Thai-Burma railway

Railway section showing Hellfire Pass

Railway section showing Hellfire Pass

Map by Jocelyn Freeman in Railway of Death by ER Hall and reproduced in The War Diaries of Weary Dunlop

 ‘In 1943 Japan’s high command decided to build a railway linking Thailand and Burma, to supply its campaign against the Allies in Burma.

The railway was to run 420 kilometres through rugged jungle. It was to be built by a captive labour force of about 60,000 Allied prisoners of war and 200,000 romusha, or Asian labourers. They built the track with hand tools and muscle power, working through the monsoon of 1943.  All were urged on by the cry “speedo!”

Relentless labour on inadequate rations in a deadly tropical environment caused huge losses. By the time the railway was completed in October 1943, at least 2,815 Australians, over 11,000 other Allied prisoners, and perhaps 75,000 romusha were dead….’

description by Australian War Memorial

 Weary Dunlop on seeing romusha working party, 22 April 1943:

‘just another of those dreary , homeless mass migrations of war along a road of sickness and death’

 Weary Dunlop on birds, 24 November 1944:

golden oriole wikipedia‘Birds cause considerable amusement around here. Very showy in the mornings, the rather silent little drongos with slender bodies like a willy wagtail, forked tails, and astonishing manoeuvrability, pouncing on flies and turning in their own length. Multitudinous cheeky little mynah birds…occasionally raided by another type of almost black mynah with a little tuft above the beak, all shrilling at each other in a hostile way. The magpie robin is still evident, also smug little doves, naturally usually in pairs, and our show-piece, the golden oriel. There are scarlet-crested woodpeckers and innumerable vultures and crows. Lastly multitudinous extremely small birds, not forgetting the rather pretty egregious sparrows, which gave the entrance to our hut the name coined by Billy ‘The Gate of Happy Sparrows.’

Image uncredited/Wikimedia

 Excerpts from The War Diaries of Weary Dunlop, EE Dunlop, Nelson Publishers 1986


narrow road

The Narrow Road to the Deep North, a novel framed by experiences of the Thai-Burma railway, by Richard Flanagan (Vintage, 2013). The title mirrors a work by late 17th century Japanese poet and traveller Basho.

 War birds:

German pigeon-photographer

German pigeon-photographer

British Royal Engineer with war-pigeon

British Royal Engineer with war-pigeon

Images Bundesarchiv_Bild_183_1996 and

‘Messenger pigeons have been used in wartime for centuries, even in the face of increasingly sophisticated telecommunications equipment. From the outbreak of World War II until VE-Day the RAF were parachuting ‘intelligence’ pigeons onto the Continent with notes asking pro-Allied finders to return the birds with information about the enemy. Of 17,080 pigeons dropped, only 1,708 returned…many really were wounded by gun-fire or attacked by falcons, which were used by the enemy as interceptors. No bird carried out more than three successful operations…’

The Dickin Medal, the highest possible decoration for valour given to non-human animals, was awarded to 32 pigeons.

Valiant, 2005The 2005 computer-animated story of Valiant, a wood pigeon who joins the Royal Homing Pigeon Service


odyssey /od-i-si/ n. (pl. -eys): a series of wanderings; a long and eventful journey [from Greek Odusseia, title of an epic poem attributed to Homer describing the adventures of Odysseus]

definition: Oxford Compact English Dictionary

The beginning of the Odyssey

odyssey text Bibi Saint-Pol

 Image Bibi Saint-Pol/Wikimedia Commons

The beginning of a different odyssey

‘As you set out for Ithaka

hope your road is a long one,

full of adventure, full of discovery…’

from Ithaka by CP Cavafy

The journeys of birds

 travelling birds film 1 web

Travelling Birds (also known as Winged Migration): a 2001 documentary film that follows northern hemisphere birds on their spring migration to the Arctic Circle.

Birds on the itinerary

Destination Flyways is an initiative of the United Nations World Tourism Organisation.

‘In 2012, a record one billion tourists crossed international borders…By providing an adequate framework for sustainable tourism management and diversifying the tourism offer along the flyways, Destination Flyways will generate revenue for improved management of biodiversity and spread the benefits of tourism to local communities, while creating attractive experiences for tourists.’

birdwatchers broome 1 kimberley birdwatching

Birdwatching at Roebuck Bay near Broome, Western Australia

Morley Beach birdwatchers 1

Birdwatching at Morley Beach, Denmark, Western Australia

Images: top,; bottom, Basil Schur

Stopping along the way

‘shhh I can make myself invisible

with binoculars in moist places…

…whisper I wear soft colours/

whisper, this is the naturalist

she’s been out since dawn

dripping in her waterproof notebook’

 from Dart by Alice Oswald


Defining Zugunruhe

From the German ‘zug’, meaning movement or migration and ‘unruhe’, meaning anxiety, unrest; used by German and English speakers to describe ‘migratory restlessness’, especially in birds.

