The Tasman Map - Abel Tasman, the Dutch East India Company and the first Dutch discoveries of Australia

A minor miracle has occurred.

I was told the books would be available in November and the advance copies have arrived here at the beginning of September.

This is book number five and it is pleasing to note thet the novelty and excitement of holding the printed copy of a new book has not worn off. The Tasman Map has the usual high production values of Rosenberg Publishing - good quality paper, a comprehensive index and 70 colour images inserted into the text where relevant.

I love old maps and The Tasman Map includes 34 antique maps showing the results of the different voyages of discovery that led to the first map of Australia.

Copies should be in the bookshops by October and please place an order now with your favorite bookshop or online retailer.

Posted on September 9, 2019 .

The Tasman Map

The Tasman Map - Abel Tasman, the Dutch East India Company and the first Dutch Discoveries of Australia

Every visitor who passes through the vestibule of the Mitchell Library stops to admire the magnificent marble mosaic of the Tasman Map which fills the entire vestibule floor.

This story of the first Dutch voyages to discover Australia is set against the background of the struggle of the newly formed Dutch Republic to gain its independence from the Kingdom of Spain and the struggle of the Dutch East India Company for trade supremacy in the East Indies against its Portuguese, Spanish and English rivals.

Over a period of only forty years from 1606 to 1644 and based on sixteen separate discoveries the first map of Australia took shape. The Tasman Map shows a recognizable outline of the north, west and south coasts of Australia that was not to change for another 125 years until the British explorer James Cook charted the east coast in 1770.

It was in 1925 and 1933 that the Mitchell Library in Sydney, Australia, acquired both the Tasman Huydecoper Journal and the Tasman Bonaparte Map. The story of how the library managed to acquire these treasures of Dutch exploration and cartography will bring new recognition to these icons of both Dutch and Australian history.

It is intriguing to speculate that the Tasman Bonaparte Map and the Tasman Huydecoper Journal may have both been compiled in Batavia in late 1644 or early 1645 for the Directors of the Dutch East India Company under Abel Tasman’s personal supervision. According to Paul Brunton, the Curator Emeritus at the Mitchell Library, it is certainly extraordinary that two key documents relating to Tasman’s voyages, the  Tasman Huydecoper Journal and the Tasman Bonaparte Map were acquired by the Mitchell Library from different sources at around the same time. It would be even more extraordinary if these documents had been compiled together in Batavia under Abel Tasman’s watch and are now reunited at the Mitchell Library after almost 400 years of separation.

It’s done, it’s dusted, its gone to the printers. Copies should be available sometime in November and you can pre-order from your favorite bookshop.

Posted on August 4, 2019 .

Where Australia Collides with Asia - The latest Book Review

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

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

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


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

Posted on January 6, 2019 .

East Indies - Third print run announced

Good News for those who may have had trouble finding a copy of East Indies.

Rosenberg Publishing have announced there will be another (the third) print run of East Indies. So it is time to get an order in to your favorite bookseller or even better order a copy directly from the website.

Posted on November 11, 2018 .

Archipelago - Asian Studies Review 2017

Few books evoke the magic and sense of beguilment I felt when I first visited Indonesia. I knew next to nothing about the country or its people when I signed up for an intensive language program in Central Java in the middle of the Asian Financial Crisis. It was not that I felt I should learn about Indonesia. Australia’a economic future and the importance of understanding our Southeast Asian neighbours were far from my mind. Nobody was talking about the Asian century yet. Instead, Indonesia compelled me with its complexity, its diversity, its smoldering volcanoes and its complicated histories. I could capture neither its essence nor its appeal in a single sentence, but I was hooked.

It is for these reasons that Ian Burnet’s new book, Archipelago: A Journey Across Indonesia should be welcomed. Burnet offers a combination of wonder, warmth and information, drawing the reader into an engaging adventure through Indonesia in a way that neither a guidebook, with its focus on logistics and practicalities, nor an academic text, dense with theory and footnotes, can. His perspective is uniquely Australian. Despite the ups and downs of the bilateral relationship, Burnet’s affection for Indonesia has not diminished since he first visited there in in 1968 as a young geologist. His previous publications, Spice Islands (2011) and East Indies (2013), focussed on early histories of Indonesia. Archipelago departs from this model by taking a more personal approach in which learning about history is a by-product of his travels rather than the main focus.

