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The Past

 

The Malaysian National museum in Kuala Lumpur has a very good gallery dedicated to Malaysia's prehistory.  It starts with the early human habitation during the early ice age when sea levels were much lower and Malaysia formed part of a much larger land mass.  My report on Vietnam and Cambodia, also on this website, provides similar information.  It displays a range of skulls of early human species and discusses the arrival of modern humans in the region between 70,000 and 30,000 years ago.  Earlier plate tectonics and continental drift are also touched upon.  I was surprised to see this gallery in a Muslim country where more typically strict adherence to the Biblical creation account appears to be the norm.  It gave me heart that contemporary scientific scholarship can outweigh Biblical authority when it comes down to irrefutable evidence.

There was no demonstration of the fossil record or early life forms or discussion of the cosmic background radiation and other evidence for the formation of the current universe some 13.7 thousand million years ago, as one might see in an Australian, North American or European natural history museum.  But visitors were clearly informed that the earth was well over 200,000 years old and that modern humans were preceded by earlier hominid species.  Later galleries that covered the European and modern periods became less objective and more problematic as they approached the present time.  I thought the coverage of the Japanese invasion in World War II; the Malayan (communist) emergency against the Malayan National Liberation Army (MNLA); and Indonesian confrontation; particularly confusing if not wildly inaccurate.  This may have been because of the idiosyncratic English translations of the original Malayan explanations.  It seemed a nice demonstration that the victor writes his own history.

A much clearer picture of more recent history was available from the memorial to Prime Minister Abdul Razak, in the nearby park, that has on display some of the original documents from his period in office.  He is credited with rapid rural development, financial and educational initiatives to benefit the poor rural Islamic Malays (Bumiputera).

Wendy and I agreed that we are much less familiar with Razak, who came to office in 1969 in a minor coup, than we were with his predecessor Tunku Abdul Rahman who was constantly in the news when we were young.  More recently we were obviously familiar with a disciple of his, Mahathir Mohamad (PM from 1981 to 2003).  Today another Razak (Najib Razak) holds the office.

At the Islamic Arts Museum nearby there was timeline and map (below) showing the advent of Islam and its spread across the world from Arabia.  Early Arab traders were interested in the Malayan Peninsula for its spices, particularly pepper, and for tin and other minerals.  They were also interested in controlling the strategic Malacca Straits that constrict the sea trade route between India and China. 

 

Malacca

 

Malacca is a good port with ample freshwater strategically located at the narrowest part of the straits.  According to the museum the first Malacca Sultanate was from 1402 to 1511.  And within 70 years additional Muslim sultanates controlled the whole of the East Indies as far as Java.  The Malacca Sultanate fought off various attacks by the Hindu Siamese and then the Vietnamese during the 15th century under the patronage of the Chinese emperor and many Chinese subsequently settled in the area.

 

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Prior to the arrival of the Muslims the region including modern Indonesia had been a mixture of Hindu and earlier religions and there are the remains of ancient Bronze Age Hindu ruins across Malaysia.  Bali of course remains Hindu to this day.  Earlier Palaeolithic societies practiced various animistic religions similar to those practiced in New Guinea and Australia and small remnant groups also continue these practices and beliefs to the present day.

In due course various European powers were attracted for the same reasons that attracted the Arabs.  Initially the Portuguese established various footholds on the trade route between India and China.  These included Bombay and Goa in India and Malacca in Malaya.

In 1511 the Portuguese overcame the local sultan; and fresh from finally expelling the Moors from the Iberian peninsular, in 1492, set about trying to Christianise the region.  The Jesuit missionary St Francis Xavier spent several months in Malacca to this end and is remembered at the historic Catholic church in the town.  The Portuguese fortified Malacca against ongoing Muslim harassment and the remnants of their fort can still be seen.  It is not surprising that the Malaysian museums do not treat this period well. 

