Sid Harta Publishers
Mists in forest canopies, tropical heat, shamans and dense jungle are the ingredients that can only enhance murder, intrigue, shams and political games in the new book on Indonesia by Kerry Collison.
Indonesian Gold is a gripping portrayal of greed, fraud, betrayal, romance and the hidden culture of Kalimantan (Indonesian Borneo) that bursts through the many colourful and vivid characters portrayed in the book. The overall theme is man's exploitation and greed in the thirst for gold at the expense of indigenous cultures. It is based on the actual billion-dollar BRE-X Canadian gold fraud in 1997 at the Busang site in Indonesia's East Kalimantan province.
Kerry Collison, from his many years of living in Indonesia as an Assistant Air Attaché, official embassy interpreter and highly successful businessman with many years of founding companies and joint ventures, has an immense knowledge of Indonesian history, culture and politics. This is reflected in descriptions of the wheeling and dealing involved in gold mining contracts between off shore shelf companies and the highest echelons of the Indonesian Government.
Like his other books about corruption, high finance and global politics within an Indonesian context, Indonesian Gold combines culture, in this case the mystical world of the Penehing Dayak, with factual, true stories of murder, mayhem and fraud. In a most sensitive manner Kerry unfolds the story of the devastation meted out to traditional people by mining companies and the powers that back them.
This spine-chilling political thriller is set during the period of May 1989 to September 1996 in the rivers and jungles of deepest Kalimantan to the chaotic city life in Jakarta, to boardrooms in Vancouver and to a General's home in the Philippines. The book consists of short, sharp sections within each chapter, which ensure a fast pace of constant action and excitement. An excellent glossary at the end of the book helps those unfamiliar with Indonesian. Breathtaking events had me sitting on the edge of my seat wondering who will be murdered, whether plans will hatch and whether romances will be furthered. At one stage the reader is placed in the darkest interior of Kalimantan with two hundred Kopassus troops stealthily coming through the jungle aiming to burn all the Longhouses and kill all the Dayaks. At the same time, by coincidence, Dayaks across three provinces have coordinated an attack on the Madurese trans-migrant workers and Javanese soldiers and in the middle of this a Filipino mastermind has been spiking mineral samples with gold to boost the share price and enable her to launder her uncle's share of Marcos' gold ingots and she is about to have the Dayak chief's daughter, a shaman (witch doctor and village healer), killed in a swap with herself.
No sooner has the reader worked out what is going on than the master story teller throws in some new events which are quite unfathomable and take many more events to occur before they too are unravelled.
The novel is about what was supposedly the largest gold deposit in the world turning out to be one of the greatest stock swindles the world has ever seen. The plot involves the Yamashita Treasure based on an actual hoard hidden by high-ranking Japanese imperial princes in the latter stages of World War Two. President Marcos rediscovered it and proceeded to divvy it up to loyal officers. The ageing Filipino General, Narcisco Dominguex and his wily geologist niece, Sharon Ducay, one of the novel's central characters, has decided on an elaborate scheme to launder the gold so its existence as stolen treasure can never be discovered.
Sharon Ducay's plans are to gain a mining concession in Kalimantan, prospect, set up a mining operation and drill, remove and doctor core samples. The aim is to eventually recycle the gold treasure as if it had been mined there. The mining company, Borneo Gold Corporation, sees its share prices soar and other mining companies as well as the top echelons of the Indonesian Government move in to claim their share.
Interwoven with the account of the mining endeavours is the story of the Penehing Dayak chieftain, a shaman, Jonathan Dau and his daughter, Angela. They stand in extreme juxtaposition to the Filipino General and his niece. Ever present, in unseen shadows, hovers the Hornbill, whose spirit is said to enter Dayak warriors in battle. Angela is initiated in a Dayak ancestral cave replete with rows of skulls collected by headhunters from time immemorial. Her story is a striking tale of the evolution of a river Dayak child, blossoming into a feisty, outspoken student at the Bandung Institute of Technology, graduating to a job in the Jakarta State Ministry of Environment and her eventual succession to the role of village chief. Her romance with the geologist, Stewart Campbell is a sensitive portrayal of the difficulties faced by lovers from very different cultures. Much of the action of the novel revolves around the ubiquitous Stewart Campbell. He is a man of principles and his role is juxtaposed with the role of the other on-site geologist, an Australian, Eric Baird. Baird's relationship with his constant companion. a young Javanese called Mardidi creates further tensions on the mine site. An added villain of the piece is Alex Kremenchug, rumoured to have dumped shares illegally as Director of an Australian mining company.
The Indonesian Mines Department's lack of guidelines is seen in Campbell's encounter with West Papuan Independence leader, Tommy Eluay (modelled on Theys Eluay who met an accidental death last November) who leaves him with a report of thousands of tonnes of mine tailings left in the Ajikwa River and the massive devastation of pristine rainforests. Eluay meets with an "accidental" death much like in real life.
Real life and fiction continually interact in the novel, which adds to the books' poignancy. Kerry Collison's writings unlock complex events and really aid one's understanding of modern Indonesia. This is especially so with the encounters between Dayaks and Muslim Madurese transmigrants and Kopassus troops. The Dayaks are forced from their traditional land and revert to former headhunting practices as deadly mercury pollutes their lands, rivers and streams. In real life there were Dayak uprisings as recently as 2001 when thousands were slaughtered. This book goes a long way to help understand the historical and ethnic reasons for the brutality.
The 613 pages of Collison's book had me engrossed from start to finish with fast, paced action, the build up of suspense, the movement backwards and forwards between the past and present to increase momentum, the brilliant setting where few foreigners dare to venture and most of all Collison's great love and respect for the amazing variety of ethnic groups, cultures and religions that constitute the Republic of Indonesia.
Irene Ritchie teaches Indonesian and History at Scotch College, Melbourne.
Based on events surrounding the infamous, billion-dollar BRE-X gold fraud, and the determined few who recklessly destroyed so many lives with their all-consuming quest for gold... Read more about “Indonesian Gold”