Burnet starts his journey in the Malaysian port city of Malacca, which acts as his entry point to Jakarta. Moving eastwards “by bus, plane, train, ferry, boat, car and motorcycle”. Burnet explores Java before island-hopping his way through Bali, Lombok, Sumbawa, Komodo, Flores, Solor and Timor, both West and East. The final four of the seventeen chapters in Archipelago are dedicated to East Timor (Timor Leste), including the enclave of Oecusse. Timor Leste has not been part of Indonesian territory since the popular consultation of 1999, and its inclusion indicates Burnet’s interest in this new nation rather than a strict adherence to precise definitions of “Indonesia”. Along the way, he shares his appreciation and knowledge of Indonesia’s landscape, food, people and history. Religion features prominantly too, although politics and economics are set aside. The result is eminently readable.

Burnet enjoys many of the quintessential Indonesian tourist experiences. He watches the sun rise over Borobodur temple, marvels at Java’s active volcanoes, and visits Komodo and the eponymous “dragons”. He evokes Paul Theroux in extolling the virtues of travelling alone. While Burnet’s writing is sprinkled with quotes from many of the standard sources - including Sir Stamford Raffles and “ that greatest of all archipelago travellers, Alfred Russel Wallace”, he also makes use of inscriptions, manuscripts and letters. The text is further enlivened by the generous use of colour images: marvellous maps, both ancient and modern, colonial-era drawings and paintings, and many of Burnet’s own photographs. These textual and pictorial sources add both historical flavour and literary depth.

Natali Jane Pearson University of Sydney

Posted on September 22, 2018 .

East Indies - Amazon Review

It's easy to forget the degree to which American exceptionalism casts a shadow over our memories of what we learned on the founding of the British colonies in North America. This book, written with exceptional liveliness for history and cartography, is a sharp reminder how marginal and, let's face it, not that interesting, were the tiny British colonies of seventeenth century North America as the Portuguese, the Dutch and then the English fought global colonial war, mainly in the effort to control the spice trade of the Far East. The great amounts of wealth at stake and the battles accompanying this conquest are well recounted by Burnet along with the fascinatingly cosmopolitan character of the trade with the Arabs, Muslims and others. And certainly there is nothing apologetic about the brutality and enslavement the conquest involved.

Five Stars out of five, from Richard Roberts

Posted on September 4, 2018 .

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.

They are here!

             The printed copies of Where Australia Collides with Asia have finally arrived and there is nothing more exciting than holding the final result of many years of work in your hand. This feeling of euphoria is then followed by the nagging thought as to whether it is any good. However as always it is the discerning reader who will decide.

            Without the marketing budget of the major publishing houses, it will be an exciting time over the next few months as we go through the book launches and book talks that are required to reach readers and generate 'the word of mouth' that ultimately determines the real success of any book.

             The fun will be meeting readers, learning from their questions, and finding out how different people react to this story. The story of the epic voyages of three great naturalists, whose voyages to the southern hemisphere and discoveries of its natural history, changed forever how we view religion, the world and the origin of its species. 


Posted on August 6, 2017 .

Where Australia Collides With Asia

Same book, different title!

Good News! I have just signed off on the publisher proofs of the book formerly known as The Wallace Line (publisher suggested change and it will not hurt to have Australia somewhere in the title). Advanced copies should come in August and it should be in the bookshops sometime in September.

Here is the blurb from the inside cover:

This book follows the epic voyages of natural history of Continent Australia, Joseph Banks, Charles Darwin and Alfred Russel Wallace.

The voyage of Continent Australia after it breaks away from Antarctica 50 million years ago with its raft of Gondwanaland flora and fauna and begins its journey north towards the equator.

The voyage of Joseph Banks on the Endeavour who with Daniel Solander became the first trained naturalists to describe the unique flora and fauna of Continent Australia that had evolved during its 30 million years of isolation.

