The Lost Islands of Singapore

When I was reading One For The Road by local writer Julian Davison, an island called “Pulau (Malay for island) Damar” was mentioned. Davison used to visit this island with his family.

He recalled wading thigh-deep in the clear waters of the coral reefs and observing all manner of interesting marine life at his feet. A day at P. Damar was like a visit to the countryside. Little inlets, along a palm-fringed coastline led to Malay kampungs, half-hidden amongst trees. One could stay the night in a seaside bungalow fully accompanied by the therapeutic sounds of gently crashing waves and the scent of salty seaweeds.

The more I read, the more intrigued I became. Where is this island in Singapore? Why haven’t I heard of it before? Can I still visit it today?

An online search with Google revealed that “Pulau Damar” is better known as “Pulau Damar Laut” and is located off Singapore’s western coast. It is nothing like what Davison had described it to be forty years ago. Today, it is part of Jurong Port and there are four container terminals and a cement terminal on it.

Pulau Damar

Above: Photograph of P. Damar Laut taken from Jurong Hill with Jurong Island in the background (Photograph by Loh Kok Sheng).

Despite my initial disappointment at the island’s current state, discovering P. Damar Laut sparked off my interest in Singapore’s other ‘lost’ islands. Remote offshore islands that were once escapades of wilderness, treasure troves of rich biodiversity and playgrounds of island living, where one could get away from the hectic pace of modern life.

Due to development, many of these islands have either vanished from the map, metamorphised into islands of steel and concrete, losing their seaside and natural features, or have simply been forgotten.  “Loss” evokes deprivation and the failure to retain certain essences. Common to these islands is that they have lost something of immeasurable value, both physically and culturally. At its founding in 1819, Singapore had about 70 offshore islands. Today only about 50 are clearly mapped out. The missing islands have mostly been linked to the mainland (as in P. Chichir) or to a bigger island (as in P. Semakau and P. Tekong) or amalgamated together (as in Jurong Island). There is also a unique case of artificial island formation resulting in P. Punggol Barat and P. Punggol Timor.

Map of Singapore outline6

Above: Map of Singapore (2007) labelled with islands introduced in this article.

Pulau Sakeng and Pulau Semakau

Acclaimed as the last stilted Malay kampung before its redevelopment, P. Sakeng is probably one of Singapore’s most iconic ‘lost’ islands. It was a small island, one kilometer by 200 meters, located six kilometers from the mainland. It would have taken only half an hour to walk leisurely around the island. Yet, for its small size, its significance to Singapore’s heritage is unrivaled.

P. Sakeng consisted of about 100 stilted Malay houses encircling the coast. The graveyard where the village’s ancestors were laid to rest was located on a hill in the middle of the island, shaded by coconut palms. One of the graves belonged to a Malay princess named Kelengking, who was believed to be the founder of the village and by which the island got its name.

P. Sakeng was a delight to many visiting tourists, expatriates, researchers and students who studied Malay culture in the 80s and early 90s. One who was willing to pay for a motorised sampan could head over to the island from P. Bukom and have a taste of life that had not changed much since Singapore’s founding.

Besides being the last water kampung, what made P. Sakeng fascinating was its villagers’ historical ties to the Orang Selat (or people of the Straits), the original settlers who first encountered Sir Stamford Raffles. While researching this article, I stumbled upon a thesis by Normala Manup, a student who graduated from the National University of Singapore in 1983, entitled Pulau Seking: Social-History and an Ethnography. Manup stayed on the island for three weeks followed by shorter periods over three months to study the self-perceptions of the islanders and the socio-cultural organization of the community. Manap noted that Sakeng residents claimed they were the descendents of the indigenous settlers of Singapore.

Pulau SakengAbove: A Malay stilt house of P. Sakeng in 1993.

Pulau Sakeng2Pulau Sakeng3

Left: The view of P. Sakeng from the main jetty in 1993 (National Archives); Right: Part of P. Sakeng, today, as the Marine Transfer Station of the Semakau landfill (Photograph by Keropok Man).

Twenty years later, when asked what she remembers most fondly about the island, Normala said, “Everything! To name a few, I miss the connectedness on the island, both of the region and in the island. The people had relatives from the Riau islands (Indonesia) who came to visit the island by boat. Everyone on the island knew one another. There was great unity in the community and decisions were made together. When there was a celebration, all were invited.”

