The last rubber tree

17 04 2014

It is in a part of Singapore struggling to hold on to times the modern world has discarded that we find a remnant of forgotten days – a tree, said to be the last of the rubber trees, which is one of what were many more on the huge Bukit Sembawang plantation that had once dominated the area.

JeromeLim 277A0004

There is much mystery that surrounds the tree, which towers over a mosque, described as be the “last kampung mosque in Singapore” – itself a remnant of a forgotten world. The 60 to 70-year-old tree is believed to have resisted all attempts to have it cut down – it is said that those who have attempted to cut it down had been struck ill in a fashion similar to many other trees found across the island that are believed to be inhabited by spirits.

On this, another story from the area does come to mind. The story is one that takes us back to the days when the huge King George IV graving dock  was being constructed – one that also involved a rubber tree that needed to be cleared to level the ground to build the dock. Workers had feared chopping the tree down for similar reasons, resulting in a delay in the construction. That tree did eventually get removed and act that was thought to be responsible for the deaths of several people involved in its removal that were to follow. More on this story can be found in a previous post, Last Post Standing.

Like the mosque beside it – which operates on a Temporary Occupation License, the tree is on State land and does face an uncertain future. While the area close to the mosque has so far been spared from development, the redevelopment of the area does seem to be gaining momentum. Not far away, we already see an area that once belonged to those who lived off the sea, given to those who in modern Singapore, are can pay the price it costs now to afford the luxury of living by the sea. It does seem to only be a matter of time before the brave new world does arrive in the area. Until then, we do for now, have the story of the tree to listen to, as well as the wealth of stories of times past that will be lost when the new world does eventually arrive.

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8 responses

17 04 2014
James Tann

There is still a last small remnant of a rubber estate (ex-Lee Rubber plantation) on the eastern slope of Bukit Gombak behind Jalan Dermawan, part of which is enclosed within the Mindef fence.

17 04 2014
Jerome Lim, The Wondering Wanderer

Thanks James, as there are reminders of the rubber estates across the island that did once feature in large parts of Singapore. A cluster of note is the one at the Japanese Cemetery Park that some say are the remnants of 1000 trees planted by the monk Baisen planted (see Voices from a forgotten past).

24 04 2014
Lai Heng

I remember there are some rubber trees in the Yishun Neighbourhood 2 Park right at the top of a small hill, and I may also hazard a guess that there are more in the park beside AMK MRT, I’ve picked up a few rubber seeds along Henderson Rd near Telok Blangah Hill, so definitely more there as well.

19 05 2014
Brendan Orner

Isn’t there a kapung mosque near the Bukit Brown MRT station?

19 05 2014
Jerome Lim, The Wondering Wanderer

I believe you would be referring to the Omar Salmah Mosque at Jalan Mashhor, Brendan:
Masjid Omar Salmah at Jalan Mashhor

The mosque at the former Kampong Petempatan Melayu has been referred to in a book published by the mosque’s management committee as the “last kampung mosque in Singapore” but yes, there are several mosques that are left that would probably qualify as “kampung mosques”, such as Omar Salmah Mosque.

2 07 2015
jejennifer howe (nee Godber)

The big white bungalow on the hill was my childhood home in the nineteen fifties. My father was manager of Bukit Sembawang Estate. Now owned by the Ministry of Defense, I believe the ulu around the bungalow is used for a training area. I have also heard that the bungalow will probably be demolished to make way for a new road. Can you tell me whether it has already gone?

3 07 2015
Jerome Lim, The Wondering Wanderer

Hi Jennifer, that I suppose would be the estate manager’s bungalow just north of the former Nee Soon Village. At the moment, it still is there. The land it sits on is owned by the State and under the charge of the Singapore Land Authority (SLA). I have been advised by the SLA that it is structurally unsound. So I suppose it is possible that it will be demolished in the future. The land that surrounds it is indeed owned by the Ministry of Defence and used for military training. Do you have any photographs to share of it?

3 07 2015
jejennifer howe (nee Godber)

Yes that’s correct and yes i have many photographs. You will find one of the exterior if you search Facebook: Bukit Sembawang Rubber Estate, Manager’s Bungalow, plus i have interiors of our tenure there. As well a woman called Ms. Goh and her partner – an executive with Motorola – lived in it during the 70s and did quite a bit of interior decorating. Ms. Goh operated an antiques business from the house. I have a couple of photos of that period as well.

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