The voyage of Charles Darwin on the Beagle, who after his observations in South America and the Galapagos Islands, sat on the banks of the Coxs River in New South Wales and tried to rationalize his belief in the idea of biblical creation and understand the origin of species.

The voyage of Alfred Russel Wallace, who realized that the Lombok Strait in Indonesia represents the biogeographical boundary between the fauna of Asia and those of Australasia. On the Asian side are elephants, tigers, primates and specific birds. On the Australasian side are marsupials such as the possum-like cuscus and the Aru wallaby, as well as birds specific to Australia such as white cockatoos, brush turkeys and the spectacular Birds of Paradise. It was tectonic plate movement that brought these disparate worlds together and it was Alfred Russel Wallace’s ‘Letter from Ternate’ that forced Charles Darwin to finally publish his landmark work ‘On the Origin of Species’.



Posted on April 29, 2017 .


Good News.

I have just signed the publishing contract for the next book, 'The Wallace Line - Where Australia Collides With Asia'.

In June 1856 the English naturalist Alfred Russel Wallace crossed the narrow strait between the islands of Bali and Lombok in Indonesia. During the few days he had stayed on the north coast of Bali he saw birds characteristic of Asian ornithology and would expect to see the same birds when he crossed the narrow Lombok Strait. After a turbulent crossing and being dumped on the shores of Lombok he never saw the same birds again.

 The Lombok Strait represents part of the biogeographical boundary between the fauna of Asia and those of Australasia. On the Asian side are elephants, tigers, primates and specific birds. On the Australasian side are marsupials such as the possum-like cuscus and the tree kangaroos, as well as birds specific to Australia such as white cockatoos, brush turkeys and the spectacular Birds of Paradise.

 It was tectonic plate movement that brought these disparate worlds together and created the biogeographic region subsequently named Wallacea. It is this unique part of the natural world that led me to write about the connections between the epic voyages of Natural History taken by Continent Australia, Joseph Banks, Charles Darwin, Alfred Russel Wallace and the origins of The Origin of Species.  




Posted on February 26, 2017 .


After a succesful trip last year we will depart on another Journey Across Java in 2017, for 15 days from August 18 until September 1.  We travel almost the entire distance from Jakarta to Surabaya by train, so that you can relax in air conditioned comfort as the beautiful terraced rice-fields, rugged mountains, towering volcanoes, lakes and rivers of Java roll past your window. Starting in Jakarta (2 days) we will stop in Bandung (1 day), Yogyakarta (4 days), Solo (4 days) and Surabaya (3 days) to explore the ancient temples of Central and East Java as well as the arts, crafts and busy markets in the cultural heart of Java.

For all the details of our Journey please go to:

Posted on February 22, 2017 .

An Indonesian Trilogy - Spice Islands, East Indies and Archipelago

The Ubud Writers and Readers Festival 2016.

A large crowd gathered at the Festival Club at Bar Luna on Thursday evening for an island-hopping adventure across Indonesia with voyager and historian Ian Burnet. The moderator, Toni Pollard, interviewed Ian about his three books on Indonesia – Spice Islands (2011), East Indies (2013) and Archipelago (2015).

Some of the questions from Toni Pollard were:

‘What are your memories of those first days in Jakarta back in 1968? Was it way back then that you felt Indonesia had grabbed hold of your soul and would not let go?’

‘In Spice Islands you tell how for centuries, even millennia before the Europeans were involved, spices were being traded across the world. Tell us about this pre-European spice trade.’

‘Why were spices such as nutmeg and cloves so highly sought after and so valuable in Europe, five hundred years ago, that men risked their lives and countries like Portugal, Spain, Holland and England invested vast sums to mount expeditions to find them at their source?’

‘Many of the chapters of East Indies open with you standing right on the very spot where major events in the history of the great trading companies occured. Tell us about some of these moments, on these historic spots’.

‘In the book Archipelago you branch out into a much more personal approach to writing history. You undertake a journey from Malacca – like the centuries of explorers and traders before you –  and travel all the way across Indonesia’s vast emerald girdle of islands ending in East Timor, telling the reader the highlights of the history of each place as you go. What modes of transport did you use to travel the vast distances?’