“They also had a very different worldview in relation to nature. They believed that all things in nature have spirits. The trees, water and even rocks have spirits and as a result they treat nature with great reverence. They even named themselves after trees, flowers and sea creatures. It’s a pity that people of this generation no longer get to experience these cultures and ways of life that are integral parts of our history and who we are today.”

Just a kilometer west of P. Sakeng is P. Semakau. P. Semakau is a low-lying island of about two square kilometers, and was covered in mature mangrove swamps on its eastern coast, hosting various flora and fauna. Some rare local species that were relatively common in the Semakau mangroves included the Polynesian arrowroot (Tacca leontopetaloides), aquatic ginger (Alpinia aquatica), Combretum tetralophum, hop bush (Dodonaea viscosa) and the Bakau (Rhizophora stylosa). Owing to its location in the Singapore Straits, the Semakau mangroves received water-dispersed seedlings both from the Malaysian and Indonesian coasts.

Plant 1Plant2Plant3

Left to right: Polynesia arrowroot (Tacca leontopetaloides); aquatic ginger (Alpinia aquatica); hop bush (Dodonaea viscose).

semakau

Above: Opening of the P. Semakau Community Centre in 1963 (National Archives).

The habitable parts of the island were home to Malay and Chinese villagers who made a living mainly from fishing. The methods used by the fishermen had been passed from generation to generation such as the use of shore nets. Nets of various sizes were lined along reefs, anchored to the shore by poles during low tide to trap shallow water fish. The catch from such nets often include fishes such as belanak (mullet), timah (ribbon fish), kapas (silver biddies), kekeh (ponyfish), and various crabs.

The need for a landfill site to contain the incinerated waste of a growing nation led to the development of P. Sakeng and P. Semakau into an offshore landfill, collectively known as the Semakau Landfill. After the islanders on both islands were resettled into Housing Development Board (HDB) flats on the mainland, landfill construction began in 1995 and was completed by 1999. Today, it is the only remaining landfill in Singapore and is projected to last until 2040.

The bid to save the coral reefs west of P. Semakau and the convenience of an already existing solid ground for construction of the Marine Transfer Station of the landfill implicated P. Sakeng and led to its annexation to P. Semakau. “P. Sakeng” was hence officially erased from the map of Singapore.

However, not all is doom and gloom, for extensive remediation and replanting works took place during the formation of the enlarged island in order to conserve its biodiversity. The use of innovative technology and engineering, such as silt screens that were implemented during the development phase, have protected much of the coral reefs on the western coast of P. Semakau, while the active planting of a uniform stand of 400, 000 mangrove trees over 14 hectares of the mudflats, replaced those that were lost in the landfill areas.

20060719-semakau

Above: Aerial image of Semakau Landfill (RMBR).

Today, Raffles Museum of Biodiversity and Research (RMBR) organizes regular nature walks, where trained nature guides take people of all ages and backgrounds to visit the intertidal shores and the mangroves of P. Semakau. Loh Kok Sheng, a RMBR guide said, “I love coming to P. Semakau. It is home to so many beautiful intertidal creatures such as the knobbly sea star, giant clam, pretty nudibranches and flatworms. It’s truly an island paradise!” In addition, several natural areas have been opened up for recreational purposes such as sports fishing, bird watching and stargazing. Though P. Sakeng and P. Semakau have lost their cultural heritage, they still retain their natural heritage. P. Semakau landfill is evidence that development and nature can coexist.

IntertidalClockwise from top: giant clam (Tridacna squamosa); Persian carpet flatworm (Pseudobiceros bedfordi); knobbly sea star (Protoreaster nodosus); oval sea grapes seaweed (Caulerpa racemosa); blue dragon nudibranch (Pteraeolidia ianthina); pebble crab (Family Leucosiidae) (Photographs by Loh Kok Sheng).

Selat Sembilan islands

Another group of islands that have undergone unprecedented change are to be found off the southwestern coast of mainland Singapore. Today, reclaimed and collectively known as Jurong Island, these islets used to be separate entities. Located in the Selat Sembilan (Nine Straits), Jurong Island is an amalgamation of ten smaller islands (P. Pesek Kechil; P. Ayer Chawan; P. Sakra; P. Ayer Merbau; P. Meskol; P. Merlimau; P. Seraya; P. Pesek; P. Mesemut Laut and P. Mesemut Darat).

