End of Silence: the 1965 Genocide in Indonesia

During the rule of Indonesia’s inaugural president, Sukarno, a group of generals were plotting to remove him for being too left-wing. One morning in 1965, the bodies of five of these generals were found in a well and members of the Presidential Guard took over part of the capital, Jakarta. The head of special forces, Major-General Soeharto, promptly subdued the Guards, assumed control and effectively put Sukarno under house arrest.


Soeharto quickly promulgated a story that communists were responsible and unleashed a murderous witch-hunt: the final death toll was around the million mark. Many victims were not communist, merely members of student or worker organisations, or not activist at all. Any discussion of the initial murders and subsequent purge was actively suppressed and this applies today, despite the ousting of Soeharto in 1998.

The End of Silence: Accounts of the 1965 Genocide in Indonesia, by Soe Tjen Marching (Amsterdam University Press, 2017), presents first-hand accounts of victims and family members who suffered from the witch-hunt. [See https://www.amazon.com/End-Silence-Accounts-Genocide-Indonesia/dp/9462983909/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1502021215&sr=8-1&keywords=end+of+silence+%2B+soe+tjen+marching%5D

For her the purge is very personal: “My mother’s trauma of witnessing her husband being dragged from our home by Soeharto’s troops… makes her believe that silence is a virtue. I am almost the complete opposite… I believe that I have the responsibility to reveal these stories so that more and more people find out about what happened…”

marching Marching wanted to reveal how the purge was perceived by surviving victims and their families, and how they have been affected since. Her book achieves that aim excellently, comprising an analysis of Soeharto’s campaign and its legacy, followed by chapters devoted to the stories of direct victims, their siblings, their children and grandchildren respectively, and a reflective epilogue.

The accounts she presents make gripping and sometimes harrowing reading. While often amazed at how resilient people could be, I was sobered by stories of brutality, families broken up, careers ruined, inner pain, and secrets kept fearfully for half a century. The difficulties of direct victims and their families did not end with release. Identity cards were stamped to show victims’ past status, employment became near-impossible to secure, and they were subject abuse and even violence, with lasting negative consequences.

Marching explains how Soeharto and his allies implanted widespread fear in Indonesian society so his troops’ actions could gain public approval and support. Soeharto’s anti-communist campaign permeated Indonesian life right down to his demise and beyond, with the official line on the purge being replicated in school texts and propaganda films.

The author argues that the powerful in Indonesia (which still includes perpetrators and their cronies), by sustaining fear, have turned the victims and families into their agents in maintaining the silence, while themselves remaining demonised and stigmatised.

1965 purge

Marching hopes this collection of victims’ accounts will help prevent the destruction of memories of 1965-1966. Her closing words reflect exactly my own estimation of her work: “This book has given the space for the survivors and their families to challenge the chronic stigma maintained by the perpetrators and their cronies: it is time to end the silence.”

Indonesian Independence Day

On 17 August 1945, just two days after Japan had admitted defeat in World War Two, Indonesia proclaimed its independence from Dutch colonial rule. The man doing the proclaiming was the new nation’s first leader, President Sukarno. See https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZRU93–5aOg


It wasn’t smooth sailing. The Netherlands did not accept the proclamation but was unready to reinstall government there immediately, so – ironically – the Japanese were left with the task of keeping the peace until Allied command for Southeast Asia (SEAC) could sent troops in. Indonesian nationalists didn’t fancy any of the above and hostilities broke out. In some cases, sympathetic Japanese commanders allowed arms and munitions to fall into the hands of the nationalists.

Then SEAC sent in its troops, mainly Indian sepoys with British brass. Hell broke loose. You can read about it at these links: DUTCH EAST INDIES October 1945: the Battle of Surabaya part 1 and DUTCH EAST INDIES November 1945: the Battle of Surabaya part 2.

After five years of struggle, Indonesia was finally recognised as an independedent nation. Happy Birthday, Indonesia!

Writers Festivals in Asia-Pacific 2017-18

A brief roundup of literary festivals in the Asia-Pacific region for the period July 2017 to August 2018 (updated 19 Aug 2017). Criteria for inclusion: the proceedings must be mainly in English and the locale in the Asia-Pacific region – this includes the west coasts of the Americas, and the north and east coasts of Australia. Does not include comic, anime, zine or poetry festivals, nor book fairs.


