voices and struggles on indigenous women across Asia. This year we are focussing on indigenous women as land rights defenders, in line with the Global Call to Action on Indigenous and Community Land Rights.”


[i] Kempers, B. A. J.                  Monumental Bali: Introduction to Balinese archaeology and guide to the                                                     monuments. Periplus Editions. Singapore. 1991. pp. 4.



In 2015 I was forced to leave Singapore when the smoke haze, mainly from fires burning on Sumatran peatlands, became so heavy it was unhealthy for me to remain. My exit was easy but the people in Sumatra and Kalimantan, particularly Central Kalimantan, were not so fortunate.  All of those in affected areas were living in far higher levels of smoke, without my means to escape.

Understanding the gravity of the problem I began blogging about it.  Shortly after this I met Tan Yi Han Co-Founder at People’s Movement to Stop Haze (PM.Haze). Yi Han’s clarity, patience and commitment to educate people about this problem was inspiring.

Founded, in 2014, by a group of Singaporeans who believe that everyone can play a part in bringing an end to trans-boundary haze in Southeast Asia, PM.Haze aims to empower people with the knowledge, values and skills needed to build a broad social movement to stop the haze and ensure clean air for present and future generations.

Exacerbated by the El Nino conditions of 2015 the smoke haze problem was grave. Harvard researchers and their colleagues estimated that the smoke caused more than 100,000 deaths across Indonesia, Malaysia, and Singapore. Most directly affected were infants and those with pre-existing cardio-pulmonary conditions. Beyond this the impact on global warming was already well established.

Click here for the latest El Nino watch updates

Should El Nino take off in 2017 further smoke haze can be expected, despite the moratorium on further peatland plantation development.   The Australian Bureau of Meteorology on 23 May, 2017, reported that,”The El Niño–Southern Oscillation (ENSO) remains neutral. With the tropical Pacific Ocean warmer than average, and around half the international climate models reaching El Niño levels later in the year, development of El Niño in 2017 cannot be ruled out. The Bureau’s ENSO Outlook remains at El Niño WATCH, meaning there is around a 50% chance—double the normal likelihood—of El Niño developing in 2017.”

Peoples’ Expedition to Experience Peat (PEEP)

It was with great interest that I joined members PM.Haze on the Peoples’ Expedition to Experience Peat (PEEP) 0n Thursday 18 May. Until this point most of what I knew about peat was theoretical.  I had played on the margins of a small peatland swamp as a child, walked through a peatland forest in East Kalimantan back in 1988 and recently took a helicopter flight over peatlands in Riau Province with a PM.Haze. This was my first opportunity to have a close-up view.

Tan Yi Han (right) co-founder of PM.Haze with Taufik Rahman from WALHI Riau


Ng Iris and Zhang Wen, Executive Director PM.Haze, travelling to Sungai Tohor


PEEP participants, media teams and community members from Tebing Tinggi Timur, Sungai Tohor.

The Program

Our journey took us to the Sungai Tohor area on Tebing Tinggi island, Riau Province.


Tebing Tinggi is a peat island formed by slow accumulation over the past 8000 years, since the end of the Pleistocene Ice Age. This process has been part of the coastal stabilisation of Riau province.

Beginning in 2007 two companies began cutting canals through the island and draining the peatland for plantations of sago palm and pulpwood for paper production.

This resulted in land, comprising the concessions issued to the companies, being taken from the local community. Now as the peatland dried out, there was not only subsidence of the land but it also became more vulnerable to fire. In 2014, fires burned across the island.

These coconut palms show the effects of land subsidence.

Peatland where fires raged in 2014, now covered with secondary re-growth, a climax community of ferns and small trees.

After the fires the community invited Indonesian president Joko Widodo (Jokowi) to visit the island.  Villagers presented him with an alternative peat management plan leading to the revocation of one company’s license. The land was returned to the community for sustainable management. We visited this land which is now being rehydrated through the building of canal blocks. PM.Haze members and those joining PEEP helped build the latest canal block.

Canal block under construction. Peat filled bags give it strength.

Zhang Wen digging peat to fill bags used in the canal block

Low Ying Hui filling bags with peat soil

Ng Iris, tying up a peat soil bag.