Before reclamation, many of these islands had schools and community centers, and the people led communal kampung lifestyles. Surveys conducted 20 years ago revealed a very diverse and abundant coral reef habitat that was able to support the fishing community, and mangroves provided both goods and services for the islanders. However, due to the growing petrochemical industry and the need to cluster such industries in the western area of Singapore, near the Jurong and Keppel Ports, these islands were reclaimed to form Jurong Island.

The process of land reclamation had disastrous effects on reef habitats, as it involved dredging the seabed and burying coral reefs with the dredged material. Besides directly removing and smothering the corals and the life they supported, the process resulted in increased sedimentation that further affected surrounding coral reefs and the life they supported. Furthermore, a high sedimentation load made snorkeling or diving in Singapore waters less enjoyable with an average underwater visibility of about 1.5 meters.

When news of P. Ayer Chawan’s reclamation was received, a rescue mission, claimed to be the world’s largest, was initiated by the Nature Society (Singapore) to salvage healthy corals around the island and to transplant them to Sentosa. On nearly every weekend from 1993 to 1995, divers, snorkelers and other helpers went out on boats to collect and transfer the corals. A total of 450 volunteers spent around 10, 000 hours underwater shifting the corals.

Although a survey performed a year later revealed disappointingly that less than 11% of the corals survived the arduous journey, there were other more positive outcomes. The exercise had raised the public’s awareness of the rich coral reef life present in Singapore waters. A strong statement that Singaporeans were concerned about the negative impacts of development, and they were willing to make a difference to protect Singapore’s biodiversity was made. Nature enthusiasts and scientists also learnt of the difficulties and complexities of conducting a large-scale coral transplantation. Subsequent reef transplantation projects have been less ambitious and performed with less hype, but were more successful.

Today, the restricted access Jurong Island might appear heavily built up and devoid of island life.  This is, however, not completely true as there are still traces of wilderness on the island. Woon Wei Ling, a process engineer with a company in the oil and gas industry in the Ayer Chawan district revealed, “I often see eagles soaring in the sky here. Jurong Island is also a great place to stargaze in the night and to catch the sunrise early in the morning, as there are no tall buildings to obstruct the view. During the early days of Jurong Island, monkeys used to turn on the valves of the pipes in the factories!”

ji_image43jurongisland

Left: Islands before development; Right: Built up Jurong Island (JTC).

senang4senang5

Top: P. Senang, an island paradise in 1960; Bottom: P. Senang left in ruins in 1963 (National Archives).

Pulau Senang

P. Senang or “the island of ease” is another island with a story to tell. It has a deceiving name, for unknown to many born after Singapore’s Independence, for a while, P. Senang was used as a detention camp for criminals. Pulau Senang Rehabilitation Settlement was perhaps the Singapore Prisons Department at its most adventurous.

From 1960 to 1963, the convicts worked on the forsaken island, transforming it into their living and working quarters. There were dormitories, a canteen, roads, a community hall and terraced vegetable gardens. A jetty was also being built. However, on 12th July 1963, a group of warders retaliated over the regimented treatment received. They rioted and brutally hacked the head superintendent, 39-year-old Daniel Dutton, and set him on fire. They also killed three other unarmed wardens, set the buildings on fire and proceeded to celebrate the ‘victory’.

The island settlement that had taken three years to build was destroyed in 40 minutes. P. Senang afforded the criminals a chance of rehabilitation with a taste of freedom. It was unfortunate that the hardcore secret society members chosen in this pilot experiment had not embraced the opportunity. Today, along with P. Biola, P. Pawai, P. Salu and P. Sudong, P. Senang is part of the live-firing zone set aside for the Singapore Armed Forces.

Other islands…

There are many stories about the other lost islands of Singapore. There are tales about the grand colonial ballroom on Coney (Serangoon) Island, the Second World War fortress at P. Sajahat, the hot spring at P. Tekong, fluorescent algae displays at P. Buloh, the ammunition dump at P. Tekukor and many more. A common thread runs through them – that of the need to appreciate our natural heritage, and the culture and history passed down from previous generations. All these might just disappear one day, as history has shown, if we are not careful.

There is a bittersweet feeling in me whenever I think about many of these islands. Feelings of nostalgia and regret consume me whenever I recognize the difference between what the islands are today and what I imagined they had been before.  We have lost so much. At the same time, I am fully aware that the utilization of offshore islands for various purposes has assisted in the progress of the nation. The best solution to such conflicting needs is probably a compromise to develop sustainably.