Litquake, various dates, San Francisco, USA: a bunch of year-round events with an ‘epicenter’ happening in October (6-14). Focuses mainly on Bayside authors. Check out their calendar at www.litquake.org.

JULY 2017: Apparently book-lovers hibernate in during this month.


Byron Bay Writers Festival, 4-6 Aug, east coast of Australia. Done & dusted. www.byronbaywritersfestival.com.au

Corrugated Lines: A Festival of Words, 11-13 Aug, Broome, north-west coast of Australia. Line-up includes Bruce Pascoe, Kim Mahood, Danielle Binks, Emilie Zoey Baker and Dan Lee. No website, nor program on http://www.facebook.com/CorrugatedLines

Sunshine Coast Readers & Writers Festival, 12-13 Aug, Coolum Beach, east coast of Australia. Program out now. Includes a poetry slam & short story competition. Watch http://www.sunshinecoastreadersandwritersfestival.com

Mountain Echoes Literary Festival, 24-27 Aug, Thimphu, Bhutan. Program out now. Big line-up but not many international names. Watch http://www.mountainechoes.org


Kimberley Writers Festival, 9-11 Sept, Kununurra, far north of Western Australia. Line-up includes Danielle Lim, winner of the 2016 Singapore Literary Prize for non-fiction. Program “out soon”. Tickets from the Kununurra Library, ph 08 9169 1227, or email librarian@swek.wa.gov.au for info.

Brisbane Writers Festival, 6-10 Sept, Queensland, east coast of Australia. Program out now. Watch uplit.com.au/festival/brisbane-writers-festival-2017

steinbeck-pebble-beach  John Steinbeck at Pebble Beach

Pebble Beach Authors & Ideas Festival, 22-24 Sept, Carmel, California. All kinds of movers & shakers, as usual in this thought-provoking festival. Only $1,250 tickets remaining! Watch http://www.carmelauthors.com/

National Young Writers’ Festival, 28 Sep – 1 Oct, Newcastle, east coast of Australia. “The country’s largest gathering of young and innovative writers working in both new and traditional forms.” Full program out 31 August. Watch http://youngwritersfestival.org.


Litquake Festival, 6-14 Oct, San Francisco, USA. Focuses mainly on Bayside authors. Check out www.litquake.org

Vancouver International Writers & Readers Festival, 16-22 Oct, Canada. 30th festival. Calling for artistic director now. Watch http://www.writersfest.bc.ca


Ubud Writers and Readers Festival, 25-29 Oct, Bali, Indonesia. Theme: Origins. Line-up includes Indonesian authors Seno Gumira Ajidarma, Nh. Dini and Leila S. Chudori, award-winning novelist Madeleine Thien, crime writer Ian Rankin, ‘Wild Swans’ author Jung Chang, Simon Winchester, author of ‘Krakatua’, and South Korean wild child Han Yujoo, among many more. Program out now. Watch www.ubudwritersfestival.com

Bangalore Literature Festival, 28-29 October, Bengaluru, India. Usually includes performances by Indian musicians. Watch http://bangaloreliteraturefestival.org


Irrawaddy Literary Festival, 3-5 Nov, Yangon, Myanmar (Burma). “A stellar cast of Myanmar and international writers”. Watch www.irrawaddylitfest.com

Singapore Writers Festival, 3-12 Nov. No more details yet, but writers may apply for a book-launch slot now. Watch www.singaporewritersfestival.com

Hong Kong International Literary Festival, 3-12 Nov. Tickets available from September. Line-up includes Jung Chang, author of Wild Swans, Carol Ann Duffy, Poet Laureate of the UK, Ken Liu, writer of speculative fiction, novelist Pankaj Mishra and Japanese prize-winner Hiromi Kawakami.

Wollongong Writers Festival, 24-26 Nov, east coast of Australia. Hosted by University of Wollongong. Program out now. Line-up includes Philippines author Merlinda Bobis and Time Cope, author of ‘On the Trail of Genghis Kahn’. Watch www.wollongongwritersfestival.com

Asia Pacific Writers & Translators’ Conference, ??? Nov, China. No details yet – their site is still stuck on 2016. Watch LEAP+.

George Town Literary Festival, 24-26 Nov, Penang, Malaysia. No other details yet. Watch http://www.georgetownlitfest

DECEMBER 2017: nuthin.