L to R  – Darlene Kasten, Aurélie Charmeau, Ng Iris and Tan Yi Han who is explaining the canal blocking process

Future plans

Attempting to develop self-sufficiency based on the cultivation of sago palms is a major objective of the village.  At present raw sago starch is sent to Malaysia for further processing. Current plans are to explore ways of value adding, perhaps expanding the existing cottage industry that is already producing sago noodles and sago snacks.  The community hopes to increase its income by adding value to sago production.

Splitting lengths of sago palm trunk before extracting the starch.

Feeding lengths of sago palm into the milling machine. The milled sago is then washed to extract starch.


Sago palm bark and fibre residue present both an environmental challenge and a business opportunity.

Sago starch is cooked for processing into sago noodles in a simple cottage industry.

Preparing the starch dough

A noodle cutting tool ready for use.

The challenges confronting the people of Tebing Tinggi can be found throughout the peatland of Indonesia.  One area where people have also confronted the problem of peatland drainage and wild fires producing toxic levels of smoke, is in the Pelangkaraya area of Central Kalimantan.

For more on PEEP visit the PM.Haze Blog

Ranu Welum Foundation

At the Ubud Writers and Readers Festival (UWRF) of 2016 I also met Emmanuela Shinta, a young Dayak leader.  She was instrumental in organising young volunteers to help villagers affected by the smoke, bringing medical services, supplies and health education during the 2015 peatland fires. In May 2016, she and others founded the Ranu Welum Foundation which continues grassroots education on the smoke haze problem

With the help of Emmanuela Shinta I plan to write more on this in the future.

Posted by: maximos62 | December 9, 2016

Nusantara: Earthquakes and Vulcanism

I began the day thinking about the

This set me thinking again about volcanoes and earthquakes in Indonesia.

According to the Smithsonian Institute there are 1,337 active and extinct volcanic features in Indonesia. Andesite volcanoes associated with subduction predominate. Over the past 400 years 80 Indonesian volcanoes have been active and 64 are Andesite and Basaltic Andesite producing. 48 of these are strato-volcanoes the most explosive types.


Mt Agung last erupted in 1964.

Looking for resources on volcanoes and earthquakes I found this brilliant animation showing global volcanic and earthquake activity since 1960.

Subduction, Strato-volcanoes and Earthquakes

To the nortn Australia, ocean floor, the leading edge of the India-Australia earth plate in the region, collides with the Eurasian plate. This happens a little south of the Indonesian archipelago along Indonesia. The India-Australia plate is forced down below the Indonesian archipelago. As the India-Australia plate descends along this collision zone it forms the deep sea Java Trench. This narrow trench includes the deepest point of the Indian Ocean, over 7,700m below sea level.


When one colliding plate slides below the other plate the process is known as subduction. The India-Australia plate has been subducting below the Indonesian front for 70 million years, to the north it collides with the Eurasian plate to cause the uplift of the Himalayas.

Parts of the plate may have descended to depths of 1,200km below Indonesia. The descending plate triggers the many, large and often deep earthquakes felt in Indonesia. Friction, compression and heat from the earth’s mantle promotes melting in the sub ducting plate edge and in overlying rocks. Molten materials rise up as magma and erupt at the surface, where they form Indonesia’s volcanoes. It is the process that provides the molten material feeds Indonesia’s volcanic growth.

Earthquakes can either be the direct result of this tectonic movement or more localised events associated with one particular volcanic system.

94 people are known to have perished as structures collapsed throughout Aceh after a magnitude of 6.5 earthquake shook the province on Wednesday. More are feared dead and, as with all such natural disasters, the full extent of the event will not be known for some time.

Aceh has been troubled by natural disaster, the tragic 2004 Tsunami prominent as the most severe in recent history.

Nusantara and tectonic forces

A complex tectonic division sweeps from the Indian to the Pacific oceans creating an archipelagic complexity, once known as Nusantara. Perhaps the best known, in former times was Krakatau’s cataclysmic eruption, in August 1883. Although modest in magnitude by the standards of Nusantara, or the Dutch East Indies as it was called at the time, it was still massive enough to convince stockmen driving cattle across the Hammersley Range that there was artillery fire to the north west. The explosions were heard in Saigon and Bangkok, Manila and Perth, and at a lonely cattle station south of Darwin called Daly Waters.

