The current condition of the old Kuching Railway Terminus building. — Photos: courtesy of Sarawak Heritage Society

THE Sarawak Heritage Society (SHS) made a fascinating revelation about Kuching’s history this week.

According to the society, ongoing drainage works at Jalan Masjid, Jalan Market and Jalan Lebuh Jawa in the city centre have unearthed old railway tracks which used to serve Kuching in the early 20th century.

“This re-discovery acts as a reminder that the area is charged with history,” SHS said in a statement.

It said Sir Charles Brooke, Sarawak’s second Rajah, set up the Sarawak Government Railway Line which opened on April 9, 1916.

The first phase of the track, which was completed in early 1915, connected the Kuching Railway Terminus to the Third Mile Bazaar, crossing Green Road and going along what used to be called Jalan Keretapi (now part of Jalan Tun Ahmad Zaidi Adruce).

By the end of 1915, according to SHS, the line had been extended to the Seventh Mile Bazaar (now Kota Sentosa) and by mid-1916 to the 10th Mile Bazaar (Kota Padawan).

A trip from Kuching to 10th Mile took 35 minutes and the service was available five times a day, with a passenger fare of 20 cents.

SHS added that three steam engines named Bulan, Bintang and Jean, powered by coal from the Sadong colliery, served the route and that the rail service carried passengers, goods and livestock.

“The Sarawak Government Railway line played a short but significant role in Sarawak’s early history. When the road to Seventh Mile was completed, bus services began to operate and over time, public usage of the railway line dwindled.

The Sarawak Government Railway locomotive “Bulan” at the Kuching Railway Terminus.

The Sarawak Government Railway locomotive “Bulan” at the Kuching Railway Terminus.

“By January 1931, it ceased full-fledged service. During the Japanese Occupation from 1941 to 1945, the railway was used on and off for the transportation of stone from the Seventh Mile quarries as well as passengers and prisoners of war compelled to work in the quarries,” it said.

To SHS, the unearthing of the old railway tracks was not really a surprise as they were aware that its remnants were still in place.

However, it drew attention to the old Kuching Railway Terminus building and maintenance depot on Jalan Masjid across from Brooke Dockyard, which are largely dilapidated and unused today.

“We believe this is an important heritage area and all stakeholders should come together, put on their thinking caps and explore how the historic sites can be meaningfully and sensitively re-purposed, in line with a statewide heritage assessment and management plan,” SHS said.

This is something that SHS has been championing tirelessly and the time is surely right to pay heed to their call.

So much development is going on in the city’s historic centre, including the construction of a state-of-the-art complex for the Sarawak Museum. How ironic if a part of Kuching’s history should be neglected even as we move towards a new showpiece building for our history and artefacts.

The discovery of the railway tracks should serve as an impetus for a serious discussion on heritage with a view towards formulating and implementing a proper conservation and management plan.

For a start, since the state govern­ment has announced plans to turn Brooke Dockyard into a museum, consideration can be given to similar restoration of the Railway Terminus and maintenance depot.

As SHS said, all stakeholders should sit together and brainstorm how to conserve our heritage sites so that they can be reused meaningfully in ways that are respectful of their history while serving a relevant purpose for locals and visitors.

In the words of SHS president Datuk Seri Robert Jacob Ridu, “The fascinating story of Sarawak’s first romance with railways should be remembered and shared with locals as well as visitors to Sarawak. “Our heritage represents the soul of Sarawak and its diverse people. We need to treasure our heritage.”

[Source: “Conserving our heritage” published by thestar.com.my]

Photo Credits: thestar.com.my / Sarawak Heritage Society

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