Jaipur Literature Festival, Diggi Palace, Rajasthani, India. “The largest free festival on earth.” No details yet. Watch http://jaipurliteraturefestival.org

There are many other writers festivals throughout South Asia – see http://www.sangamhouse.org/literature-festivals-in-south-asia


San Francisco Writers Conference, Mark Hopkins Hotel, USA. No details yet. Watch http://sfwriters.org

Lahore Literary Festival, Pakistan, dates unconfirmed. “Explores the interface between literature and the arts.” Watch http://www.lahorelitfest.com/about-llf

MARCH 2018

Readers and Writers Down Under, Gold Coast, Australia. No details yet. Follow http://www.facebook.com/ReadersandWritersDownUnder

Shanghai International Literary Festival, China. No details yet. Watch Shanghai International Literary Festival

The Bookworm Literary Festival, Beijing, China. Maybe in March, maybe not at all. The organisers are rethinking its future.  Watch http://bookwormfestival.com

APRIL 2018

Newcastle Writers Festival, east coast of Australia. No details yet. Watch www.newcastlewritersfestival.org.au

Sydney Writers Festival, 30 April – 6 May, east coast of Australia. Watch http://www.swf.org.au

Los Angeles Times Festival of Books, 22-23 April, USC campus. Program out now. Watch http://events.latimes.com/festivalofbooks/festival-schedule

MAY 2018

ASEAN Literary Festival, somewhere in Southeast Asia. Hosting is rotated round member states, but no details yet of when & where for 2018. Watch http://www.aseanliteraryfestival.com

Auckland Writers & Readers Festival, New Zealand. No details yet. Watch http://writersfestival.co.nz

JUNE / JULY 2018: Hibernation time again.


Cairns Tropical Writers Festival, northeast coast of Australia. Dates unconfirmed. A biennial event, due in 2018. Watch http://www.cairnstropicalwritersfestiva.com


Heroes Day: the eve of Armistice Day

We all know 11 November is Armistice Day, when we remember those fallen in battle, especially in major wars that everyone knows about. But few people other than Indonesians are familiar with the Battle of Surabaya, celebrated on 10 November as Heroes Day in Indonesia.

Indian troops under fire

This is despite the fact that one the main protagonists, apart from Indonesian nationalists, were the British armed forces (including many Indians), with numbers of Dutch personnel and a few Australians. It was a battle for independence for Indonesians and for reassertion of colonial power by the Dutch, with British and  – for a while – Japanese caught in between.

During the battle, there were propaganda broadcasts by ‘Surabaya Sue’, a Scots woman whose life included many moves, name changes, adventures and delusions. If she is to be believed, at least two Australians present crossed over to the Republican side, as did significant numbers of Indians.

BersiapinSurabayaTo see how the battle worked out, click  DUTCH EAST INDIES October 1945: the Battle of Surabaya part 1 and DUTCH EAST INDIES November 1945: the Battle of Surabaya part 2.

Happy Heroes Day to Indonesia, and respectful remembrance to all Commonwealth forces who did what they thought was their duty.

Little Dove, Big Heart

This is the tale of the good ship Duyfken (Little Dove) and her sometime skipper, Willem Janszoon – a tale that gives us a window into the contest for the Spice Islands and also tells of the first European landfall on Australia.

duyfken_sailBEGINNINGS OF THE SPICE RACE: For centuries, highly-sought spices of the East – cinnamon, peppers, cloves, nutmeg, mace – had been transported by sail variously to Malacca (in Malaya), Achin (north Sumatra), Bantam (now Banten, West Java) or key ports in the Moluccas, a huge island-specked area west of New Guinea. From there they would be conveyed by Indian, Persian and Arab traders to the Middle East, and thence by caravan to the eastern Mediterranean, before being distributed by Venetian and Genoese ships to the sale points of Europe. However, in 1453 the Turks captured Constantinople and levied tolls on the caravans, making this route much less profitable.

East Indies are between Asia and Australia

The East Indies are between Asia and Australia

Portugal was therefore keen to find an ocean route to the Indies, a vague term roughly encompassing India and lands eastward, and a great age of maritime exploration began. In 1511,  Portugal’s Captain Alburqerque conquered the trading port of Malacca and the maritime nation proceeded to establish itself in Bantam and the Moluccas, home of the Spice Islands, gaining virtual monopoly of the spice trade within ten years.