There are still many islands that are not lost yet because the government has set aside some for recreation, some for military uses and others as land banks. Given the functions they serve, some have been left pretty much as they were. Others have been transformed into playgrounds or manicured lawns. For example, P. Ubin is still conserved and a great place to visit to experience its charming countryside, bountiful biodiversity and inviting islanders.
May we enjoy them, while we still can!

Acknowledgments

I sincerely thank Normala, Professor Chou Loke Ming, and Associate Professor Hugh Tan for their valuable input. I am also grateful for the comments, photographs and assistance provided by many people, too numerous to name. Special appreciation goes to Dr Peter Todd, for his guidance and for making this article and the numerous resultant experiences possible.

References

1. Josey, A. (1953). Pulau Senang. The Experiment that Failed. Times Books International (Singapore)
2. Manap, N. (1983). Pulau Seking: Social-History and an Ethnography. Thesis. National University of Singapore.
3. Tan, F. I. K. (1966). The Fishing Settlements of Pulau Semakau. Thesis. National University of Singapore.

65 Comments

  1. Halori said,

    June 30, 2009 at 4:24 pm

    Nice article. 🙂

  2. serene said,

    July 8, 2009 at 1:44 pm

    thanks for this really informative entry!

  3. desmond said,

    July 26, 2009 at 4:45 pm

    Great article… it is so informative and really opened my eyes about the endangered biodiversity in Singapore!

  4. jak said,

    August 18, 2009 at 7:33 pm

    remember taking a motorised sampan from west coast park to a nearby island (abt 15mins) about 20years ago. island full of coconut trees, the boat man conveniently call it “coconut island”. duno actual name. wonder if its still around.

    • chuashuyi said,

      December 7, 2009 at 9:56 am

      That is such a lovely memory to have! 🙂 Thanks for sharing this with us. I can just imagine being on that motorised sampan. It would be wonderful to collect these shared memories and anecdotal accounts of our island heritage before we pass on. It could be compiled to form a book!

  5. John Pettinger said,

    December 6, 2009 at 8:50 pm

    In 1955 I was stationed at Chin Bee Wireless Station and used to visit Pulau Damar Darat to swim and fish in the disused Japanese (Malay under Japanese supervision) built dock, known locally as the ‘submarine pen’. I have photographs taken there in 1955.

    • chuashuyi said,

      December 7, 2009 at 9:52 am

      Wow, John, that is fascinating. I wonder if the Singapore Archives have material on this ‘submarine pen’ or Chin Bee Wireless Station. I should check it out one day. I would love to have a look at your photographs. Do you happen to have them online?

      • Gerard said,

        April 10, 2015 at 1:54 pm

        Shuyi,

        I really enjoyed the article. You may have seen my note to Ingrid that my grandfather was also a POW on Pulau Damar – if there is any information that you can share about the camp on Pulau Damar, I would be very grateful. I would also be fascinated to see John’s pictures.

      • Gerard said,

        April 10, 2015 at 1:57 pm

        Shuyi, Apologies, I forgot to give you my email!…

    • Peter Geddes said,

      September 11, 2010 at 11:56 pm

      I understood that the disused Japanese dock was built also using American/British/Australian POW labour that was accommodated from the camp on Pulau Damar Laut. The Australian Doctor at the camp, Rowley Richards describes his Damar Laut experiences in his book “A Doctor’s War.” During the war the prisoners called Pular Damar “Jeep Island”, a name based on the bulky body shape of the Japanese commander of the POW camp.

      I spent alot of time on the island in the old days and collect old photos of it. I would be most interested in any photos available.

      • chuashuyi said,

        May 24, 2011 at 3:56 am

        Thanks Peter for sharing your photographs! Has John sent you the photographs? If he hasn’t, I can send them to you.

        You shared very interesting facts about the island.

        I had no idea it was even used to interned POWs. It’s such an amazing contrast that a holiday island would become a prison. 😦

      • Peter Geddes said,

        May 24, 2011 at 5:16 am

        Have not received any of those Damar Laut photos. Of course, if possible I would love to see them.

    • Christopher said,

      May 21, 2011 at 4:27 am

      Hi John, I am local military history enthusiast. I would to see the photos of this submarine pen. Please email me. Thank you very much!

