Crossing the river in the days of old

1 06 2010

It was at the start of the 1970s that my parents first took us on a holiday to the East Coast of Peninsula Malaysia. They decided to do it more out of curiosity for what the East Coast had to offer, having already made frequent journeys to the likes of Malacca, Port Dickson, Kuala Lumpur, and the mountain resorts to the north of Kuala Lumpur, on the West Coast. It was on this maiden trip that, deciding to venture a little further than Kuantan, we discovered the peace and tranquility that the East Coast offered in a little place just north of the Pahang-Terengganu border, Kemaman, to which we would subsequently visit annually. We would stay in a quiet motel, set in a coconut grove, with a magnificent bay with a expansive sandy white beach, 5 miles north of Kemaman. This provided us with access to coconuts which we could pluck right off the tree, the wonderful beach that was washed by the surf of the South China Sea, fresh oysters which we could pry off the rocks that stood at the corner of the bay with a screwdriver, deliciously fresh seafood that the wooden shacks that were restaurants in the nearby town served up, and my favourite keropok ikan (fish crackers) that was made in the villages nearby and sold at the market in town. All this made that long and perhaps arduous road journey that we have to take to get there, well worth it.

Wiseman's Ferry across the Hawkesbury River, at the town named after the ferry, north of Sydney, is the oldest ferry crossing being operated in Australia, is a cable operated barge similar to the crossing that was at Rompin (source: Wikipedia).

The journey by road via Kuantan was often an unpredictable one, not so much for the North-East monsoons which bring the eastern states of the Peninsula torrents of rain in November and December making stretches of road impassable due to flooding (months which we avoided making the trip), but due to the fact that crossing some of the rivers was done in the good old way. That was a time when the infrastructure that now makes it a joy to drive to many parts of the Peninsula, hadn’t quite been established yet. Attempts to build the much needed bridges often stalled due to the lack of funds and it was common to see little or no progress in some of the road construction activity that we passed year after year. By the time we made our journey, two of the rivers along the route did not have bridges constructed over them yet, despite plans for many years to do so. The first, at Endau, was across quite a wide river, Sungei Endau, and the second, a narrower crossing at Rompin, across Sungei Rompin.

Wiseman's Ferry across the Hawkesbury River. Built as a link to the Hunter Valley from Sydney, it commenced operations in 1829 (still capture off a video taken in 2002).

The crossings had to be made then by a vehicle ferry, which was a rectangular steel barge on which vehicles could be driven on to via a ramp. Cars and smaller vehicles often shared the deck with the timber laden lorries that were a common sight on the East Coast roads. What it meant was, at the crossings, we had to wait in a queue of vehicles for the next available ferry. On a good day, the wait would usually be not longer than half an hour, and on a day when traffic was particularly heavy, or when the ferry broke down, the wait could stretch into hours, with a five or six hour wait not uncommon in the case of the latter. When this did happen, the wooden shacks that lined the road leading up to the ferry ramp, which served as makeshift refreshment outlets, would do a roaring trade, with the occupants of the vehicles filling the tables and chairs that would have normally been occupied mostly by houseflies.

The river vehicle ferries across the Endau and Rompin Rivers, as with Wiseman's Ferry shown here, always involved a wait, which could sometimes add a few hours to the drive up to Kuantan (still capture off a video taken in 2002).

The crossings which always seemed like an adventure to us, were not without danger, and it was common to see a barge listing dangerously from the weight of an incorrectly placed timber lorry. This brings to mind an incident which happened on Sungei Kerian in northern Malaysia sometime around the time we started making the annual trip, in which a similar ferry capsized, taking a schoolbus and several vehicles that it was carrying with it into the river, killing 33 people. The Endau crossing seemed particularly dangerous, not so much for the distance across the choppy waters, but for the very strong currents. The currents also meant that the tug-boat which towed the barge from the side had often to move on a heading upstream at an angle to the ramp on the other side of the river, to avoid us being carried downstream. The other crossing at Rompin, somehow seemed to provide less excitement. There, the crossing was much narrower and the river more passive, allowing a cable system to be used to pull the ferry across the river. What this meant was the wait would usually be longer, as only one barge could be used to ferry vehicles to and fro, even with the lower volume of traffic that used that crossing.

It wasn’t too long ago, sometime in 2002, on a drive around the Hawkesbury Region, north of Sydney, when I chanced upon a similar crossing to the one at Rompin, which brought memories of the ones we made on the East Coast of Malaysia, at Wiseman’s Ferry. The crossing which was built by a former convict Solomon Wiseman in 1829 to provide a link to Sydney from the fertile Hunter Valley, is the oldest ferry crossing still in operation in Australia, and provides a link across the picturesque Hawkesbury River. The charming old cable operated ferry is now operated by the state government and was certainly well worth the detour off the highway to get on to it. For me, it served to remind me of my own adventures on the ferry crossings on the East Coast, which said goodbye to us sometime around 1975/1976, when the bridges that had long threatened to render them obsolete, were finally built.




3 responses

29 07 2010
Where life comes to a standstill for nine minutes in Hong Kong « The Long and Winding Road

[…] that I would not tire of. The ones with some of history in them can especially be irresistible: Wiseman’s Ferry being one of them, perhaps partly for that bit of nostalgia for the river crossings of old, and the […]

10 08 2010
My Hong Kong Travel Blog 我的香港之旅 » Where life comes to a standstill for nine minutes in Hong Kong

[…] that I would not tire of. The ones with some of history in them can especially be irresistible: Wiseman’s Ferry being one of them, perhaps partly for that bit of nostalgia for the river crossings of old, and the […]

11 10 2011

I’m impressed by your writing. Are you a professional or just very knowlegedbale?

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