In the late 1500s, the Netherlands rose in revolt against Spanish domination and, in retaliation, King Philip of Spain blocked their access to the port of Lisbon. A major part of Dutch sea commerce had consisted of collecting Asian goods brought by the Portuguese to Lisbon and distributing them around Europe. The port closure prompted the Dutch to step up efforts to secure their own maritime line-of-supply from the Spice Islands. England, which had also been reliant on Lisbon, did the same. Portugal wanted to block everyone else.

THE FIRST DUTCH FLEET:  In 1595,  Fleet_of_Houtman  a company of Amsterdam merchants dispatched a four-vessel fleet under Cornelius de Houtman along the established route to the Indies: roughly southerly to Africa’s Cape of Good Hope and then very roughly easterly to Java. It was a wretched journey and, when the surviving vessels limped home two and a half years later, 160 out the original 249 men had perished. Nonetheless, the expedition brought back enough spices to cover costs.

Also in 1595, the Duyfken was built in the Netherlands. She was a kind of vessel referred to as a pinnace: three-masted, less than 20 metres long, 5 metres wide and with a 2 metre draught. Fast and nifty, she was armed with eight guns and four catapults. I recently looked over its replica and can assure you there is precious little room for twenty men, which was the original Duyfken’s complement (for videos of the replica, see YouTube). It is unclear exactly what she was used for in the first years of her life.

Duyfin replica

Full-scale replica of the Duyfken, built in Fremantle, Western Australia

THE SECOND WAVE: Competing Dutch merchants sent out more fleets to the Indies, with varying degrees of success. In March 1598, a well-equipped fleet under Admiral van Neck set sail with eight ships, including the Hollandia, on which Willem Janszoon (or Jansz) sailed as mate. Little is known of his earlier life but it is thought he was an orphan born around 1570, who received a reasonable education. He was described as “a very competent and sober man”. It seems no picture of him has survived.

When van Neck’s fleet reached Bantam, four ships spiceswere loaded with spices and returned with Janszoon to Holland, realising a 400% profit! The rest of the fleet sailed eastwards to the Moluccas, home of key spice-trading ports, where they loaded with nutmegs and mace, and set up trading posts on the Banda islands (1,700 miles east of Bantam) with a few men left to staff them.

Some Dutch companies formed a joint venture to finance another large fleet. In 1599, the original four ships were sent out as an advance party under Vice-Admiral Jacob Wilkens, with Janszoon as a first mate, returning in 1601 after a successful voyage. Janszoon sailed again as ship’s master in fleet of three, reaching Sumatra in 1602. The Dutch commander went off with an English fleet to attack a Portuguese ship, while Janszoon stayed behind and charted Malayan coasts. He got back to the Netherlands the next year.

Moluccas in pale green. Ternate & Tidore near the top, Banda to south.

Indonesia, with Maluku (the Moluccas) in pale green. Ternate & Tidore near top, Banda to south.

As for the Duyfken, two years earlier it had joined a fleet led by Willem Cornelisz Schouten, whose four ships reached Bantam on Christmas day, coming up against a Portuguese fleet of no less than thirty vessels. The plucky Dutch engaged this force in intermittent skirmishes, taking only a week drive them off. The dominance of the Iberians (Portuguese and Spanish) had been cracked.

After repairs, Duyfken sailed to the spice-trading port of Ternate in the Moluccas, taking on a cargo of cloves. She then sailed to Banda islands to load up with nutmeg, and thence eastwards to check what the Portuguese were up to. After this voyage, Duyfken set off for her homeland in company with some larger ships but was separated from them in a storm off Africa, still reaching the Netherlands before them in early 1603. ternate THE DUTCH EAST INDIA COMPANY: In 1602, the Netherlands government had sponsored the establishment of the United East India Company (VoC), and granted it monopoly of trade in Asia, thus combining the strength of the former competing-cum-cooperating merchants. The cartel had the right to build forts, raise armies, make treaties and militarily engage in the region as it saw fit.

The VoC assembled a 12-vessel fleet under Admiral van der Hagen, with instructions to intimidate Spanish and Portuguese ships on the coasts of Africa and India, and to chase the Iberians out of the Duyfken2Spice Islands. The refitted Duyfken, skippered by Willem Janszoon, was part of this fleet, which embarked for the Indies again in late 1603. They captured two Portuguese ships near Africa before arriving in Bantam on the eve of 1604.

