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Post Australia and Singapore: Batavia Shipwreck, Explorers Monument, and WuFlu (from Edward Mears)
Created by John Eipper on 02/02/20 9:03 AM

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Australia and Singapore: Batavia Shipwreck, Explorers Monument, and WuFlu (from Edward Mears) (John Eipper, USA, 02/02/20 9:03 am)

Edward Mears writes:

In response to Martin Storey's post of 30 January, I did in fact make it out to the Western Australia Shipwrecks Museum in Fremantle on my way back from Rottnest Island, and was able to see the portion of the Batavia's stern that had been reconstructed in the museum:


This portion of the stern had apparently been submerged beneath enough coral and other sediment to preserve the shape of the timber and allow for the reconstruction, which involved injecting and replacing the water in the timber with a specialized glue over the course of months or years. There are quite a few other artifacts from the wreck, including a replica of the portico facade that was to be used as the grand entrance to the city of Batavia (Jakarta). In addition to the Batavia exhibit, the museum also contains the (working) reconstructed engine of the SS Xantho, a paddle steamer that sunk off the coast of Fremantle in 1879 while carrying lead ore from Port Gregory, where lead ore and copper from the Geraldine Mine were typically onloaded for shipment.


Although the museum itself is small, it is certainly worth a visit, as is Fremantle itself. I am only sorry I had not seen Martin's message while I was there so that I could have tried to arrange another WAIS summit!

One other thing I wanted to mention about Fremantle--as I was walking back from the shipwreck museum towards the centre of town, I passed through Freo Park which abuts the harbor and on weekends is home to many families and young couples enjoying the spacious greenery. I happened to notice a statue in one corner of the park, the so-called "Explorers Monument" which had engravings of three white settlers (Fredereick Panter, James Harding and William Goldwyer) who had been killed by Aboriginals while exploring the Kimberley region of Western Australia in 1864.

The plaque on the monument itself recounts their murder and provides a rather pejorative description of the responsible aboriginals as "treacherous natives."

In response to this incident, Maitland Brown, whose icon is affixed atop of the monument, led another expedition to find the men (the La'Grange Expedition). Upon finding that the three men had been killed and recovering their bodies, Maitland undertook a questionable expedition which was likely meant solely to exact revenge on the aboriginal population. This resulted in the murder of anywhere between 6-20 aboriginals. What I found most interesting about this Explorers Monument was a second plaque that had been added to the monument in 1994 by the Aboriginal community, which had long believed that the Explorer's Monument was racist and presents a revisionist view of the La'Grange Expedition. The Additional plaque reads as follows:


"No mention is made of the right of aboriginal people to defend their land or of the history of provocation which led to the explorers' deaths. The 'punitive party' mentioned here ended in the deaths of somewhere around twenty aboriginal people.  The whites were well armed and equipped and none of their party was killed or wounded. This plaque is in memory of the aboriginal people killed at La Grange. It also commemorates all other aboriginal people who died during the invasion of their country.


(Plaque added in 1994)

From what I have read online, there is still some debate over whether the Explorers Monument should continue to remain in Freo Park, but it seems that this solution (the addition of this second plaque) helped to ameliorate some of the tensions and provides the public with another side of the story and some much-needed context. As the lingering debate over Confederate war monuments in the United States trudges on without end, I am wondering if our friends below the Mason-Dixon line cannot perhaps take a lesson from our friends Down Under?

Finally, I just wanted to give a quick update on the coronavirus situation from Asia. Living in Singapore I am thankfully not too close to ground zero, but we have been feeling some of the effects here. As of today (2 February) there are 18 confirmed cases of the coronavirus in Singapore, almost all of which are Chinese nationals who have come to Singapore from Wuhan or elsewhere in mainland China. Concern started in earnest about two weeks ago, when the first cases started being reported in Singapore. For the most part it is "business as usual" here, however pharmacies and supermarkets are completely sold out of surgical masks and other sanitation goods (hand sanitizer, etc.). Most office buildings have begun screening at their entrances for fevers using infrared cameras and most (sane) businesses are cancelling all non-essential travel to mainland China (Hong Kong and Taiwan remain exceptions to this rule), and those who have traveled to China within the last fourteen days have been asked to work from home for at least two weeks. A case was reported in the building next to my apartment last week, where my gym is located. Needless to say, I'll be taking a hiatus from the gym for the time being. I believe Singapore today has also expanded its ban on incoming travelers from China to the entire PRC (previously it applied only to those coming from Hubei province).