In the history of Nusantara,  Krakatau’s eruption was small compared with Mt Toba’s eruption 75,000 years earlier.

The six year long volcanic winter and 1000-year-long instant Ice Age that followed Mount Toba’s eruption may have decimated Modern Man’s entire population. Genetic evidence suggests that Human population size fell to about 10,000 adults between 50 and 100 thousand years ago. The survivors from this global catastrophy would have found refuge in isolated tropical pockets, mainly in Equatorial Africa. Populations living in Europe and northern China would have been completely eliminated by the reduction of the summer temperatures by as much as 12 degrees centigrade. Professor Stanley H. Ambrose

Sea levels fell as much as 150 metres so island hopping through the vast archipelago of Nusantara became a comparatively simple event finally enabling human passage further to the south and the east. In those days it was probably possibly to walk between the sites of modern day Merauke, in West Papua, and Darwin in about three weeks.

This was a time of heightened biophysical continuity that is still obvious.

For more on this see my earlier post from October, 2008, Australia’s iegional Interests: strategic or an ancient story

Implications of living on Asia-Pacific Ring of Fire

The 2009 Padang earthquake, The Christchurch earthquake of 2010, the Samoan tsunami and the Japanese earthquake and tsunami of 2011, along with the more recent earthquake activity in New Zealand and Indonesia are all examples of a long standing instability that continues to have an undeniable impact on life in the Asia-Pacific region. Within the region over the past year there have been:

  • 6 earthquakes in the past 24 hours
  • 36 earthquakes in the past 7 days
  • 149 earthquakes in the past 30 days
  • 1,732 earthquakes in the past 365 days

Such recurring events underscore regional connections and the continuity.








Posted by: maximos62 | October 27, 2016

#UWRF16 – Paradise Revisited a Panel Discussion

The panel was tasked with considering the proposition that:

From busloads of tourists and bustling beaches, to Balinese Hinduism and a global voice, Bali is a place that knows how to adapt.

This is a summary of my introductory comments and a little more that there was insufficient time to express.

As the only foreigner on this panel I’d like to say a little about misunderstandings.

Recently Melbourne Barrister Jim Mellas posted this anecdote on. His Twitter stream.Uber driver: what sort of work do you do?

Jim: I’m a barrister

Uber Driver: I like coffee! Where you work? I come for coffee.

When I first came to Bali such misunderstandings were common enough for me.

One day I was asked

Ke mana, Russell

Saya ke pasar, mau mendapat penjahat

Penjahat, Russell?

Oh, maaf Penjait

My friends were very forgiving.

Misunderstandings arising from language were common in those days and continue but I was determined to learn as much as I could about Bali.

So when I’m confronted with a statement as blunt as Bali is a place that knows how to adapt, in the interests of clarity and efficient communication many questions arise. First, what is adaptation.

In biology – the process of change by which an organism or species becomes better suited to its environment. In evolutionary terms this is predicated on the existence of natural selection.

In a social sense: the process of changing to better suit a situation.
Now that makes sense Desa, Pala, Patra – adapting to time – place and context is a commonly understood principle in Bali and therefor a potential strength.

There its no doubt that the connectivity and creativity of Balinese society affords a degree of resilience in the fast of major changes offering many opportunities for social adaptation, many creative solutions.

Indeed the early emergence of cultural tourism in the Gianyar Regency, Ubud in particular, is one such positive adaptation, so too is the Ubud Writers and Readers Festival now in its 13th year. Events such as this add value to tourism, strengthen local capacities to respond and adapt to a changing world, to make a creative response to the the globalised industrial and post industrial economic system now so predominant.

Where I must question Bali’s adaptability is in the domain of the biophysical environment, it’s management and the associated environmental mangement economics or the green economy where the answer to the question is problematic.

At this stage I contend that Bali isn’t successfully adapting in this domain, but retain a significant degree of optimism, given the creativity of the human resources on this small island.

I shape my answer to this question with  spiritual, scientific and economic perspectives.