In 1605, Duyfken was in a fleet that recaptured the key island of Amboina from the Portuguese. Then onward to Banda, consolidating the Dutch trading post there. The Duyfken and another vessel stayed in the area for three years exploring trading opportunities.

THE TORRES STRAIT VOYAGE: The next year, Duyfken returned to Bantam to be fitted out for a mission we read of in an English trader’s diary: “The eighteenth, heere departed a small pinnasse of the Flemmings, for the discovery of the land called Nova ginnea [New Guinea].The captain was Willem Janszoon. After reaching Banda, Duyfken pushed easterly to the southern ‘belly’ of New Guinea,  rounded it and headed through the Arafura Sea until she arrived in the Gulf of Carpentaria in northern Australia. Changing course, she bumped into Cape York Peninsula, the huge finger of land that points at New Guinea. Janszoon imagined it was the New Guinea coast extending south, but he and his men were in fact the first whiteys to see or land on the continent of Australia. Karte_Expedition_Willem_Jansz_1605-1606They explored the coast southwards as far as Cape Keerweer, before heading back north. At the Batavia River, “in sending their men on shoare to intreate of Trade, there were nine of them killed by the Heathens… so they were constrained to returne.” Thus the very first white-black contact in Australia was marred by conflict. Duyfken continued until close to the northern-most tip of mainland Australia, and then north adjacent to the narrow neck of Torres Strait until she reached the coast of New Guinea. This area is so strewn with islands, reefs, sand banks and mists that Janszoon did not discern he was in a strait leading through to the Southwest Pacific. Baffled by obstructions, he headed west around New Guinea’s belly and home to Banda, arriving in May 1606.

What the Portuguese did not know was that Captain captcookLuis Torres, for Spain, left the Southwest Pacific just weeks after the Duyfken got back to Banda and traversed westwards the strait that now bears his name. The true nature of this stretch of water was not confirmed by other powers until Captain Cook (at right) sailed west through it after his land-grab of eastern Australia in 1770.

DUYFKIN’S LAST DAYS: After her return to Bantam, it is unclear whether Duyfken made a second voyage to Australia. Later in 1607, it is recorded she had to fetch supplies for the Dutch fortress on Ternate, under stress from its enemies. Janszoon, after a misadventure in which he had to abandon a ship in Mauritius, was sent to Banda with instructions to stall English ship on their way there and buy up all the spice he could so there’d be none left for the Brits. dovestern

The Dutch next had to deal with an Iberian fleet which arrived in the Moluccas, spoiling for trouble. Setting out to confront them, a fleet including the Duyfken and the Delft, skippered by Janszoon, had a five-hour battle with three Spanish galleys, which they managed to rout. In June the following year, Duyfken was dispatched with other ships to capture a fortress on Makian Island, and a few weeks later she was taken to Ternate for repairs. The well-travelled vessel was reported as “burst in the doubling”, judged irreparable and “cast away”. Thus did the bold Little Dove meet its end in 1608.

WILLIE’S LATER CAREER: Meantime Janszoon had been sent on missions to Sumatra and India, dishing it out to the Portuguese. When his term of service expired in 1611, he returned to his homeland but soon signed for another three years and set off for the Indies again, bashing Portuguese again. He next governed the island of Solor, a centre of sandalwood trade, for few years until his new term expired,  and then went back to the Netherlands, where he served on the defence fleet.

Natives of Banda

Natives of Banda

Next – you’ve guessed it –he returned to the Indies, participating in the destruction of Jacatra (on whose ruins the future capital of Indonesia was built) and then trounced four English ships off Sumatra. When England and the Netherlands made peace in 1620, Janszoon was in a combined fleet that attacked any common enemy between Bantam and Tokyo, becoming an admiral to the bargain. For a while he served as Governor of Banda, before heading a fleet on a diplomatic mission to India.

After that, he helped organise the defence of Java but finally went home for good in 1628, ending his VoC career with a report on the state of the Indies, with the company recording “he has pleased us greatly”. And that’s the last we hear of Willem Janszoon. They don’t make men like him any more.


‘A Brave Ship’ (no date) at http://www.duyfken.com/original/brave-ship

Corn C, 1999, The Scents of Eden: A History of the Spice Trade, Kodansha, New York.