Notice at Singapore Airport

I have been taking private Chinese lessons from a PRC national (and also CCP member, but that is a story for another day) who visits my house each weekend, though because she visited Beijing over the Chinese New Year holiday the teaching company she works for has forbade her from teaching for the next two weeks. One of my colleagues in Tokyo who is Chinese also is under home quarantine for the same reason. There has been a noticeable slowdown in business, at least where such business involves China. Singapore is also very dependent on Chinese tourism. This will no doubt have an impact on Singapore's economy--of particular concern are the casinos which are tailored almost specifically towards PRC clientele. I have heard of other friends cancelling plans to attend weddings, and the famed "Chingay" parade to celebrate Chinese New Year over the weekend was sparsely attended. Although the streets are not dead like they are in Wuhan, Singapore does seem to be much quieter than usual, and of course the vast majority of people out of the streets are wearing surgical masks (even though the effectiveness of the same is debatable).

Singapore "Aunties" enjoying a day on Marina Bay, but not without surgical masks

I have also been keeping a close eye on the reaction in my other home, Japan, where it is bordering on paranoia (as tends to be the case with anything China-related in Japan). They have dubbed the coronavirus there "WuFlu" which has a nice ring to it, and my friends and girlfriend have told me that news coverage there is "non-stop" regarding the virus. The coverage has also been tinged which quite a bit of xenophobia/racism aimed at the Chinese, which I am not surprised about given the history there (this is not exclusive to Japan, however, I have seen this elsewhere in Asia). As you may have seen, Japan recently flew several chartered flights of Japanese citizens back to Japan who had been stranded in Wuhan. What may have not made the international press was how badly they bungled this operation. The first flight out of Wuhan brought approximately 200 Japanese citizens back to Japan. Before getting on the flight, the Japanese passengers were asked to "orally promise" that they would agree to quarantine upon landing, but apparently this oral promise was not binding, as the Japanese government claimed they could not force someone into quarantine as it would be a violation of their "human rights." Although no one on that flight was symptomatic, it turns out that three individuals did in fact have the virus. Upon landing, the passengers were first put into a hotel for processing and were forced to share rooms with other passengers (rather than just family members, etc.), as the government had not requisitioned enough hotel rooms (again, this was before the three individuals showed any symptoms).

Almost all of the passengers agreed to then be quarantined and tested.  However, two of these Japanese passengers refused to testing and quarantine and the Japanese authorities apparently had no choice but to let them go home on "human rights" grounds. News of this has leaked, but it has not been widely publicized in Japan. Apparently one of the government officials in charge of this first group has since committed suicide (not confirmed). From the second and third flights out of Wuhan, the Japanese government has learned their lesson and made it a condition to taking these flights that upon landing in Japan the passengers would enter quarantine.

The last thing I wanted to mention was the reaction of my PRC friends and acquaintances on Facebook, LinkedIn and other social media (particularly those who are living abroad and who should have access to different viewpoints on this outbreak). Despite what has been reported as some serious shortcomings by the Chinese local and national governments in dealing with this outbreak (including a possible initial coverup of the seriousness of the problem way back in December), I am amazed at how most of my PRC friends and acquaintances have quickly fallen in line with the official government narrative on this outbreak and are almost unquestioning in their faith in the government's response to this pandemic. Many of them will even attack those who they see as questioning the government's response--I myself have been subject to some of this in comments on Facebook. I certainly understand the immediate need to get behind the first responders and citizens of Wuhan to get this under control, but I see very little desire for introspection or calls for accountability during the early stages of the outbreak.

While only a small anecdote, this does very little to instill confidence that China is on its way to developing a questioning citizenry that can hold its government accountable, which I believe is necessary if we are ever going to trust the PRC to lead the world as a superpower in 2047 and beyond.

JE comments:  Eddie Mears adds to the august Mears tradition of travelogues!  Thank you--you touch on three matters of great interest.  Possibly the most WAISly of your topics concerns the monument controversy in one Western Australia park--note how the second plaque turns the "lest we forget" trope on its head.  And what are we to say about a "punitive party"?  This is 19th-century doublespeak at its worst.

As a (somewhat) relevant aside, two days ago I saw an Asian lady wearing a surgical mask in a Meijer superstore--in Adrian, of all places.  We're definitely safe from WuFlu in lil' ol' Adrian, where everything arrives about twenty years behind the times.

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