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If you have little or no interest in the history of Colonisation you may want to skip the next, more contemporary, section.  There are no pictures in this section but then again, you might find my spin on it interesting.  If you want to object to something I've said, please feel free to make a comment below.


In the dreamtime, for thousands of years before the Europeans took an interest, people in South East Asia got on with their lives in much the same way as Australian Aborigines and New Guinea highlanders did until recently: enjoying nice days and huddling against those less pleasant; hunting and gathering and sowing and reaping; and dancing; and having sex and babies; and making weapons and fighting neighbouring tribes as a kind of sport to relieve boredom or as an opportunity to dress-up or to seize food or shelter or in satisfaction of some slight or sexual dalliance.  Spirits imbued the land and rocks and trees and animals with mystical properties and those of dead ancestors still inhabited the dark places, sometimes bringing disease or natural disasters. 

The equatorial regions were rich in a vast array of unusual plants, insects and animals. Among these were plants that had evolved a range of strategies to protect themselves from predators or to exploit them to breed.  And some of these turned out to have interesting flavours and aromas; the ability to extend the life of food; to treat fabrics; or to have interesting medicinal properties.

Europeans first heard of Indonesia as a mythical place, even before Magellan, when Arab traders first came to Java in search of spices. At that time several of these spices were worth much more than their weight in gold in Europe. For example, pepper was relatively inexpensive, by weight, compared to say cinnamon or nutmeg, a reputed aphrodisiac.  In 1500 you could buy about 1.6 grams of pepper for a ducat.  A ducat contained 3.545g of pure gold, thus pepper was worth twice its weight in gold, making a shipload of pepper twice as valuable to a trader as a shipload of gold bullion.  Several other spices were even more valuable.

In 1494, the Spanish Pope Pope, Alexander VI, divided the trading and colonizing rights for all newly discovered lands of the World, between Portugal and Castile (later applied between the Spanish Crown and Portugal) to the exclusion of other European nations. 

Initially this Treaty of Tordesillas favoured Spain but the next Pope Pope, Julius II, was Portuguese so in 1506 God changed his mind and moved this line of possession 1907 km west, enabling Portugal to claim the coast of Brazil and ultimately the whole modern country.

Meanwhile, the other demarcation line crossed unknown territories on the opposite side of the world and remained shadowy as there were few reliable maps available to Rome. So, in 1529, the Treaty of Zaragoza arbitrarily drew the other line through almost unknown territory.  It happens to pass through Eastern Russia, right through Japan and New Guinea and across Eastern Australia.  This gave Portugal the rights to the strategic straights of Malacca and Maluku Islands or the Moluccas, that came to be known as the Spice Islands, situated north of Timor and west of New Guinea.  The Spanish got most of the new world gold but given the relative price of gold and spices the Portuguese got the better deal.  As a result the agreement was reneged upon by Spain when it sized the Philippines (that were indisputably in the Portuguese zone).  Hostilities broke out for a period but these were resolved by further Divine intervention and a Royal marriage, so Spain got to hold on to the territory. 

The Treaty of Tordesillas says that henceforth all these heathen lands are 'owned' by either Portugal or Spain. So you might ask, what does 'owned' mean?  A papal bull, Romanus Pontifex, written by Pope Nicholas V to King Afonso V of Portugal in 1454 had already made this clear. 

The Pope instructed King Alfonso to: invade, search out, capture, vanquish, and subdue all Saracens and pagans whatsoever, and other enemies of Christ wheresoever placed, and the kingdoms, dukedoms, principalities, dominions, possessions, and all movable and immovable goods whatsoever held and possessed by them and to reduce their persons to perpetual slavery, and to apply and appropriate to himself and his successors the kingdoms, dukedoms, counties, principalities, dominions, possessions, and goods, and to convert them to his and their use and profit -- by having secured the said faculty, the said King Alfonso, or, by his authority, the aforesaid infante, justly and lawfully has acquired and possessed, and doth possess, these islands, lands, harbours, and seas, and they do of right belong and pertain to the said King Alfonso and his successors.


Usurpation and conversion would go hand-in-hand.  And the slave trade would become a world-wide industry.  Rather annoyingly for those seeking profit before souls, Catholic missionaries followed quickly on the heels of the conquerors and soon local people found that they could give themselves some protection against arbitrary murder and slavery by accepting Jesus as their saviour.

That there were pre-existing Empires in these regions was neither here nor there, the Portuguese and Spanish had the ships and guns and decades of experience fighting Saracens (Muslims) at home, the pre-existing empires would pose little resistance. 

Needless to say the Treaties and the authority they purported to endow on the two Catholic Powers were soon to be repudiated by England; France; Germany; and after its liberation from Spain, the Dutch. These predominantly Protestant countries, and later the United States, set about taking the territories thus granted by Rome away from Spain and Portugal; generally by force of arms.  The Spice Islands, in particular, became a battleground between the Portuguese and the Dutch and later the British.  A bit later still the Philippines became a battleground between Spain and the USA, along with a number of other Spanish possessions. 