      • chuashuyi said,

        June 20, 2011 at 12:35 pm

        Please check your email! I just sent you the Pulau Damar photographs John sent me. 🙂

    • April 20, 2015 at 8:12 am

      Hello John,

      Is Pulau Damar Darat actually the same as Pulau Damar Laut? They change names every now and then. But I am very interested in a picture you took of Pulau Damar Barat, since 1955 is only ten years after WO II ended. A lot must have looked the same then, I think.

      sincerely, Ingrid D

  6. John Pettinger said,

    January 13, 2010 at 12:05 pm

    Nice to hear from you – do you have an e-mail address that I can send pictures to you

  7. cat64fish said,

    April 28, 2010 at 6:42 am

    Nice article!

    Cheers, Jeff

  8. lionheart said,

    July 15, 2010 at 7:20 am

    Very nice article.

    I had several opportunities to visit about 10 of these islands including Pulau Damar Laut during the past few years. I also happened to pass by many other islands while I was working at sea. Many of these islands have been converted to industrial uses, but I still prefer those lunch stops that I used to have on two of those natural islands in the southern part of Singapore. I hope that I would have more oppotunities to visit other islands of Singapore that I have yet to set foot on.

    • chuashuyi said,

      September 10, 2010 at 5:22 pm

      Dear Lionheart,

      Thanks for sharing with me your experiences with Singapore islets! You are very lucky to have visited these islands through your job. I would really have loved to do this piece of research based on real fieldwork.

      Do you remember which two islands you had lunch at? Do you mean you have had picnic at the islands or that they actually sell food there? 🙂

      Shuyi

      • Lionheart said,

        September 11, 2010 at 2:23 am

        Dear Shuyi,

        I actually lunched on four of the islands. They were the two Hantu islands as well as the two Sisters islands. Unfortunately (or perhaps fortunately) there is nothing to buy on these islands, so we brought along our own lunch. There are benches and shelters on these islands if you want to picnic there. However, do note that there are no toilets on Pulau Hantu Kecil. You can charter a boat to bring you to these islands.

        Lionheart

  9. ingrid dümpel said,

    September 9, 2010 at 8:57 pm

    Dear Madam, Dear Sir,

    My heart leapt for joy when I read about Pulau Damar. Ever since I knew my father had been a prisoner-of-war on Pulau Damar near Singapore in WW II, I have tried to find this island in order to visit it one day.
    What more can you tell me about this island? How do I get there from Singapore? Are there still traces of the war?
    I do hope you can help me. Thank you in advance for your reply.

    • chuashuyi said,

      September 10, 2010 at 5:16 pm

      Dear Ingrid,

      That is a very interesting fact! I did not know that the Japanese actually used Pulau Damar as an internment camp!

      Singapore has changed very much since your father’s days. I found this picture of what P. Damar used to look like (a fishing village) on google: http://www.flickr.com/photos/tyersall/3200430907/

      Today, it’s an industrial park with several cement companies on it. I actually have never been there and according to the map (http://wildshores.blogspot.com/2009/01/jurong-port-facilities-upgrade.html), it’s almost part of Jurong Island, which is a restricted area. This might mean only people with special passes can go to Pulau Damar and Jurong Island.

      I can help you check with my friend who works in Jurong Island whether there is any way we can gain access to Pulau Damar for the love of heritage and tracing your Father’s footsteps. I know they regularly organize school trips for students to visit Jurong Island, we might be able to arrange something. If this goes through, I can even make this trip with you and take a walk down memory lane.

      Singapore is a very safe place now. There is no war. 🙂 It’s very developed now with some places of heritage left to visit! 🙂

      I will get back to you soon on this space about the feasibility of visiting Pulau Damar, maybe in a week’s time, as I will be away from the country.

      • April 20, 2015 at 7:49 am

        Dear Gerard,
        Your answer made me cry. It confirmed the fact that my father was a POW there.
        The japanese called him ‘oudje'(old one), because my father had turned grey in those years.
        They used to wake him up in the middle of the night, if they wanted to go out fishing. My father then hid one or two small fish for the sick people.

        What I would like to know is how your grandfather got on Pulau Damar.
        According to my father the ship (he was on (the …? Maru?) was bombed by the Allies somewhere between North Sumatra and Singapore, because the captain did not want to reply their question: what are you carrying on board.
        Most of the POW’s were drowned. My father and some 600 others were picked up and taken to Pulau Damar.
        After the war my father was flown to Singapore where he was hospitelised for months, due to beriberi.
        Hope to hear from again.