‘After Bali your journey takes you into what was once Portuguese territory. Although the Portuguese domination in trade only lasted a century – the 16th century – they have had a lasting impact on the eastern islands, through the Catholicism that came with them.One notorious band of traders, the Larantuqeiros lasted unchallenged well into the Dutch VOC era. Tell us about them?’

‘Those of us who have travelled throughout the archipelago over decades have experienced some real highs and some ghastly lows in the accomodation available in various places. What were the zenith and nadir of your accomodation experiences on this journey?’

‘You end your journey in East Timor (Timor Leste) and write very movingly about its history, especially in its recent past. What does East Timor mean to you?

Thanks to Bar Luna and the UWRF for hosting this event. It was a very spontaneous and interesting session with a lot of audience involvement, especially from those with an intimate knowledge of Indonesia, and those wishing to learn more about the history and culture of this fascinating archipelago nation.

Ubud Writers and Readers Festival 2016

 The 13th UWRF (Ubud Writers and Readers Festival) will be held 26–30 October, 2016, in Bali Indonesia.  Celebrating the theme Tat Tvam Asi or ‘I am you, you are me’. This powerful ideology is crucial to the collective identity of Indonesia – uniting people from incredibly diverse religious, ethnic, cultural and historical backgrounds to share common respect and understanding.

Ian Burnet’s interest in Indonesia and its lesser known eastern archipelago has led him to write three books on Indonesian history: Spice Islands (2011), East Indies (2013) and Archipelago – A Journey Across Indonesia (2015). He is currently working on his fourth book about this fascinating island nation.

Archipelago: A Journey Across Indonesia

Thursday 27 October, 17:00-18:00, Festival Club @ Bar Luna, Free Event

All aboard for an island-hopping adventure through Indonesia with voyager and historian, Ian Burnet. From Java to Timor, he’ll share stories and pictures of this diverse land – from the smoking volcanoes that form the archipelago’s spine, to its emerald waters and verdant jungles.

Eternal Indonesia, Main Program Day 3

Saturday 29 October, 11:45 -13:00, Taman Baca

Wild jungles. Ancient cultures. Diverse beliefs. Indonesia casts a powerful spell on the visitor. Listen in as these writers reveal how the archipelago has captured their imagination, influenced their lives and works, and what keeps them coming back.


Posted on September 27, 2016 .

East Indies (update)

The book East Indies tells of the struggle of the East India Companies for trade supremacy in the Eastern Seas over two centuries. It follows the trade winds and the trade routes to the port cities across Asia and the Orient. Beginning with the trading ports of Malacca in the 16th century, Batavia in the 17th century and concluding with the founding of Singapore and Hong Kong , which became some of the world’s largest trading ports in the 19th century.

When you read ‘East Indies’ by Ian Burnet you can almost smell exotic spices over salt spray and wet wood of the ships that transported the goods back to Europe. Following from his previous book, ‘Spice Islands’ in which Ian documented the history of the spice trade in the Maluku and Banda islands of Indonesia, where two very important and highly sought spices – cloves and nutmeg – originated, ‘East Indies’ looks at the impact of the European explorers and traders.

Ian has once again researched his topic thoroughly, and ‘East Indies’ is beautifully illustrated, filled with georgeous maps and pictures evoking the age of sail.

Highly recommended.                                         Melanie Ryan— Limelight Book Reviews

There has been a recent spike in sales of East Indies from the Amazon website, so I did a Google search to find out why. The good news is that East Indies has been ranked at number 6 out of 33 books listed as suggested reading on Pacific History by the History Club, as on the link below.

Posted on May 13, 2016 .

A Journey Across Java

Beyond Bali, much of Indonesia is unknown to many Australians. But in many respects, Indonesia is Australia's most important overall relationship.  Yet the historical and cultural differences of our nearest neighbour are vast, possibly among the widest of any pair of adjoining countries.  For the traveller, opportunity knocks:  here is a frequently overlooked destination that begs exploration.

Indonesia is the largest archipelago nation-state in the world.  Its extremities are six thousand four hundred kilometres apart, as far as Perth, Western Australia is from Wellington, New Zealand, or from San Francisco to Boston in the USA.

