I call this millisphere after the Bengawan Solo, the longest river in Java. The millisphere of
Bengawan Solo (2014 population 7 million) includes the Madiun River catchment which joins the Bengawan Solo at Ngawi before flowing through Bojonegoro and discharging into the Java Sea, just north of Surabaya.

My grandparents' marriage certificate has them married in "Madioen" (Madiun), East Java in 1918, and there is a black and white photo of my 21-year-old grandmother, in a long, black skirt, standing by a steam train in the American West, travelling to join the man she met when he studied at the school for tropical agriculture, in her hometown, in The Netherlands.

Read more: Fred Frederikse: The Millisphere of Venezuela
Fred Frederikse: The Millisphere of Malang
Fred Frederikse: El Chapo had tunnel vision

When we passed through Madiun, the railway followed the flats between the volcanoes;
closely spaced kampongs (villages) with orange tile roofs were ringed by rice paddies
following what contour there was; coconut palms, fruits and vegetables, tobacco barns and brickworks filled leftover spaces.

Advertisement

By all accounts it was paradise there in the 1920s, when Java had a population of around
30 million and there were still wild tigers, elephants and rhinos in the teak-forested hills - now the population of Java is approaching 150 million, and the Javanese tiger is extinct.
Bengawan Solo is an important site for hominid remains and Ngawi is where Dutch
archeologist, Eugene Dubois, in 1896, found fossil remains of Pithecanthropus erectus (Java Man).

Dated at one million years ago, Java Man is the first evidence of hominids outside Africa or Europe. Zig-zag marks on a freshwater clam shell, found near Ngawi, are thought to be the oldest man-made marks in the world.

In 1940, Surakarta musician Gesang Martohartono composed the song "Bengawan Solo,"
which became popular with the Japanese soldiers occupying Indonesia during World War II.

The soldiers brought "Bengawan Solo" home to Japan after the war, where it became a hit,
then throughout Asia and worldwide.

When the Japanese forces arrived in 1942 my grandparents were put into prison camps and their paradise turned into a hell. My father and his brother had already gone to the
Netherlands for their education and their sister had managed to catch one of the last ships leaving for the United States.

It was not until after the end of the war that they heard from each other again. By then it was apparent that it was all over for the Dutch in Indonesia and the family dispersed to The Netherlands, Switzerland, California and New Zealand.

In 1948, in the lead up to independence, when the Dutch still held the major cities,
Indonesian factions, positioning themselves to become the new government, clashed in the "Madiun affair". Sukarno's republican forces put down an Indonesian Communist Party
municipal uprising, imprisoning 36,000 and executing 1000 communists.

This skirmish played itself out in 1965, in "the year of living dangerously", when Suharto and the army finished-off another million "communists". American agents were involved in both affairs.

Indonesia's development model under Suharto was one of joint ventures with foreign
companies. Japanese plywood manufacturers, Dutch palm oil producers and the like went
into business with various members of the Suharto oligarchy, who became exorbitantly
wealthy.

President Suharto's son Tommy bought a sheep station in the South Island of New Zealand - before going to jail for corruption after his father was toppled.
The Bengawan Solo river was once much longer, extending into Sumatra and Borneo during the last ice age, when sea levels were lower, and, in fact, it once flowed in the opposite direction, before the line of volcanoes coming out of the Java Trench tilted it the other way.

Today the Bengawan Solo Water Resource Management has to cope with the annual cycles
of flood and drought in an environment subject to intense industrialisation, agricultural
development, and population growth.

The river's sediment load includes volcanic debris and erosion exacerbated by illegal logging. Industrial pollution and untreated effluent from urban areas means the river water is no longer drinkable and there are annual shortages of clean water.

A joint venture between US ExxonMobil and Indonesia's Pertamina recently announced
significant finds of oil and gas around Bojonegoro. Already there have been spillages, furtherdegrading the Bengawan Solo river for the millions living along it.

• Fred Frederikse is a self-directed student of human geography. Mapping the Millsphere "a new millenium travel story" can be found at millisphere.blogtown.co.nz