    • Lionheart said,

      September 11, 2010 at 2:35 am

      Dear Ingrid,

      Pulau Damar Laut comes under the authority of Jurong Port. Their website: http://www.jp.com.sg/ shows a picture of the silos at Singapore Cement manufacturing company which is located on the island. There is now a bridge between Jurong Port and the island, so most people drive to the island. The island is a restricted access place. You can try contacting Jurong Port to see if they will grant you temporary access. You may need drive your own vehicle should they let you in as I believe taxis are not allowed in the port area. Unlike the other natural islands, I think there is a canteen where you can buy food.

      Lionheart

    • Peter Geddes said,

      September 11, 2010 at 11:59 pm

      See this photo pf the old internment camp.

      P.Damar Laut.POW Camp-1944

      • chuashuyi said,

        May 22, 2012 at 5:46 am

        That’s interesting! An internment camp on P. Damar Laut? Is this built by the Japanese?

      • April 20, 2015 at 8:00 am

        Dear Peter,

        I can hardly believe my eyes! So there is a picture of the internment camp.
        I will share it with my brothers and sisters.
        What is your connection with Pulau Damar?
        Greetings,

        IngridD

    • Gerard said,

      April 10, 2015 at 1:45 pm

      Dear Ingrid,

      I read your note with interest. My Dutch grandfather was also a prisoner of war on Pulau Damar, where he took part in the construction of the dry dock. He was originally from Surabaja on Java, where he worked for the Koninklijke Paketvaart Maatschappij. Following a period of internment on Java, he was transferred to the prison on Pulau Damar in February 1944. He remained there for approximately 12 months, when he was then transferred to Changi Prison in Singapore. I would be interested to hear about your father’s experience.

  10. Emily said,

    May 21, 2011 at 2:02 pm

    Hi Shuyi,
    I came across your article when researching the Semakau Landfill for a research paper and am interested in reading the two thesis works about Semakau and Seking, but was unable to find them. Do you know how I could gain access to these papers? Thanks very much!

    Emily

    • chuashuyi said,

      May 24, 2011 at 3:51 am

      Emily, I got them from the NUS library. Are you a researcher? You can apply for a day pass to visit the NUS Central Library then using the NUS library portal search for these theses. Then go to the counter and ask for them using the CALL number. Hmmm… They are restricted items, so you can only use them for 2 hours at one go! 🙂

  11. Dee said,

    December 31, 2011 at 10:14 am

    Nice.. Somebody should also check for more info regarding Pulau Tekong Besar/Kechil, Pulau Sajahat & Pulau Seletar..there are lots of histories, mysteries & secrets out there 🙂

  12. tyersall said,

    May 15, 2012 at 10:48 pm

    I have had some luck recently and unearthed a stack of old movie film of Damar Laut taken by friends of the family in 1962. I have put up a short clip whilst I edit the rest of the material. See:

    View from Pulau Damar Laut
  13. tyersall said,

    May 16, 2012 at 3:43 am

    I have unearthed some old movie footage from my time at Damar Laut in the early 60s.
    You can see some excerpts: “View from Damar Laut” at

    View from Pulau Damar Laut

    and “Voyage to Damar Laut” at

    Voyage to Damar Laut
    • chuashuyi said,

      May 22, 2012 at 5:56 am

      Hi tyersall, thank you so much for sharing these video footages! 🙂 They’re ancient. I think people will be better able to identify with what island life was about through these videos. It’s like time traveling.

  14. tyersall said,

    May 22, 2012 at 9:58 am

    Further edits of old Pulau Damar Laut film show high living colonials (including me) indulging themselves in “Recreation at Damar Laut”

    and local fishermen showcasing their skills in “Sail race day at Damar Laut”

    • chuashuyi said,

      September 25, 2012 at 7:10 am

      Dear Tyersall, thank you so much for sharing these poignant scenes. Were you working in Singapore back then? I think you and your friends must be very IT savvy. Using a video camera in the 1960s and being able to edit them today are amazing skills. I’m very impressed that you’ve preserved these amazing footages and helped people like me to imagine what life was like back then.

    • John Kirkham said,

      July 3, 2013 at 5:12 am

      Dear Tyersall,

      This movie refreshed my days at Damar Laut, my mother is the person giving out the prizes, the Kolek race day was sponsored by my father at Damar Laut. if my memory is correct the race was held on New years Day each year. We had the house on the hill next to Ong Peng Hock.