Relief for the local sultan came when the balance of power shifted in Europe and the Netherlands, shaking off Spanish control from 1581 onwards, became a significant sea power in their own right; developing the Dutch Empire, largely by capturing the colonies of Spain and Portugal.  With the help of the Sultan of Johor the Dutch overthrew the Portuguese in 1641 and went on to control Malacca for the next 150 years.  The Dutch recognised the multi-racial and multi-religious nature of Malacca and made no attempts to forcibly change people's beliefs.  For the Dutch, Malacca was an outpost of declining interest and they ceded it to the British in 1824.  The Dutch East Indies were instead administered from Batavia (Jakarta) in Java until Indonesian independence in 1949 (backdated to 1945 by the Indonesians).  I went to school with a Dutch kid who, with his parents, had been expelled in 1949 and had moved Australia.

In due course Malacca became the least important of the Straits Settlements with Penang and Singapore.  The British dismantled its fortifications and at one stage even attempted to move the population to Penang.  But eventually they settled in for the long haul and the Anglican church in town records the deaths, particularly of young wives and children, of those who dedicated their lives to keeping Malacca British.

 

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Today it is an interesting historical town, with a large Chinese population, far less significant than Kuala Lumpur or Penang.  To improve its tourist value the river that runs to the harbour has been lined with concrete supporting river sidewalks, reminiscent of the Grand Canal in Venice; lined with historic houses, restaurants and cafes.  River boats carry tourists under pretty Venetian style bridges.  An apparently seldom working monorail winds along part of the foreshore.  At one point a 'Ferris wheel' and 'pirate ship' form the main attractions in a small amusement park.  At another a Disney style replica Spanish galleon forms part of the maritime museum.  A large fake, electrically driven, waterwheel stands beside a reconstructed fortification.

 

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Replicas, reproductions and fakes are popular in Malaysia.

 

Penang

 

Penang is an island joined to the mainland by a long road bridge.  The British East India Company needed a base in the Malacca Straits and the adventurer and trader Francis Light negotiated the lease of the island from the local Sultan, renaming it Prince of Wales Island; a name that was soon changed to Penang.  The main city was named Georgetown; the name it still retains.  The Sultan felt that Light had deceived him and unsuccessfully attempted to attack the island in 1790.  As a result a long-term agreement was established with the British East India Company and subsequently with the British Crown.  The Sultan of Kedah receives an annual rent for the island to this day.  Penang became a free-port for all the traders in the area; a status it retained until 1969.

As a major trading centre Penang developed a large Chinese population with an informal Chinese local government.  In 1826 rival Chinese interests resulted in riots that the British had to suppress with the Indian troops.  After this it came under British colonial administration that continued until the Japanese invasion at the start of World War II. 

Georgetown retains a number of historic colonial buildings.  Outstanding among these is the restored five star Eastern and Oriental Hotel.  As this was a special holiday we had booked into the modern five star Traders Hotel and the club level.  But we were both a little sad that we have not chosen the Eastern and Oriental.  We had to make do with High Tea in the historic lounge and strolling the grounds along the seafront.  Past guests of the hotel include: Noel Coward; Rudyard Kipling; Somerset Maugham; Sun Yat-sen; Charlie Chaplin; and Lee Kuan Yew

The Japanese treated the Chinese particularly harshly and this is remembered with some bitterness in the local museum.  After the war the British incorporated Penang into the Malayan Union and subsequently the federation of Malaysia.  From the 1970s to the end of the century Chief Minister Lim Chong Eu successfully developed one of the largest electronics manufacturing bases in Asia in Penang.  These large multinational electronics plants, Fairchild and so on, can be seen on the trip into town from the Airport.  Elsewhere there is a large new, and largely empty, industrial park dedicated to solar development.  In common with the rest of Malaysia there is also a great deal of construction underway, including luxury high-rise apartments and villas along the coast.

Penang has the highest population density in Malaysia.  Although once predominantly Chinese, with a substantial Indian minority, ethnic Malays now exceed the ethnic Chinese in number and this trend is expected to continue. 