Almost seventeen thousand islands both separate and link the Indian and the Pacific Oceans and contain a rich human diversity of over three hundred and fifty different ethnic groups.  The people are a subtle blend of cultures that have invaded since neolithic times – Malay, Chinese, Indian, Melanesian, Portugese, Arabian, English and Dutch.  Their history is a saga of wave after wave of human migration who either absorbed earlier arrivals, eliminated them or drove them into less favorable regions such as deep forests, high mountains, or remote islands (where they can still be found to this day).

Heritage Destinations is organising a tour across Java for 14 days from August 17 to August 30, 2016. With Ian Burnet as your guide and 'expert'.

Highlights include …

Our starting point is Jakarta,centre for government, politics and business - the brain of Indonesia. West, Central and East Java follow including Yogyakarta, the World Heritage Listed sites of Buddhist Borobudur and Hindu Prambanan and other interesting centres such as Solo and Malang  before we depart Java at Surabaya.  

The program concludes in Bali with an optional 8 day extension to the rugged Nusa Tenggara island of Flores and the dragons of Komodo National Park, another World Heritage Listed site. 

Please go the the Heritage Destinations website for more details:




Posted on March 30, 2016 .

Archipelago - A Journey Across Indonesia

An advance copy of Archipelago has arrived and for an author there is nothing more exciting than holding a copy of your book for the first time. The distillation of hours, weeks, months and years of research and writing, has finally taken its final form.

Archipelago started with my long held dream of travelling across the arc of islands that make up the Indonesian archipelago, island by island, and adventure by adventure. I was also interested in researching a book about sandalwood and the sandalwood trade, since after cloves and nutmeg it was sandalwood that drew traders and adventurers to the islands of the eastern archipelago.

During the writing of the sandalwood book it gained a wider significance as it somehow morphed into a journey book, which attempts to describe some of the fascinating history and huge diversity of the Indonesian Archipelago and its people. The Indonesian national motto had to be ‘Unity in Diversity’, as these islands are an extraordinary mixture of races, religions, languages and cultures.

In the prologue to the book I ask the question – is this a travel book or a history book? It is neither, as it is a journey not just across geographic space but also through historic time. The journey is full of surprises. Who would expect that on the island of Bali, the vibrant Balinese culture has the largest population of Hindu believers outside of India? Who would expect that on the islands of the eastern archipelago such as Flores, Solor and Timor it is Christianity that has replaced their animist traditions? Why would the Pope make a state visit to the country with the largest Muslim population in the world? Who would expect that a ‘kingdom’ of Portuguese and Dutch renegades could have ruled parts of Timor and the eastern islands for hundreds of years? Or that the people of East Timor would gain their independence after twenty-four years of Indonesian occupation?


Posted on August 4, 2015 .

ARCHIPELAGO - A Journey across Indonesia

I have just signed off on the page proofs for the next book which is called Archipelago and will be published by Rosenberg Publishing in September 2015.

I can't wait to see the finished result and hold the new book in my hands. Here is a description from the frontispeace of the book.

Indonesia is the world’s largest archipelago nation comprising as many as 17,000 islands spread over the same distance as Los Angeles to New York, or Perth to Sydney. Indonesia is also the most culturally diverse nation on the planet and its national motto had to be ‘Unity in Diversity’ as these islands are an extraordinary mixture of races, religions, languages and cultures.

Ian Burnet sets out on a journey across the archipelago to discover this rich cultural diversity. He describes how the early Malay people came to these islands and the influence of the Indian religions of Hinduism and Buddhism on the islands of Sumatra, Java and Bali.  He discovers the heritage of the Indians, Chinese and Arabs who came here to trade in spices and sandalwood, he follows the rise of Islam and the traces of the first Europeans to enter Asia – particularly the early Portuguese traders and the priests who brought Christianity to these lands.  

Travelling by bus, plane, train, ferry, boat, car and motorcycle from Java to Timor, he hops from island to island across the Indonesian archipelago, following the smoking volcanoes that form its spine.

Ian Burnet combines his love of adventure and travel with his knowledge of history to take us on a personal journey through geographic space and historical time, which will delight all armchair travelers. 