Spiritually my position accords with that of Patriarch Bartholomew when he writes:

“. . . to commit a crime against the natural world is a sin.

For human beings to cause species to become extinct and to destroy the biological diversity of God’s creation; for human beings to degrade the integrity of the earth by causing changes in its climate, by stripping the earth of its natural forests, or by destroying its wetlands; for human beings to injure other human beings with disease; for human beings to contaminate the earth’s waters, its land, its air, and its life, with poisonous substances – all of these are sins.”

As a corollary he adds:

The way “. . . we treat the earth and all of creation defines the relationship that each of us has with God. It is also a barometer of how we view one another.”

When I first came to Bali, I hadn’t developed such insights, I brought my background in Geography and Economics but it wasn’t long before I came up against a Balinese spiritual tool Tri Hita Karana.

In simple terms it asserts that there are three causes of prosperity and happiness and that these states proceed from harmonious relationship between:

(1) Humans and God – Parhyangan;

(2) Humans and their neighbours – Pawongan,

(3) Humans and the natural world – Palemahan.

Its roots are far more ancient, although this doctrine only came into wide use as recently as the 1966.  My sense was that Tri Hita Karana could be applied in a material as well as a spiritual sense yet I saw many examples of lack of material harmony or equilibrium, particularly in the relationship between humans and nature.

What I wasn’t understanding was the application of another set of understandings Sekala and Nislala.  In the simplest sense this means that reality, is an interaction of the Seen and the Unseen. In time I came to accept this idea and have now completed my first book of short stories with this as the part of its title.

Yet in accepting this idea it gradually became plain that harmonious relations between humans and nature were often mediated through ceremonies, through the Unseen realm and that for many this represented sufficient regard for the environment.

This worked well enough in the pre-industrial world even though Bali was by no means sealed and impervious to outside influences. Fortunately, such external influences were for the most part environmentally non-disruptive, by comparison with the present.

Things changed in the 1970s with the growth is wide bodied jet travel and the dawn of the era of mass tourism.

In Bali before this era forces like Bhoma played their part within the unseen realm. As the child of Vishnu and Ibu Pertiwi, Bhoma is an entity whose place is intrinsically connected with the conjunction of earth and water. In terrestrial environments, earth, water, atmosphere and biosphere all meet. All four domains are present in a space where energy is exchanged and fundamental transformations in states of matter occur.

In pre-industrial Bali it was easy for humans, much of what they did was in harmony with nature, so natural processes remained intact and unimpeded. All remained in equilibrium and Bhoma was free to carry out his work skimming across the earth and transforming rubbish into the food of life.

So where are we now? Well Bhoma has indigestion, the heartburn of Tri Hita.

The Bali I encountered, when I first came here has gone. My greatest fear is that given the high demand elasticity of budget tourism in South East Asia, and the mounting numbers of tourists escaping the polluted cities of eastern China and headed for Bali, that they will settle for tarmac, concrete and plastic, a Bali of Benoa Bay canal estates, an artificial and unsustainable paradise.

The solution is in valued added tourism. I’ve always believed that cultural, environmental and educational tourism is something Balinese society can do well. Perhaps there is hope in the Bali Clean and Green Program. What it must deal with and how effective it can be, I hope we will confront, in discussion. If it isn’t effective the answer to the question is an absolute no.

I still want Bali to be the morning of the world, even if it’s moving into the siang, towards midday.

Read more of my work by either picking up a copy of Seen and Unseen: a century of stories from Asia and the Pacific from me at UWRF16 or from Toko Buku Ganesha in Ubud. It’s also available through Amazon and as an audio book through CD Baby. Visit my website for full details.

Seen and Unseen a century of stories from Asia and the Pacific is reviewed by Bill Dalton in Toko Buku on page 17  of the Bali Advertiser for October 26, 2016.

View a Pecha Kucha on my work here.

The audio book Seen and Unseen: a century of stories from Asia and the Pacific is now available from CD Baby. Compared with the print version there are two minor changes in the ordering of the stories, ‘Headland’ the last stories in the print version is at the end of the suite of stories that are set in Australia and ‘Baby Boomers and Japan’ precedes it.