Today Penang attracts tourists and backpackers to its beaches, where you can swim with jellyfish or, more interestingly, as I did, paraglide behind a speedboat.  I took my camera up with me and Wendy photographed the insert.  Fantastic!

 

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Well under half the Penang population is Muslim but we found it bizarre that women in full black burqa could be seen at the beach-side resorts presumably accompanying menfolk frolicking among the scantily-clad non-Muslims. 

 

Kuala Lumpur

 

The development of Kuala Lumpur was based on tin mining.  In 1857 the local Sultan decided to open the area around the confluence of the two Rivers, that give Kuala Lumpur its name, to Chinese tin miners.  As the settlement grew, the British appointed Chinese leaders to act as local government for the predominantly Chinese miners.  This led to a dispute with the Sultanate over its share of the profits from tin mining and sparked early interracial tensions.  Once these issues and the structure of the Chinese leadership were resolved Kuala Lumpur quickly grew to be the largest town in the region.  As a result it was first made the administrative capital by the British then in due course the capital of the new nation.  Chinese people we spoke to are seriously upset by the lack of acknowledgement of their central role in this development and apparent attempts to erase all memory of it. 

Today much of Chinese Kuala Lumpur has been demolished and replaced with modern concrete and glass office towers and shopping malls, like the one below the iconic Petronas Twin Towers.

 

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A few historic exceptions remain like the Central Market that specialises in traditional arts and crafts as well as the usual tourist souvenirs; and the surrounding streets that specialise in replica goods such as 'designer' clothes and watches and exceptionally low cost first release DVD movies.

 


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Travel

Ireland

 

 

 

 

In October 2018 we travelled to Ireland. Later we would go on to England (the south coast and London) before travelling overland (and underwater) by rail to Belgium and then on to Berlin to visit our grandchildren there. 

The island of Ireland is not very big, about a quarter as large again as Tasmania, with a population not much bigger than Sydney (4.75 million in the Republic of Ireland with another 1.85 million in Northern Ireland).  So it's mainly rural and not very densely populated. 

It was unusually warm for October in Europe, including Germany, and Ireland is a very pleasant part of the world, not unlike Tasmania, and in many ways familiar, due to a shared language and culture.

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Fiction, Recollections & News

Wedding

 

 

Jordan Baker and Jeff Purser were married on Saturday 3rd of December 2011. The ceremony took place on the cliff top at Clovelly.

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Opinions and Philosophy

Australia's $20 billion Climate strategy

 

 

 

We can sum this up in a word:

Hydrogen

According to 'Scotty from Marketing', and his mate 'Twiggy' Forrest, hydrogen is the, newly discovered panacea, to all our environmental woes:
 

The Hon Scott Morrison MP - Prime Minister of Australia

"Australia is on the pathway to net zero. Our goal is to get there as soon as we possibly can, through technology that enables and transforms our industries, not taxes that eliminate them and the jobs and livelihoods they support and create, especially in our regions.

For Australia, it is not a question of if or even by when for net zero, but importantly how.

That is why we are investing in priority new technology solutions, through our Technology Investment Roadmap initiative.

We are investing around $20 billion to achieve ambitious goals that will bring the cost of clean hydrogen, green steel, energy storage and carbon capture to commercial parity. We expect this to leverage more than $80 billion in investment in the decade ahead.

In Australia our ambition is to produce the cheapest clean hydrogen in the world, at $2 per kilogram Australian.

Mr President, in the United States you have the Silicon Valley. Here in Australia we are creating our own ‘Hydrogen Valleys’. Where we will transform our transport industries, our mining and resource sectors, our manufacturing, our fuel and energy production.

In Australia our journey to net zero is being led by world class pioneering Australian companies like Fortescue, led by Dr Andrew Forrest..."

From: Transcript, Remarks, Leaders Summit on Climate, 22 Apr 2021
 

 

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