Posted on June 11, 2015 .

Spice Islands Sailing Adventure 2015

East Indies Spice Exploration

Departing from Maumere in Flores September 26 for 12 days until October 7 in Ambon

“ …I would dream of the fabled Spice Islands. Images of palm-fringed tropical islands backed by towering volcanoes filled my imagination and I saw myself arriving on their sandy shores by sailing boat, like the explorers, adventurers and traders that had gone before me…“ (from ‘Spice Islands’, 2011, by Ian Burnet)

SeaTrek has teamed up with author and Spice Islands expert Ian Burnet to curate this fascinating look at the colonial history of Indonesia and it’s role in the international spice trade of the 17th century. This 12-day voyage travels in an eastward arc capturing the maritime route of early colonials who traversed the Indonesian waters in search of the precious spices found within this small band of islands. Ian Burnet will lend his expertise and you will be transported back in time as you learn about historic outposts, see the colorful native villages, experience the marketplaces, and smell the aroma of the spice plantations. These unforgettable excursions on land will be matched by those at sea as the Ombak Putih wends her way through stunning volcanic islands with stops at pristine beaches, giving guests ample time to swim and snorkel in some of the richest and most magical waters in the world.


For more details go to the SeaTrek Sailing Adventures website at

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Posted on February 25, 2015 .

Exploring the Spice Islands - 2014

Exploring the Spice Islands in Eastern Indonesia. – Garry and Anna Connery

In October we travelled in Eastern Indonesia.  On the way to the Spice Islands in the Moluccas we enjoyed four days in Bali at the Ubud Writers and Readers Festival, an experience to be recommended.  An interesting cohort of speakers with diverse strands and activities.

This however was a prelude to the main purpose of our Indonesian trip – 12 days and 1100 kilometres on a traditional 35 metres long Sulawesi Bugis Phinisi, a beam of 10 metres and two masts rigged fore-and-aft with marine-blue sails.  These vessels have been built for centuries for cargo and transport throughout the Indonesian Archipelago. The ‘Ombah Putih’ has been purpose built with 12 snug ensuite cabins and we had 20 fellow travellers from France, England, Holland, Canada, USA, Indonesia and Australia.

This trip turned out to be enormously educational highlighting the history of maritime exploration, trade, imperial domination, geographical, geopolitical and geophysical histories … and one of the best holidays ever!

Ambon, our starting point, is a busy central port for the Moluccas and has significant new development and a strong military, naval and police presence.    We visited the beautifully maintained Commonwealth Graves Cemetery which honours our fallen soldiers, sailors and airmen, many from Gull Command (2/21st Australian Infantry Battalion).   Over 2,000 Australian, American, English and Dutch servicemen, many unknown, lie here and we found the grave of the notable Australian cinematographer, Damien Parer.   A peaceful resting place and a moving experience.

As the sun set we joined our vessel and headed overnight south east to the Banda Islands, approximately 240 kilometres, arriving at the island of Ai under billowing navy sails (assisted by motor!) in the early afternoon.  The Banda Islands are 900 kilometres directly north of Darwin. The islands Ai, Run, Lonthiar and Banda Neira are central to the history of the Spice Trade, particularly the Portuguese, Spanish, Dutch and English who fought ferocious battles,  massacred local islanders, and built substantial forts to protect their spice interests which were worth more than gold by the time they reached Europe.  We visited the nutmeg groves shaded by huge kenari trees and saw the sun-drying of nutmeg, mace, cinnamon and kenari nuts.  Two kora kora canoes, beautifully painted with 25 - 30 paddlers in each, raced each other to rapid drum beat in a farewell as we left Banda.

We were accompanied by Ian Burnet, the author of Spice Islands and The East Indies, who has spent 20 years living, working and travelling in the Indonesian archipelago during his career as a geologist/geophysicist.   His fascination with the 2000 year history of the spice trade and also contemporary Indonesia gave us a new perspective on our close neighbour which is complex with its population of 246 million peoples in 18,500 islands … quite a task for their new President, Joko Widodo.