Making the audio book

Recording this audio book has been an interesting journey. My first step was to acquire a suitable microphone. After experimenting with some cheap off the shelf versions, I realised that they were quite inadequate. After a little research I found the Yeti by Blue. This is an incredibly versatile microphone. I won’t say much about it here, but I’ve posted YouTube video below that demonstrates its versatility.

Garageband proved to be suitable software so I began. Not being a professional actor but at least knowing how to project my voice and read with both a consistent metre and expression, I embarked on the journey.

Ambient noise, bad voice days and the occasional rumble of thunder or jets passing over necessitated re-recording at times.  I also made an attempt to engineer changes in my voice to reflect different characters. I think for the most part I’ve been successful. In saying this I must added that I didn’t attempt accents beyond the most minimal variation.  My years living in Indonesia and the fact that I currently reside in Singapore did not embolden me to attempt Indonesian or Singapore English, for the most part.

Here is a sample of my work my work from An Unusual Kind of Thunder which is the first of two firsthand accounts of the Bali Bombings of October 2002. The other is In the Charnel House. Reading stories like these wirth their strong emotional content and explicit descriptions of the impact of terrorist bombing is an emotional experience.  Although I’m well beyond the raw Post Traumatic Stress of the first few years after this event, the reading brought back a lot of memories. In a practical sense, this meant I had to edit a lot, when the tears started flowing.  The result is a smooth coherent unfolding of two powerful stories.

My work’s significance.

In launching my book earlier this year Dr David Reeve had this to say of it:

This is partly creative fiction though it’s based on his own life and I think of it of keeping to a tradition of writing on Asia. I remember the excitement back in 1978 when Chris Koch published The Year of Living Dangerously then in 1980 Blanche D’Alpuget published Monkeys in the Dark, 1981 Turtle Beach. Robert Drew in 1981 published A Cry in the Jungle Bar. Those authors sat down not knowing that the others had an Asia theme and started just at a particular moment to write about Australians really enmeshing themselves in Asia.

When I look at the similarity of those four novels, in each of those,  Australians go forward full of high ideals and anticipation but in fact come home defeated, physically wounded or psychologically wounded or in the case of the hero of A Cry in the Jungle Bar actually dead. So I think this is a new and more mature and more realistic mood in Russell Darnley’s book. The Australian doesn’t go out with high hopes to Asia, gets defeated and returns partially destroyed, certainly damaged. In him it’s a much more complex engagement, it has of course it fears, it’s dangers, its sicknesses but it’s much more mature, I think, in its approach to the complexities of these enmeshments.

I’d like to think that I’ve added a more optimistic and resilient dimension to Australia’s attempts at engaging with our remarkable large and complex neighbour since 15 of my stories are set in Indonesia.  This is no simple task, as former Australian Foreign Minister Gareth Evans reminds us when he writes:

“No two neighbours anywhere in the world are as comprehensively unalike as Australia and Indonesia. We differ in language, culture, religion, history, ethnicity, population size, and in political, legal and social systems.”

Of course the book isn’t merely about Indonesia, Seen and Unseen: a century of stories from Asia and the Pacific is 29 stories inspired by one family’s experience spanning three generations the stories are cradled in reality and crafted with an eye for accuracy, but frailty of memory and the natural passing of people and the need to protect others has rendered some stories fictional, even when they’re not.

This work acknowledges that interactions with people from our and culture are generally tangible and familiar but beyond our immediate culture things change, now meaning and understanding must often be negotiated. Foucault’s ideas and the Balinese belief that the reality is interaction of Sikala the seen and Niskala, the unseen, influence this work.

What comprises the Unseen realm varies. What might be understood as micro ecology in one place has spiritual explanations elsewhere. In rational secular society magic is dismissed as mythology or superstition but in parts of Asia and in the Pacific what might be seen as myths and misconceptions can possess the power of reality.

ANMEF HO Rabaul, 1914

ANMEF HO Rabaul, 1914

This journey is a long and varied one. It begins in 1914 with Sid Thompson and D Company part of the Australian Naval and Military Expeditionary Force sent to capture New Guinea from Germany. Easily defeating the enemy unseen forces took enormous toll draining the strength of healthy young men and promoting a lifetime interest in Chinese medicine for Sid.