      Great fun.

      John Kirkham

      • Peter Geddes said,

        July 4, 2013 at 6:40 am

        Thanks John for your info. I had wondered who was behind the race day. Andrew Simmons recently gave me some basic details about your family and others who had houses there which I have read with great interest.

      • Peter Geddes said,

        July 11, 2013 at 11:31 am

        Further to the Damar Laut sail race presentations, I have found another photo of the crowd at the 1963? presentation. See:
        Crowd at Pulau Damar Laut

      • Peter Geddes said,

        August 5, 2013 at 7:20 am

        John, photo recently found showing my father standing beside what I think is your mother at the sail race presentations.
        Sail race prize giving

  15. Mike Blakeway said,

    August 18, 2012 at 5:51 am

    What a very well researched article on Singapore’s lost past. I worked in Jurong 1983-85 and still visit every couple of years.

    • chuashuyi said,

      September 25, 2012 at 7:04 am

      Hi Mike, thank you for the compliment! Ah, that’s interesting, you must have been watching Singapore undergo its metamorphosis. People always comment how fast Singapore changes. We are always tearing down and building up.

  16. Norizah Harun-Taylor said,

    September 24, 2012 at 8:34 am

    What a brilliant ariticle!! I have for so many years tried to find out about these islands. I grew up on the beach at the farthest west point of singapore. In the 60s..only malay villages around there, and friends living on pulau seking and pulau pesek!! I use to ‘sampan’ it with my brother during those days to pulau pesek..we were then just 5 – 8 yrs old. I remember then the water was so clear with plenty of corals. Late afternoon just watching the chinese junks with beautiful mothlike sails sailing by…it was a superb childhood for me and my brother. I still bear the scars from coral cuts..and I do remember too seeing quite a few British army guys on the beach..still remember their names til now..45 yrs on!

    • chuashuyi said,

      September 25, 2012 at 7:02 am

      Wow, Norizah, thanks for sharing your experiences. How lovely to have actually have memories of the islands and souvenirs up to this day (those scars). 🙂 What you wrote evoked a sense of nostalgia in me. I’m so happy that this article is inspiring many to relive their past experiences in their minds. May we always have much to be grateful about, such as these wonderful memories.

  17. Norizah Harun-Taylor said,

    September 25, 2012 at 7:36 am

    We used to live in a house on the hill at Tanjung Keling overlooking the sea..my dad was in the Marine Police stationed there.. I lived there til I was 8 yrs old. Indeed my childhood memories remain so clear, just nature around us ~ mango trees, guava trees, tapioca plants and a whole load of other bushes, trees and flowers ~ everyday on the beach, picking seashells, conch, and fishing with home-made fishing lines ~

    • chuashuyi said,

      November 5, 2012 at 1:01 pm

      Wow! That sounds like an island paradise. 🙂 definitely an unforgettable experience. Where is this Tanjong Keling today?

    • Peter Geddes said,

      November 6, 2012 at 2:34 am

      Old Tanjung Keling police station can be glimpsed in this photo
      View of Tanjong Kling

  18. January 25, 2013 at 5:27 pm

    […] and the recent redevelopments of Pulau Sakeng, in print and online. I urge you to read them too, here, here and […]

  19. David Bath said,

    June 30, 2013 at 12:28 pm

    I was born in Singapore in 1948. My father VC Bath was also born there at the turn of the century. The Island “Paula Damar Laut” as I rember it was not very large. It had one Malay campong on it. There were several houses on the island. One was owned by Dorris Geddies (an Australian)
    another was owned by Bill Simmons of the Sraights Times, Another was owned by the chairman of Carrier Aircoditioning whose name ecapes me
    it was an exclusive Australian expat holliday place. I have photgraphs of me & the Simmons boys hollidaying there from 1950 to 1965.

  20. Michelle Kirkham said,

    July 1, 2013 at 2:11 am

    Pulau Damar Laut certainly was a magical place, David. I was able to enjoy the last few years of its holiday atmosphere in the mid-sixties. Bill Simmons, Dorris Geddes, Larry Wales (Kodak) Cold Storage (with the chicken farm) and John Kirkham (IAC which was later bought out by Carrier) all had houses there. Wonderful weekend memories.

  21. David Bath said,

    July 4, 2013 at 8:02 am

    Is Mr Geddies related to Dorris Geddies who had a hose on Damar Laut & who also owned the Fashion House “THe Little Shop” at Raffels Hotell.

