Wednesday, 27 September 2023

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Why all the awareness campaign only after road to be built?

By Charles Goh

Dear Claire, many people have asked from time to time why we are raising awareness of the heritage value of Bukit Brown only when Govt decides to built a road through it.

Permit me to give a timeline of how events have transpired leading to it, so that everyone can know.

What we Brownies call the Bukit Brown Chinese Cemetery, is infact a ‘Representative’ of a cluster of previously privately owned burial grounds owned by certain individuals/society/Kongsi/Clan and of course Bukit Brown, a government cemetery acquired in 1918 & opened in 1922, closed in 1973.

Before 1970, a village community thrived in Bukit Brown, the main village and road, built along Lorong Halwa, which in the past was a loop that runs from the fringe of Bukit Brown to the Kheam Hock private estates.

People who visited Bukit Brown had many clear roads, drainlines, hills, temples, village huts, shops and villagers to find their way to their ancestors’ graves. But the construction of the Pan Island Expressway (PIE) separating Mt Pleasant Cemetery and Bukit Brown caused the 1st destruction.

Old roads were destroyed, hoarding put up, village dwellings torn down.

When the highway was completed some years later, a great part of the old cemetery was destroyed with no later thoughts of putting back any roads or signs for the descendants.

People who came to pay their respect to their ancestors, lost their way.

The next phase of destruction came in 1982, when Govt acquired the rest of the Burial Grounds. The rest of the signs of community was demolished.

The cemetery was deemed as abandoned, with no mention of it even in Singapore Street Directories as far back as the 1980s.

Nature took over, drainlines and all identifiable markers are erased by Time.

I have met many folks there since 2005, and some were angry. Many of them are senior citizens… And they lament that they could no longer visit their parents or grandparents because the path they use had stumbling blocks with all the fallen trees and overgrown shrubs and they are no longer the young men with energy.

The Government, as well as former custodians who were trustees of those burial grounds, had forgotten their role, to take care of the Dead, as this was the original purpose of those who so generously donated this over 230 acres of lands to their welfare of their countrymen.

When those who had powers-to-be failed to realise the importance of what Bukit Brown may hold, and the possible linkage it might hold to better understanding what Singapore could had learnt from those buried in Bukit Brown, what more could be said of the common everyday people who pass/drive by Bukit Brown!

Thus its true heritage value lay forgotten and unexplored….

The Brownies are like young children, who accidentally found a glimpse of some wonderful treasure half buried in the forest.

Oh what wonders await us if we dig deeper!

We Brownies may have started late, and I cried inwardly (I am sure many Brownies did too) when I heard the news from my Brother Raymond on Monday.

But here we are, just individuals, but we loved Singapore, and each of us will moan Bukit Brown’s passing, when it come, for its loss would mean as great or even greater than the Singapore Stone that was destroyed in the Past.

But we will carry on, we will carry on.

Now that we know of Bukit Brown, really knowing it, and now that the government know it too…. will they stay its hand… and give Bukit Brown a 2nd chance?

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