I’ve mentioned An Unusual Kind of Thunder and In the Charnel House but there are many more tales

Red Poppies and Janur chronicles Sid’s return to Australia, his family struggle through the Great Depression, and his response to the sacrifice of those who gave up their lives in the Great War. It Segues into Camphor, Silk and Ivory,


a story of seamen’s tales and a child’s embryonic awareness of the cultures beyond.

Made in Japan is a story of hostilities that run deep it’s an account off bitterness, even hatred through memories of wartime atrocities. It’s also a story of redemptive transformation that for many Australians began with the appearance of the striking Hiroshima panels that finally allowed a true measure of the atrocity of war to emerge.

Joss sticks

Joss sticks

Joss Sticks and Cracker Night and An Encounter with White Australia often unacknowledged Asian influences in Anglo Australia of the 1950’s at a time when clear visions of the Australian region and its many cultures were still shrouded in the vial of the anti-Asian White Australia Policy.

Surviving the Sixties is a personal account of a growing sense of region the desire to know the other rendered more difficult but racism the Vietnam War and the draft. It explores the discourse of a generation confronted by the shadow of the Cold War and its monochromatic world.


In Headland many years of travel in Asia permit a resolution of the negative energies that long enveloped me when I stood on Coogee’s northern headland. This is a story that could not have been written without a sense of the interplay of the seen and the Unseen.

First Landfall is about a journey to Singapore in 1972 and an abrupt awakening the realisation of being a ketchup Backpacker a blow to romantic idealism.  Following on the Sublime to the Horrific reveals a couple confronting a primal issue conception with complications as they travel through Singapore Malaysia and Thailand.

Bhoma carving from Puri Saren Agung, Ubud, Bali

Bhoma carving from Puri Saren Agung, Ubud, Bali

Beyond Bhomas’ Powers reveals an ancient spiritual tradition pointing to a harmonious balance with nature. In Balinese tradition Bhoma is an unseen power behind this balance transforming and recycling yet unable to deal with modern and pollution.

Balikpapan Looking Backwards and Forwards employs the metaphor of the Wayang Kulit, the shadow play, revealing the past and the present shaping out the future of Borneo and its once magnificent equatorial rain forests.

Dayak people already displaced by logging: Rukun Damai and Long Ubung

Dayak people already displaced by logging: Rukun Damai and Long Ubung

The River Guide ventures further into the heart of Borneo with Alex whose mind is a precise map of values and relativities, of seen and unseen flows and eddies. A journey of many hues it affords opportunities to view the history of the river and its people confronting influences from the Ming to the present.

Siberut and the Simple Life is a story of forest people yet to develop the habit of money. It is also a story of the warmth and humour but more importantly one of exploitation and the destructive forces transforming their environment


The Pig and the Cockfight is not exactly a comedy of manners but it could be, rather it’s a story of the process of understanding Balinese culture at greater and greater depth, the pitfalls the humour and the ultimate resolution.

Kampanye – The Campaign Procession sees two Australians caught up in a huge demonstration on the eve of Indonesia’s elections challenging the paranoia of official Australian travel warnings and revealing a society of youth optimism and generosity of spirit. Following on Pemilihan Umum – The General Election continues the theme as the Australians join Indonesian friends in this transition to democracy.

An Unusual Kind of Thunder and In the Charnel House deal directly and graphically with the Bali bombings of 2002. Any assessment of these stories is best left to the reader.

Beyond this suite of Indonesian stories there is a number of others that warrant special mention.

Singapore 43 Years On is about returning to Singapore a city transformed. This is a story of disorientation and a longing for the past being transformed into a contemporary appreciation of this remarkable on entrepot and its global connections.

Marina Bay, part of the Singapore Straits in 1972

Marina Bay, part of the Singapore Straits in 1972

Vietnam A War Revisited is a story of the anti-war movement and the draft told respectively from Hanoi. It is a story of unveiling, in a sense. Visiting Vietnam for the first time and grateful that I wasn’t part of that group of Australians sent there in the 1960s, and a chance meeting with another Australian in Hanoi, evokes a candid reflection on the War years.

About the Yeti by Blue

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