Gathering before the flight from Roebuck Bay, Western Australia

Gathering before the flight from Roebuck Bay, Western Australia

Gathering before the flight from Heathrow

Gathering before the flight from London Heathrow

Photos Ricki Coughlan/Broome Bird Observatory; David Levene/

Describing Zugunruhe

‘…the evening, the night and the morning, [it is] as if they feel in themselves then something I do not know what which obliges them to leave the place where they are…And it is this instinct and inner guide that makes them fly by a favourable wind directly to the place where they want to go.’

from Traité du Rossignol (A Treatise on the Nightingale), Anon, 1707. Quoted in The Wisdom of Birds: An Illustrated History of Ornithology, Tim Birkhead, Bloomsbury (2008)

Observing Zugunruhe

Annual migration of red crabs, Christmas Island, Indian Ocean

Annual migration of red crabs, Christmas Island, Indian Ocean, Australia

Asylum seekers on board SS Tampa, heading from Christmas Island, Indian Ocean, Austraiia

Asylum seekers on board MV Tampa, heading for Christmas Island, Indian Ocean, Australia 2001

Migrants arriving in Australia 1954

Migrants arriving in Australia 1954

Photos: Allison K Shaw/National Geographic; uncredited/; uncredited/Australian National Archives

Articulating Zugunruhe

‘…is this how this country is going to answer you

and your immodest demands for a different world,

and a better life, and complete comprehension

of both at last, and immediately..?’

 from Arrival at Santos by Elizabeth Bishop


Birds crossing the demilitarised zone between North and South Korea

Birds crossing the demilitarised zone between North and South Korea

Photo by Lee Jin-man/AP/Press Association

‘…I love the tag Birds without Borders as I sit here writing about the way humans negotiated borders in the Partition…’

…comment from Deborah Nixon, a reseacher on Partition, by email to Flightpathproject.

Partition: n. 1. division into parts, esp of a country with separate areas of government

definition: Oxford Compact English Dictionary

Cyril John Radcliffe, 1st Viscount Radcliffe GBE, PC, QC was a British lawyer and Law Lord best known for his role in the partition of British India during which about 14.5 million people crossed borders.

Drawing the Line, by Howard Brenton, a play about Cyril Radcliffe and his role in the Partition of India, premiered in London on 3 December 2013

Cyril Radcilffe, 1st Viscount Radcliffe

Cyril Radcilffe, 1st Viscount Radcliffe

Tom Beard as Cyril Radcliffe and Peter Singh as Krishna

Tom Beard as Cyril Radcliffe and Peter Singh as Krishna

Photos: Elliot & Fry 1949, National Portrait Gallery, London;  Tristram Kenton for the Guardian

Partition by WH Auden

Unbiased at least he was when he arrived on his mission,
Having never set eyes on the land he was called to partition
Between two peoples fanatically at odds,
With their different diets and incompatible gods.
“Time,” they had briefed him in London, “is short. It’s too late
For mutual reconciliation or rational debate:
The only solution now lies in separation.
The Viceroy thinks, as you will see from his letter,
That the less you are seen in his company the better,
So we’ve arranged to provide you with other accommodation.
We can give you four judges, two Moslem and two Hindu,
To consult with, but the final decision must rest with you.”

Shut up in a lonely mansion, with police night and day
Patrolling the gardens to keep the assassins away,
He got down to work, to the task of settling the fate
Of millions. The maps at his disposal were out of date
And the Census Returns almost certainly incorrect,
But there was no time to check them, no time to inspect
Contested areas. The weather was frightfully hot,
And a bout of dysentery kept him constantly on the trot,
But in seven weeks it was done, the frontiers decided,
A continent for better or worse divided.

The next day he sailed for England, where he could quickly forget
The case, as a good lawyer must. Return he would not,
Afraid, as he told his Club, that he might get shot.

Train to Pakistan

The classic 1956 novel about Partition

The classic 1956 novel about Partition

This edition published by Penguin Books India and Ravi Dayal Publisher 2009.

Stopovers on the e-Highway

Bird Brain Dance

From Ducks and geese, 2004. Image Anja Hitzenberger.