    • Peter Geddes said,

      July 5, 2013 at 3:36 am

      David, Doris Geddes was not a relative of mine. Further to your comments apparently the Carrier airconditioning house owner at Damar Laut was John Kirkham Snr.

      If you have any of the Damar Laut photos you mention posted somewhere where they can be viewed please let me know, I would love to see them.

  22. David Bath said,

    July 5, 2013 at 5:10 am

    Peter,
    I have some photos but God knows where. I will try to dig them out.. Regards
    DB

    • Peter Geddes said,

      July 5, 2013 at 10:28 am

      David I found some more movie footage from my collection of what may have been your end of the Damar Laut beach. Uploaded here:
      http://m.youtube.com/watch?v=U8fpl84CSe8

      • chuashuyi said,

        July 5, 2013 at 11:00 am

        Hi Peter, I noticed the video you uploaded was set for private viewing. Could you make it public so we could see it too? Thanks! 🙂

  23. Peter Geddes said,

    July 5, 2013 at 11:22 am

    Sorry, hopefully fixed now.

  24. chuashuyi said,

    July 5, 2013 at 12:23 pm

    Yes, Peter, it’s fixed! Thank you very much. I love that scene of the little girl waterskiing. 🙂

  25. November 14, 2013 at 3:18 pm

    Hello All
    I’m sorry I’m so late to this conversation! How wonderful to read all this and to view the footage. It reminds me of super 8mm films of SIngapore and Malaya my godfather used to screen. Sadly, I have no idea where the films now are. I was born in Singapore in 1958. My parents owned a chicken farm at Pulau Damar. My father built the house there himself with help from men from the kampong, and began the poultry business. I grew up hearing many stories of Pulau Damar and Pulau Damar Laut, Jurong, etc. We lived there until April 1960 when we just walked away and migrated to Australia. In 1973 my mother took us back (my father had died years before) and was devastated to find it so altered, unrecognisable. I can still see her face as she stood in the middle of the road, looking. If anyone has any relevant photos, memories, stories or information, I’d be so grateful to hear/view. Many thanks. Marcella

    • Peter Geddes said,

      November 18, 2013 at 1:28 am

      I remember your old chicken farm well, our place on Damar Laut was next door. I would be interested to know why your parents sold out.

      The full collection of my Damar Laut photos (with recent additions) can be seen here.

      Talk with stockbroker at Damar Laut
      • November 22, 2013 at 2:11 pm

        Hello, Peter. Thanks for you reply. I very much enjoyed your photos, especially those of Pulau Dama and Pulau Dama Laut, of course.

        I’m not sure what you mean by sold out. Do you mean sold up? My family only ever said they left because of Singapore’s independence, knowing they would have to eventually. I was only two years old and my mother was pregnant with my brother. They both loved SIngapore but wanted land they could own and to put down roots for us. That certainly was what they did once they settled in Perth.

        My father had spent his whole life in conflict zones: born into the Troubles in Northern Ireland, Palestine Police Officer in then-Palestine and then sent out to the Malaya Emergency. Similar story for Mum.They were tired of trouble: ambushes, ‘bandits’, armed men walking into the house in the night. My dad had guns and grenades in the wardrobe. it was a tough time, as you are no doubt aware. Today he would have been diagnosed with PTSD.

        Was the chicken farm still there when you were there? Was it run as a poultry farm after we left?

  26. Peter Geddes said,

    November 22, 2013 at 11:46 pm

    Thanks marcellabeast for your comments. And I’m sorry, “sold up” would have been a much better choice of words than “sold out.”

    The chicken farm was of course still there in my time. You can see glimpses of the shiny roof from the mainland at the beginning of the video “Voyage to a Lost Singapore Island”, especially at time point 0:52. There is another brief glimpse of it over the fence from our place at 2:38. If you provide me an email address I can send a screen freeze shot from other unpublished video showing further glimpses from over the fence at our Damar Laut place.

    I had heard that the farm was run by or on behalf of Cold Storage but I cannot confirm this.

    I do recall my sister complaining of the frequent chicken noises coming from the farm but it never bothered me. Looking back at photos it was bigger than I noticed at the time, but I was then too distracted having fun doing other things.

    Peter

  27. zeth said,

    March 27, 2014 at 9:04 am

    Working inside Jurong Island is ok… But Living inside the Island is a different matter.. We are like a prisoner here.


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