Venturing to volcanoes in Indonesia

Wednesday 11 September 2019

My name is William Perren-Leveridge and I am studying a Bachelor of Engineering majoring in mechanical and material systems. In June 2019 I spent two weeks abroad on the ‘Active tectonics and society: Indonesian field school’ with the Research School of Earth Science.

This was my first time travelling outside of Australia and admittedly I was slightly intimidated by the scenario in general. I was thankfully lucky enough to have a kind and patient cohort of peers and Professor Phil Cummins to guide me through the experience. It allowed me to challenge myself and learn what I couldn’t have learnt at home.

The trip centred on visiting important Indonesian geohazards such as volcanoes and active tectonic points, combined with stunning cultural sites that helped to exhibit the intersectionality of the two.


Borobudur is the largest Buddhist temple in the world, it is a 9th century Mahayana Buddhist temple outside of Yogyakarta made from locally sourced volcanic stone. It is a good example of entwinement of geohazards and Indonesian culture. The temple was built in line with two active volcanoes, one being Mount Merapi, an active stratovolcano nearby.  

We also visited the volcano at sunrise and we were able to observe the quarrying process of volcanic stone, and come to understand the role of volcanic activity in Javanese life.

This theme of intersection between geology and life, was also emphasised in the rest of the itinerary, notable visits including: Prambanan temple, Sultan’s Palace and Tamansari Water Castle, Mount Bromo, Mount Ijen, The Province Disaster Management Centre & Earthquake Monitoring Centre in Bali and a Lecture at the Geology and Geophysics Department at UPN.

For me as an engineering student, the sites I found most relevant to my studies were villages effected by volcanic eruptions and earthquakes – and in response their traditional construction techniques. Through the hands-on learning at these sites and my research - I traced throughout the trip many examples of traditional earthquake destruction mitigation techniques.

Drawing similarities to 4th century Japanese earthquake engineering construction, there is a deep understanding of flexibility in dry fit joinery for crossbeams and trusses, noting the careful selection of certain construction timbers and sourcing from local, sustainable sources.  This was the inspiration for my presentation on traditional earthquake mitigation construction.

Being able to compare and contrast this with the shortcomings of the growing adoption of western construction techniques as it relates to urbanisation in the region, was an opportunity to apply the high level thinking that the Systems Engineering has taught me.

The trip was a great opportunity to apply my degree in a real-world scenario and to seek out solutions to problems in an expansive and thorough investigative manner.

The historic and cultural influences in system cycles and the impressive resourcefulness of the traditional engineering style I encountered during my trip were the greatest lessons. I hope to apply these principles wherever my engineering career takes me.



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