From Ducks and Geese, Spring 2004

Image Anja Hitzenberger

‘Bird Brain Dance is a multi-year navigational dance project by Jennifer Monson that investigates the migratory patterns and habits of birds and other animals and their biophysical and metaphorical relationships to humans as fellow travellers…’ had some access issues in January 2014; link through

The Flyway Exchange

‘The Flyway Print Exchange is an exchange between…twenty artists, from nine of the twenty-two Flyway countries, [who] will create prints inspired by the idea of the Flyway…’

 The Border Consortium (TBC)

Camp locations on the Thai-Burma border

Camp locations on the Thai-Burma border

Map courtesy TBC website

‘TBC’s Executive Director was among the first people to witness, and respond to, the urgent needs of thousands of refugees from Burma who fled into Thailand in 1984…’

Foreign retirees flock to Asia

‘…many retirees are initially looking for an escape from the dreary, cold winters in the northern hemisphere. Many come for the winter months then go back home, but after a few years they come back for good…’


The Ornitarium in Denmark, Western Australia

The Ornitarium in Denmark, Western Australia

‘…the Ornitarium is an architectural sculpture that is sited at the Wetlands Education Centre just outside of the Shire of Denmark, WA. This project has been inspired by “local knowledge” found in Southwestern Australia – specifically knowledge related to birds that populate the region’s wetlands areas…’

Inside the Ornitarium in Denmark, Western Australia

Inside the Ornitarium

Images m12studio/Richard Sexton

East Asian-Australasian Flyway

‘The East Asian-Australasian Flyway Partnership (EAAFP) aims to protect migratory waterbirds, their habitat and the livelihoods of people dependent upon them.’

Flyways Music

‘Flyways celebrates the great bird migration between Africa and Eurasia along the Great Rift Valley, using music of the cultures over which the birds fly…’


FAMILY Scolopacidae:

‘The whimbrels, sea curlews, godwits, sandpipers, turnstones, dowitchers, snipes, knots, stints, phalaropes etc, a large group of small to moderately large shorebirds, mainly breeding in cooler parts of the northern hemisphere and wintering on southern hemisphere coasts, wetlands and grassy plains…’

…definition from the Handbook of Western Australian Birds Volume I, RE Johnstone & GM Storr, WA Museum 1998

Sandpiper/Burung kedidi. From the Farquhar Collection 1803-1818, National Museum of Singapore

Sandpiper/Burung kedidi

An illustration from Natural History Drawings: The Complete William Farquhar Collection, Malay Peninsula 1803-1818 (Editions Didier Millet & National Museum of Singapore, 2010)

Sandpiper by Elizabeth Bishop

The roaring alongside he takes for granted,
and that every so often the world is bound to shake.
He runs, he runs to the south, finical, awkward,
in a state of controlled panic, a student of Blake.

The beach hisses like fat. On his left, a sheet
of interrupting water comes and goes
and glazes over his dark and brittle feet.
He runs, he runs straight through it, watching his toes.

– Watching, rather, the spaces of sand between them
where (no detail too small) the Atlantic drains
rapidly backwards and downwards. As he runs,
he stares at the dragging grains.

The world is a mist. And then the world is
minute and vast and clear. The tide
is higher or lower. He couldn’t tell you which.
His beak is focussed; he is preoccupied,

looking for something, something, something.
Poor bird, he is obsessed!
The millions of grains are black, white, tan, and gray
mixed with quartz grains, rose and amethyst.

Listen to the poem here (an audio-link should appear but can be a bit erratic):

In for the long-haul:

Annually the red-necked stint (about 35 grams) migrates twice as far as a humpback whale (about 35,000 kilograms),  despite being one millionth of its size…

…noted in Shorebirds 2020 Newsletter, December 2013,

Red-necked stint migration route. Image courtesy Nrg800 via Wikimedia Commons.

Red-necked stint migration route

Red-necked stint. Image courtesy JJ Harrison via Wikimedia Commons.

Red-necked stint

Images courtesy Nrg800 and JJ Harrison via Wikimedia Commons

Numbers’ game

Birds on the move worldwide

  • 50 million migratory waterbirds use the East Asian-Australasian Flyway (EAAF)
  • 700 sites recognised as internationally important to migratory waterbirds along the flyway
  • 22 countries are on the route of the EAAF
  • 16 countries belong to the EAAF partnership: Australia; Bangladesh; China; Indonesia; Japan; Malaysia; Mongolia; New Zealand; North Korea; Papua New Guinea; Philippines; Russia; Singapore; South Korea; Thailand

Source: East Asian-Australasian Flyway Partnership

Asian Flyways

People on the move worldwide

  • 214 million estimated number of international migrants
  • 27.5 million internally displaced people
  • 15.4 million refugees

Source: International Organisation for Migration

Asylum-seekers on the move towards Australia

  • 300 asylum-seeker boats headed for Australia in 2013 with
  • 20,587 asylum-seekers on board

Source: Weekly report of Operation Sovereign Borders by the Australian Minister for Immigration and Border Protection, 3 January 2014

Image courtesy Mutari via Wikimedia Commons

Image by Mutari via Wikimedia Commons