Book Of Adventure 4: Sembawang Park

Posted: April 26, 2010 in Uncategorized

Captain’s log                        Stardate: 63819.9 (April 26th, 2010)

A friend who I know from Singapore Paranormal Investigators (SPI) had recommended me this place, since he knows that I’m into exploring and research nowadays. Eventually, the place recalls me that I’ve been here many years back. Its during when one of my uncles would take my family here on every weekend. I remember how serenity the beach was, which was linked with the park. The wind, the calmness of the sea, the human activity that was surrounds with happiness and fun, the sweet taste of the air that was such a bliss. Like a getaway portal away from the city life. The tranquillity of the surrounding waters does provides a luxurious treat like any other beaches. The part of memory that flooded in my mind had once again draws me to seek my attention and to revisit the place.

So, I began my research. Sembawang Park, that includes the beach, is a 15 hectare park situated in the north of Singapore, facing the Straits of Johor. Its located at the end of Sembawang Road, much like the one that leads towards Punggol Massacre Site on my recent visit. Sembawang is named after the Sembawang Tree, Mesua Ferruginea, which can be found at carpark C1, that was close to the beach. Interestingly, the park was known to carries many interesting connections to Singapore’s historical past. Especially those darken years when Singapore was under the Japanese rule. The pathways inside the park are old roads, that have recently been repaved with asphalt.

What my friend also had touch upon, was about this naval base that was home to a major British Royal Navy. It all started when Sembawang was a cry far back during the c0lonial times. Due to the busy and geographically advantage port in Singapore had made the British to establish a naval base in Singapore, which was constructed at the west of the park. Constructed in 1923, and were completed in 1938. This, also includes dockyards, wharves and workshops as well as supporting administrative, residential and commercial areas. It was the largest dockyard outside the British Naval Base =O

Then comes when the Japanese invades the island on Feb 1942. Realizing that the Army of the Rising Sun could make use of the naval base, the British quickly ordered it to close down. It was been said that, for the following three years till 1945, the Japanese had managed to capture the naval base, and had used it to service and repair their navy ships. All theirs for the taking.

Fast forward to 1968, where the naval base was converted into a commercial dockyard that went on to become Sembawang Corporation or SembCorp which started off dealing in the shipping business. Soon was listed as a major state-owned industrial on the country’s stock exchange with pockets of its bases and sites all over the island. In addition, been ranked as a world leader in marine and offshore engineering. Talk about those values that have been progress over the years running! From a naval base, to a well-known developer of integrated industrial townships and a provider of environmental solutions! Cool! =D

Apart from all this, Sembawang Park was alleged to be haunted. Some hearsay accounts from the people living at the nearby areas or frequently visited the place that there’s been sightings of a Pontianak, which was literally a female version of a vampire. To my locals here, we dubbed her as Miss Pon or Cik Pon, or whatever you want to name her. As such, SPI formed a team and investigate the place. Based on the report read from the website, this investigation was commenced in 2008. Indeed, they do capture something interesting and felt something that seems out of this world that is worth to ask. This, if you couldn’t help yourself wondering and pondering. But for me, I’m not there for any paranormal encounters. I’m there for an history tour =)

And so I set a course for my destination truth. Info given was that I would have to take bus no.882 from Sembawang MRT station. From there, it will lead me all the way towards the end of the road where the Sembawang Park and beach is.

Along the way, I recall that my uncle on few occasions had invite the whole family to this Sembawang Satay Club after visiting the beach. But I was been told, that the Satay Club was been shifted to somewhere else. I remember how our nostrils had sense the mouth-watering smell of those satays been grilled, even from a distance. I remember how crowded it was, but we finally managed to get a place in the end. Just about every turn, every corner, you could see those delighted owners grilling those satays. At the same time, luring their customers to get a bite of that heavenly taste. Thinking back does makes my mouth waters and my stomach calling for me =D

In less than 10 minutes, I reached my destination. First thing first, I need to get a shot of the Sembawang Tree, Mesua Ferruginea, which how Sembawang gets its name. As according to the info given, there is one Sembawang Tree been rooted at the center of carpark C1, which is close to the beach. I had the viewed the map, taken from the internet where it shows the location of the tree.

So I believe, this is it. As according to the map given (circle in red).

Then, I set my sights to began my adventure around this 15 hectare park. Smell of food been barbeque from nearby BBQ pit hit my nostrils. I start off along the beach first, where I made way towards the end of Sembawang Road. Lies infront was the Seletar Pier. Or should I say, the Remains 0f the Seletar Pier. As according to history, a stray bomb is dropped by the Japanese during WWII. Initially, it was used for transport of construction materials for the naval base in 1920. Then, in 1942, the pier was bombed by the Japanese. What you see now, is only the remains of the pier….

What remains of the pier, with the view of Johor.

During research, I had stumbled across an article, title as Through Times Past. Its about the history of the Seletar Pier. Here’s to share:

The Seletar Pier stood at the end of Seletar Road – the road which later (around 1938 it seems) became Sembawang Road. When Seletar Pier was first built, we do not know. Seletar Road was a mere track in the early 1920s when military personal came from Singapore town reviewing sites for the naval base, and so it was more usual to travel by boat around the coastline and disembarked at Seletar Pier. When work started on the naval base in 1923, the working parties who commenced surveying and laying out the naval base brought all their materials and stores by boat, and then moved them around the area using a team of 20 bullock carts. Only at a later stage in the building of the naval base, as the work of building roads progressed inland from what is now the Sembawang Park; should Seletar Road become the normal way to reach Singapore Town.