Milton G, 1999, Nathaniel’s Nutmeg, Sceptre, London.

Mutch T D, 1942, ‘The First Discovery of Australia…’ at http://gutenberg.net.au/ebooks06/0600631h.html

USS Houston & HMAS Perth, 1942

March 1st marks grim events in Southeast Asia 75 years ago. The Japanese Empire had recently bombed Pearl Harbor and also begun its invasion through the Malay Archipelago. Now it was poised to take over the Dutch East Indies. By late February 1942, a Japanese convoy was approaching the east end of Java.

map_of_java - LP

Dutch Admiral Karel Doorman was put in command of Allied craft on hand and headed from the East Java port of Surabaya to confront the invaders. His fleet comprised five cruisers and ten destroyers, of mixed Dutch, British, American and Australian flags. Light cruiser HMAS Perth had already served with distinction in several theatres of war before arriving in the East Indies, while heavy cruiser USS Houston had seen action in the region for some weeks previously, becoming nicknamed ‘the Galloping Ghost of the Java Coast’ because the Nips had reported her sunk so often.

What would be called the Battle of Java Sea began mid-afternoon on 27 February and consisted of intermittent engagements in which Allied vessels were repeatedly repuexeterlsed by Japanese naval forces, with heavy losses to the Allies. One by one, Allied craft came to grief or had to retreat. Admiral Doorman was a casualty, going down with his ship. Obeying orders, Perth and Houston fled westward to Batavia (Jakarta), the capital of the Dutch East Indies. Next morning, the Japanese dispatched the remainder of the Allied fleet, except for four American destroyers that escaped south to Australia.

This battle was the largest surface engagement since World War One. The Allied forces had been wiped out as a naval threat to the Japanese, whose invasion of Java was delayed by a merely a day, at cost of over 2,000 Allied lives but without the loss of a single Japanese ship.


Next day (28 February), Perth and Houston arrived at Batavia harbour, where they took on oil but could only access limited amounts of ammunition. Both ships had suffered considerably from previous action. Orders were received to sail with Dutch destroyer HNLMS Evertsen to the port of Cilacap on the southern coast, on the Indian Ocean. To to this, they would have to sail around

USS Houston

USS Houston

the western end of Java, through the Sunda Strait (top left of map) between Java and the massive island of Sumatra. The Americans and Australians duly set out at seven that evening, while the delayed Evertsen followed an hour later.

Perth’s Captain Hector Waller, higher in rank to Houston’s Captain Albert Rooks, decided to sail directly to Sunda Strait, without making a curve around the invasion forces as ordered by Admiral Helfrich, commander of Allied naval forces in the region. Waller and Rooks were apparently unaware of the exact deployment of Japanese navy vessels. In fact, the Nippon navy had a number of invasion forces at hand, including a cruiser and four destroyers at Merak in the Sunda Strait, plus a cruiser, eleven destroyers and fifty transports in Bantam Bay on the north coast near the entrance to the strait, as well as other vessels elsewhere.

Doubtless the Japanese in Bantam Bay were surprised to see enemy ships appear in their midst in the dark, but wasted no time in engaging them. At

Capt. Hec Waller

Capt. Hec Waller

about10.30 pm a Nippon destroyer loosed off torpedoes at the Allied duo, but in vain. The two cruisers now saw the enemy forces in the bay and fired at transport ships there. Stronger Japanese vessels closed in on the Allies, effectively surrounding them. Perth and Houston replied with gunfire and, in Perth’s case, also torpedoes. There was some mutual but limited damage inflicted at first. However, the battle quickly escalated with attacks from all directions, sometimes at very short range.

By 11.30 pm, the Allied cruisers were nearly out of ammo and could only hope to cut and run for safer waters. As she attempted to do so at a few minutes past midnight, Perth was struck by four torpedoes in succession. Following orders, most of her crew abandoned ship during the strikes but incurred many casualties in the process, especially from exploding ordinance in the water. Still under fire from several destroyers and with its last guns blazing back, Perth heeled over

HMAS Perth crew

HMAS Perth crew in Fremantle, Western Australia.

and sank at about 12.25 am on 1st March, taking half the crew down with her. The good ship lost 375 men, including Hec Waller. Of the three hundred or so who survived, more than one hundred died in captivity, with 214 men repatriated after the end of hostilities.