The history of spices is a little like a history of the world!  Egyptologists have recorded cloves in the tombs of the Pyramids and archaeologists found clove buds in a ceramic pot dated 1,721BC in Terqa, Syria.   The earliest versions of the Ramayana epic (300BC) mention seafarers bringing cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg to India and cloves have been dated to the Han Dynasty (200BC) in China.  Traders opened the Silk Road across Central Asia in 138BC with trade dominated for several hundred years by Middle Eastern and Venetian merchants.  The lure of the fabled spices drove the “Age of Discovery” and the first circumnavigation of the world.  Spain and Portugal backed explorers such as Columbus, Vasco de Gama and Magellan to try to find a sea route directly to the Spice Islands.  The Portuguese reached Banda to trade nutmeg in 1513, the Spanish Armada de Molucca arrived in 1521, Francis Drake arrived in Ternate in 1579, the first Dutch fleet in 1596. The English East India Company was formed in 1601 followed by the Dutch East India Company (VOC) in 1602 who eventually came to control the trade.    In 1667 the Dutch agreed to a land swap to gain the last island,  Run  which they exchanged for a small island on the North East coast of America  -  Manhattan in New Amsterdam - now New York!

The trip was not all history!  Most days we swam and snorkelled in crystal clear waters.    Several times we stopped as pods of whales and dolphin surrounded us. Thrice daily buffets with an Indonesian influence, many with fresh fish speared by the crew, were served on the quarter deck where we enjoyed exchanging stories of our fellow travellers. Some evenings the 15 crew entertained us with singing and dancing and one night about 30 from a local village arrived on board to party and sing accompanied by their “tea-chest” bass! 

Perfectly calm weather meant we sailed only on the first day - mostly we motored overnight to the next island seeing the production nutmeg, cashew, cloves, sago, copra and dried fish with a following of most of the village children!  Twice we visited local schools where we caused chaos – visitors are rare in these small communities and every child had to clap hands or high five with us all!  One school gave an impromptu concert led by our Captain.  

After passing the Ceram Sea and Halmahera Island we crossed the Equator which brought us close to Tidore, Makian and Ternate, three volcano cones which rise majestically from the water.  Tidore was in full preparation for the swearing in of its new Sultan within a few days.  Ternate is a busy centre of trade as it has been for centuries. It sits in the shadow of the Gamalama Volcano which last erupted in 2012.  The day starts with the calling to prayer at 4am.  There is a mosque every two blocks and each amplified call is different – hard to sleep through, even across the water! In the evening there was a beauty to these unaccustomed sounds.  We visited some of the 17 forts built by the Portuguese and Dutch, the home of Alfred Wallace where he penned his famous letter to Charles Darwin on the Theory of Evolution and the Palace of the Sultan.  A final farewell dinner on board, singing with the crew, whilst the sound of Ternate partying on Saturday night wafted across the water.  This was not quite a ‘sailing’ holiday, but certainly an experience and an education.  12 days of no watch, no shoes and no internet – perfect!


Posted on February 17, 2015 .

Spice Routes/Spice Wars, 2014 Sailing Adventure

We have just returned from another exciting sailing voyage around the Spice Islands on the Ombak Puitih with twenty one people on board from Australia, America, Canada, England and France. Once again the weather, the crew, and the food were perfect. The only hitch was some damage to the anchor winch, but after working through the night the crew were able to overcome this problem.

As always the highlight of the voyage was our visit to the Banda islands, including the old forts, the historic Dutch Church and the nutmeg plantations. Something different was our trek inland on Halmahera to visit a waterfall that must have been 100 meters high and then be entertained that evening with singing, music and dancing by the villagers who live nearby.

Finally on reaching the island of Tidore we learned that a new Sultan was to be crowned in a few days and one of our group has stayed on to view the ceremony.    

Posted on October 20, 2014 .

The 2014 Ubud Readers and Writers Festival, October 1-5

                    This is one of the greatest festivals on the planet because it combines books, ideas, music, dance, food and film, all in the village atmosphere of Ubud in Bali.

                   I will be involved in numerous events, mainly food and spice related, such as -  'A Taste of the Archipelago', 'The Long Lunch' and 'The Kitchen'.

                   You can go to the URWF website to see the full program at   


Posted on August 27, 2014 .