Although Protestant missionaries were just as fervent as their Catholic forbears the moneymaking was now privatised.  British, French, Dutch and German trading companies brought technology and raised local armies and negotiated trade deals in the interest of their shareholders.  Unlike Spain and Portugal they had no constitutional commitment to converting the heathen and were quite happy to deal with and support a local Prince no matter what his religion. Thus the pre-existing religions prevailed in their colonies, whereas in Timor and the Philippines, in particular, Roman Catholicism was forcibly imposed at the point of a gun. In Java, Malaysia and much of Indonesia, Islam was not only tolerated but was strengthened by the various trade deals and even military support to ruling families. Elsewhere, as in India, the Hindu religion benefited, while Buddhism was supported in much of Indochina.  Of course if any of these rulers who benefited from the trade deals stepped out of line they got slapped-down very quickly.

So what has this to do with Bali? 

Much pre-European history in South East Asia has been the stuff of myth and legend.  But now archaeologists and anthropologists are recovering lost or distorted stories handed down by epic poem or word of mouth.  The pre-existing indigenous populations had long been dominated and exploited by an upper-class of kings and princes that has variously originated from the North: from China; India and Arabia, in much the same way as was Britain after the, almost contemporary, Norman Conquest. 

There is evidence that the Hindu religion was present in Java from around 200 BCE and there was a Tamil presence in Malaya.  The advent of the Mughal empire in India caused a new wave of migration of Hindus to Sumatra and by the 13th century the kingdom of Java was Hindu.   That these early conquerors came from India to rule Java is supported by both cultural and DNA analysis in Bali. 

In 2005 a group of scientists from the University of Arizona led by Tatiana M. Karafet traced the Y-chromosomes of 551 Balinese men to assess the genetic contributions of Pre-Neolithic Hunter- Gatherers, Austronesian Farmers, and Indian Traders to the Balinese population.  They pointed out that the island of Bali has served as a stepping-stone for early migrations of hunter-gatherers to Melanesia and Australia and for the more recent migrations of Austronesian farmers from mainland Southeast Asia to the Pacific.  During the last ice age sea levels were much lower and a determined traveller could have walked here from England. I've discussed these Neolithic and pre-modern hominid migrations elsewhere on this website: When did people arrive in Australia? 

Bali is the only Indonesian island with a population that currently practices the Hindu religion and preserves various other Indian cultural, linguistic, and artistic traditions and this had led to the hypothesis of recent paternal gene flow from the Indian subcontinent. The researcher's set out to test this theory.  The ancestry of these Balinese men was compared with a much larger Y-chromosome dataset from the region.  It was found that three waves of migration of Austronesian speakers account for nearly 83.7% of the population while approximately 12% originate in India and 2.2% of contemporary Balinese Y chromosomes may represent the pre-Neolithic component of the Indonesian paternal gene pool (ie related to Australian Aborigines and New Guinea Highlanders on their migration South).

We could guess that the Y-chromosome lineages correspond roughly to the Hindu caste system in which the Sanskrit using upper class correspond to the remnants of the Hindu Majapahit Empire and the 83% correspond to the current Shudras - peasants - who today make up more than 90% of Bali's native population. 

Who were these Majapahits? 

Reasonably reliable Chinese sources record that  in 1293 a fleet of a thousand ships was sent by the Yuan Dynasty Emperor Kublai Khan to punish King Kertanegara of Java for failure to pay tribute to China.   It is interesting that one website represents this as a Muslim Mongol attack, yet the court of Kublai Khan was polytheistic and favoured Buddhism.  By various complex means, too detailed to relate here, this superior force was foiled by the Hindu kingdom (see Wikipedia) and Java then embarked on a period of conquest, briefly controlling as far north as modern day Malaysia and Singapore.

Thus between the 13th to the 16th centuries the Hindu Majapahit Empire dominated much of what is to day modern Indonesia, before a series of defeats forced them to shrink back to Java.  Bali was the first kingdom conquered by the Majapahits and the longest lasting. 

Final defeat of the Majapahits came at the hands of the Sultanate of Demak that had been set up by Arab Traders in Java.  Following an ill advised Majapahit request for Portuguese assistance against Demak interests in 1498, a large number of courtiers, artisans, priests, and members of the Hindu royal family fled from Java to Bali.  With the consequent fall of Majapahit on Java the remaining Hindu populations moved either to Bali or to the Tengger mountains in East Java.

After the Dutch and British defeated the Portuguese during the Spice Wars.  The Anglo-Dutch Treaty of 1824 ceded Malacca to the British and British interests in Java to the Dutch.

Fast forward to the Second World War. 