Meanwhile Houston fought valiantly on, badly on fire and with only smaller guns left operational, but she gave of her best. Then a torpedo struck her and she

Capt. Albert Rooks

Capt. Albert Rooks

began to lose headway. Her gunners managed to strike three enemy destroyers before Houston took three more torpedo hits around 12.30 am. Captain Rooks was killed by flying debris and, minutes later, yet another grand ship heeled over and sank, taking two-thirds of her crew down with her. Out of over a thousand men just 368 survived, only to be interned in Java and elsewhere.

While the two cruisers were fighting for their lives, Dutch destroyer Evertsen had arrived on the scene, saw the flashes of battle, tried to bypass it, ran into enemy fire, altered course, managed to escape, re-entered the strait (reason unclear), raElverstenn into the enemy again, and escaped again but with her stern on fire. Still under attack, her captain beached Evertsen on a reef and the crew escaped just before their ship exploded. Nearly all were captured and interned, with their captain dying in captivity.

In the whole battle, Japanese casualties were relatively light and – all up – only four transports and a minesweeper were sunk, possibly all by ‘friendly torpedoes’ rather than by the Allied ships; two of these vessels were refloated. The Nippon victory secured the vast resources of archipelagic Southeast Asia and established a defensive arc stretching from Malaya, through the entire East Indies, across the north of New Guinea and finally on to the Southwest Pacific. It would prove a hard perimeter to crack.

The full story of Perth and Houston’s last stand was unknown until war’s end in 1945,  when survivors were released from concentration camps. The ships, captains and crews are now honoured in plaques or shrines in a number of towns and cities in America and Oz. Regrettably, the wrecks of both cruisers have suffered from illegal salvage to the point of disappearance.

“There are no great men – only ordinary men who, from time to time, are called upon to do great things.”  – Admiral William F. Halsey.


Carlton, M. 2011, Cruiser, Heinemann, Australia





Morton, L. 1962, The War in the Pacific: Strategy and Command, Dept of the Army, Washington.

Thompson, P, 2008, Pacific Fury, William Hienemann, Sydney.




Ever seen the musical The King and I? Or watched Jodie Foster in Anna and the King of Siam? Sure these films are different, but they both portray Anna Leonowens as a plucky Christian English governess alone in the Siamese court, battling fearlessly for enlightened principles against a barbarous autocracy, and guiding Siam (Thailand) along the path to reform.

This sort of imagery built upon that in the 1944 book Anna and the King of Siam, based on Anna’s own writings about her Siam sojourn in the 1860s. All the above were exercises in myth-making, as revealed in a carefully-researched biography by Alfred Habegger called Masked: The Life of Anna Leonowens, Schoolmistress at the Court of Siam (University of Wisconsin Press, 2014).

Foster with Chow Yun-Fat

Jodie Foster with Chow Yun-Fat

For her self-crafted persona, Anna concealed that she was no ‘lady’ in the sense used then, but rather the daughter of an English sergeant and a half-Indian woman, who attended a charitable school in India. She married an Irishman, following him through doomed career moves in Singapore, Australia and Penang until he died penniless. For a while, she tried to run a school in Singapore before scoring the job of governess to King Mongkut’s many progeny. Cutting all ties with her family (she had previously quarreled with a number of them), she set off for Bangkok with her two kids and created a new identity for herself as a pure English lady.

Despite conflict and breakdowns, Anna displayed true grit as well as arrogance, surviving there for five years. However, her influence on king and country was far less than she made out. She was not, for instance, the architect of slavery abolition in the kingdom. And to this day Thais vehemently object to King Mongkut being portrayed as a bit of a boof and to suggestions Anna played a key role in Siam’s modernisation.

After Siam, Anna moved to North America, wherei she re-tooled her identity as a writer and lecturer. For many years, she enjoyed fame based on her mythologised life, negative tales(and outright lies about King Mongkut, his hareem and Siam in general. In the process, Anna shamelessly plagiarised other people’s writings and boldly faced down anyone who fingered her falsehoods. She was active and apparently respected in the fields of education and women’s rights, dying at the age of 88 in Canada.

So, a remarkable woman who showed real pluck in handling the cards life dealt her, but also a fraud to some extent. Nevertheless, Anna’s self-styled legend seems likely to endure in popular imagination.

Source: http://www.asianreviewofbooks.com/new/?ID=2155#!