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Exploring Indonesia 1902-1911: Adventures of Geologist Johannes Wanner.

EXPLORING INDONESIA 1902-1911: Adventures of Geologist Johannes Wanner

translated and edited by Antonia and George Boyden

PEN PRESS, PB, 9.99 [pounds sterling]


Johannes Wanner, in later life a professor of applied geology at the University of Bonn, worked for Shell as a young man, and was sent prospecting for oil in Indonesia. His diaries, which cover three expeditions, reveal an engagingly enthusiastic mind: his first outing was to examine an oilfield on the island of Seram, and not only was he pleased to discover that the island was 'geologically almost unknown', he didn't appear too distressed by the codicil: 'It was said that its inhabitants were still mainly head-hunters.'


The head-hunters, however, are lazy enough to collect trophies from recent graves rather than on the hoof, and malaria and typhoid present far greater dangers. This is a briskly told tale (Wanner acquires, raises and dispatches a baby orangutan in the space of a page), and while he is self-aware enough to realise that 'the value judgments of a European about [the Javanese] are always more or less questionable', some of the attitudes he lets slip are perhaps more revealing than he intends (he has a 'less fortunate' colleague whose servant is eaten by a tiger; the servant's fortune doesn't appear to come into it).

But there's humour here too--the military band in Makassar isn't wonderful, but 'one's musical standards are not so exacting after five months on the east coast of Borneo'-and a very touching moment when he witnesses Captain Robert Falcon Scott's wife taking leave of her husband as he departs for the South Pole (she waved 'until his little ship disappeared').

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Comment:Exploring Indonesia 1902-1911: Adventures of Geologist Johannes Wanner.
Author:Herron, Mick
Article Type:Book review
Date:Aug 1, 2009
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