After Pearl Harbour bombing in 1942 the Japanese declared war and allied themselves with the Axis powers. They very quickly overran Malaya, Singapore the Philippines and the Dutch East Indies where there was a young firebrand architect called Sukarno who was bitterly opposed to Dutch colonialism and who, like Ghandi in India, decided that the enemy of my enemy is my friend.  The British were able to lock Ghandi up for the duration and similarly the Dutch were holding Sukarno and his family on a remote island in exile.  The Japanese promptly released him.  Although the Dutch held out for some time they were in no position to resist both the Japanese and an internal rebellion and the Japanese soon controlled most of Indonesia.  When you visit the allied graveyards on the Burma Railway in Thailand you will find that the Dutch graves are among the most numerous. 

Australia seemed to be the next likely port of call for the Japanese.  But first they had to complete their defeat of the US Navy and to win the land battle in New Guinea, where the natives were on our side. They managed to do neither, in the second case due to the efforts of men like Wendy's father who's wartime memoir A Digger’s Tale is on this website.




    Have you read this???     -  this content changes with each opening of a menu item






In May 2015 four of us, Craig and Sonia Wendy and I, bought a package deal: eleven days in Taiwan and Hong Kong - Wendy and I added two nights in China at the end.  We had previously travelled together with Craig and Sonia in China; Russia, India and South America and this seemed like a good place to do it again and to learn more about the region.

Taiwan is one of the Four Asian Tigers, along with Korea, Singapore and Hong Kong, achieving the fastest economic growth on the Planet during the past half century. Trying to understand that success was of equal interest with any ‘new sights’ we might encounter.

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Fiction, Recollections & News

The First Man on the Moon





At 12.56 pm on 21 July 1969 Australian Eastern Standard Time (AEST) Neil Armstrong became the first man to step down onto the Moon.  I was at work that day but it was lunchtime.  Workplaces did not generally run to television sets and I initially saw it in 'real time' in a shop window in the city.  

Later that evening I would watch a full replay at my parents' home.  They had a 'big' 26" TV - black and white of course.  I had a new job in Sydney having just abandoned Canberra to get married later that year.  My future in-laws, being of a more academic bent, did not have TV that was still regarded by many as mindless.

Given the early failures, and a few deaths, the decision to televise the event in 'real time' to the international public was taking a risk.  But the whole space program was controversial in the US and sceptics needed to be persuaded.

In Australia we knew it was really happening because Tidbinbilla was tracking the space craft, as it had previous Apollo launches, and the Parkes radio Telescope had been requisitioned to receive the live television signal, so that an estimated 600 million viewers could watch it too.  Nevertheless for a wide range of reasons, ranging from religious orthodoxy and anti-scientific scepticism to dislike of the Kennedys and big government in general, conspiracy theorists in the US and elsewhere continued to claim that it had been faked for decades later.



The Houston Apollo Control Room - now a National Monument and the Apollo 11 crew
my photos - see Houston on this website: 


The immediate media reaction to Armstrong's: 'one small step for man one giant leap for mankind', statement was a bit unforgiving.  In the heat of the moment, with his heart rate racing; literally stepping into the unknown; Armstrong had fumbled his lines.  He should have said: 'a man'.

As it was the recording, that will now last, as of a seminal moment in history, into the unforeseeable future, is redundant and makes no sense - an added proof, if one were needed, that it wasn't pre-recorded or faked.

I've talked about Kennedy's motivation for the project elsewhere on this website [Read more...] but the outcomes for the entire world turned out to be totally unpredictable and massive.  Initially engineering in the US had not been up to the task and the space program stumbled from one disaster to the next, with the Russians clearly in advance, but now some centralised discipline needed to be imposed - to herd the cats.  Simply using a single standard of weights and measures was a challenge. 

Yet the incredible challenges involved required new technology and an open cheque had been committed.  Billions of dollars funded tens of thousands of research projects that led to many thousands of innovations.  New materials and methods of manufacture were developed.  Perhaps the most important were semiconductor electronics at companies like Fairchild and Bell Labs and computer science at the previously mechanical card sorting and calculating companies: NCR and IBM that had once been sceptical of this newfangled electronic stuff.  Engineering and science educators expanded to provide the young researchers, engineers and programmers.

Unlike the wartime 'Manhattan Project' much of the research was published. Scientific American was required reading among my friends. In any case the speed of innovation rendered advances redundant in a matter of months. Thus quite a bit of this taxpayer funded technology 'fell off the back of the truck' and computer engineering entrepreneurs like Hewlett Packard, who had got their start making sound equipment for Walt Disney, quickly took advantage, soon to be joined by many others. So that today electronics and communications related industry has become the core of the US economy.

Today the computing and communications technology you are using to read this is several millions of times more powerful than that employed to put Neil Armstrong on the Moon and this is indeed a testament to that 'giant leap' that, in part, enabled 'one small step for (a) man' 50 years ago.



Opinions and Philosophy




Death is one of the great themes of existence that interests almost everyone but about which many people avoid discussion.  It is also discussed in my essay to my children: The Meaning of Life on this website; written more than ten years ago; where I touch on personal issues not included below; such as risk taking and the option of suicide.

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