Watch this interview with Ian Burnet for the Thomas Keneally Centre of the Sydney Mechanics' School of Arts.


Ian Burnet grew up in South Gippsland, Victoria, Australia and graduated with a degree in Geology and Geophysics from the University of Melbourne.

He first went to work in Indonesia in 1968 as a young geologist and became fascinated by the diverse cultures and rich history of the archipelago. He has spent thirty years, living, working and travelling in Indonesia.

Cloves and nutmeg originally only grew on a few tiny islands in Eastern Indonesia. Ian thought the story of the islands of Ternate and Tidore, and their effect on world history had to be told. After ten years researching and writing this story, it became the book Spice Islands which tells the history, romance and adventure of the spice trade over 2000 years. Spice Islands has received critical acclaim and been described as - “a wonderful book- a triumph of passion and scholarship”. 

It took another five years of research and writing to complete the book East Indies which was published towards the end of 2013. This book tells of the 200 year struggle between the Portuguese Crown, the Dutch East India Company and the English East India Company for trade supremacy in the Eastern Seas. It starts in Malacca, the major trading port of the 15th century, documents the foundation of Batavia (Jakarta) by the Dutch East India Company, andconcludes with the founding of the port cities of Singapore and Hong Kong in the 19th century. The book has been described as "a ripping historical yarn".

Archipelago - A Journey Across Indonesia was published in September 2015 to critical acclaim - "Time for a good travel book and none more engaging than Ian Burnet's new title".

His latest book 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 was published in August 2017. A review reads "What Ian Burnet has achieved in his wonderfully illustrated and narrated book is to relate the important role the Indonesian archipelago has played in the intellectual history of the west". 


Ian organised sailing voyages around the Spice Islands in 2012, 2013 ,2014, 2015, 2016 and 2017 for those interested in exploring the eastern archipelago, sailing in a traditional Indonesian wooden schooner (Bugis pinisi) which is now complete with en suite bathrooms and air conditioning.  The vessels sails to the islands where nutmeg and cloves originally grew, we visit the spice plantations as well as the historic forts that have been built by the Portuguese, Spanish and Dutch traders who sought to monopolise the spice trade.