A stray bomb is shown falling besides Seletar Pier in a map of a Japanese bombing raid on the naval base dockyard on 20th January 1942. The bomb must have badly damaged the pier. On maps in the 1960s, Seletar Pier is marked as derelict. It was eventually cleared away sometime in the 1970s, or early 1980s. Perhaps somebody knows the exact date.

Whoever the writer is, must have a glimpse look of how Seletar Pier is like before the bomb were dropped. I think the pier would have somehow looked like a jetty, where the construction materials will be delivered across it. Better still, I supposed the only way to access those maps, as to how the pier would looked like during those time, will be through those microfilms at the National Archives. Probably the only reason that would clear your doubts.

Next, I proceed towards the west side of the park. There, stood a few more historical attractions. The Sembawang Jetty, the Beaulieu House, and not to mention, the viewed of Sembawang Corporation shipyard, that was once a British Naval Base.

In 1940s, the British constructed this 30m long jetty, but later abandoned it when the Japanese had occupied the island. In turn, from where the British had left off, the Japanese completed it. A decade later, it became a popular fishing ground as what you w0uld see it now.

Check that out! The viewed of the behemoths that were docked at SembCorp ship yard. There’s even a navy ship docked there as well. One look at those ships, suddenly flashback to the time where it was a British Naval Base. What used to be docked there, were battleships. His Majesty’s Naval Base, that stands out as the largest docking yard defending the coast.

Stands before the jetty, was the Beaulieu House. It was built in 1910s, as one of those house-by-the-beach for a David family, who were in the mining business. Then in 1923, during where the c0nstruction of the naval base was commenced, the British took over the house. Where it served as a residence for the senior engineers during construction and during operation of the naval base. Its like a dormitory for them. Even senior officers resides at the Beaulieu House. A most senior Naval Officer, named Admiral Layton also resides in the house for the period of two years from 1940-1942.

“Postwar”, as part of the naval base, the Chief of Staff would descend the steps and stand on the jetty to take the salute from the crew as ships passed in and out from the straits.

Now, the house is been gazetted as a Conservation Area by the Urban Development Authority. It was now a seaside restaurant, and best served for wedding and parties. When comes to food, it served Western, Chinese seafood, BBQ and even steamboat. Its also an ideal historical place to spend your time dinning under the stars with the magnificent view of the sea. You might also be hearing the sirens, the crew voices out through the speakers, from the shipyard right next door. And that will leave you to wonder, whether its accommodating to dine next to a shipping yard. Hah! =D

I began to explore the park after that, which I never did back then when my uncle took the whole family here. The calmness, scenery and peace round here does enlighten my mind. Giving me the sense of how truly beautiful mother nature is. Few campers had set up their tents within the available open space. Besides for the occasional joggers, there’s not much activity here. Only a handful of lovers under the shade of huts and some, seated under the trees =P

I had taken a 10 minute break in the park, before moving off towards the east side of the park. From the info given, there’s this small road, labeled as Kampong Wak Hassan, whereby stood old Malay Kampongs. It was adjacent to the Seletar Pier. I supposed those kampongs were been preserved, as part of an historical trail, where visitors could get a glimpse of life back then. If I’m not mistaken, that place was named as Bottle Tree Village. I remember viewing photos of it, and that those kampongs had served better used as a traditional outlook. Much like the Beaulieu House.

But unfortunately, part of the road that leads to that direction was been sealed off. Reason was, there’s a construction currently underway. A new project of a residential estate was been established, so they have to close half of this road because of that. Damn!

Maybe there’s another way in, I told myself. So I took the extra mile and went around nearby residential estate to see if there’s another alternate way in. Only to find dead end after dead end. Not to mention, closed roads due to the new development. How disappointing….

Oh well, at least I’m glad I’ve managed to smell and taste the air here once again after all those years prior to my last visit. Satisfied, with my camera loaded with pictures taken, I set a course for home.

Its been another historical tour which I had embarked. Sembawang Park do held what it has been during those times. Another one of those piece of land that symbolize the importance of how it was chosen for its purpose in the past. A unique landmark, that shares its story from those darken years till now, where it brings a cheerful place that carries a distinct blue dice design. And in years to come, once the construction were completed, the park and the beach itself will become more vibrant and more tranquil, for the residence living nearby and those visiting the place =)

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Comments
  1. Gabby Brook says:

    I enjoyed your article however, some history is missing. During 1970’s and 1980’s Australian & New Zealand Forces also lived in Sembawang and surrounding areas. My father was in Australian Army and we lived in the black and white houses on Canada Road from 1971-1973. I went to school at Woodlands ANZAC School. I am travelling back to Singapore in December and am reasearching the Terra Base which is where my fater worked and I now believe is the Sembawang Shipping Yards. Someone told me there is a museum there of times gone by, does anybody know about this. Thanks

    • captain24 says:

      Hmmm….this is interesting. I will try to ask one of my friends who happened to be an historian. He might know the missing puzzle, as what you had mentioned. Thanks for that info! =)

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