Parting Glances: the boxing gym at Farrer Park

30 04 2018

The Farrer Park Boxing Gym, the home of Singapore boxing and its stable, is hanging up it gloves after half a century. Its premises, which it moved into in 1968 after another had burned down, has long been a very recognisable fixture that stood along the famous playing fields at Farrer Park; it does in fact date back to Farrer Park’s pre-playing fields days when the grounds were put to use as a horse racing course, having originally been been built as a horse stable.

Farrer Park Boxing Gym’s gloves are being hung up.

The gym, which also served as the home of the Singapore Amateur Boxing Association (SABA), would have been where Syed Abdul Kadir – Singapore’s first Commonwealth Games Boxing medallist and the only boxer to have represented Singapore at the Olympics, trained at in the lead up to his participation in the international events. Besides bringing a chapter in Singapore boxing to an end, the closure of the gym also spells the start of a what would eventually be a complete disconnection of Farrer Park from its sporting roots. The grounds, which Sports Singapore will have to give up by 2020, would eventually be redeveloped as a residential site.

A last reflection – the building which houses the gym was built as a horse stable for the Race Course.

The gym was opened in 1968 after its previous premises burned down.

Part of the furniture – a bench that has been with the gym since 1968.

A final training session at the gym.

Final punches being thrown.

A peak inside the gym – the walls between blue pillars were not part of the original horse stable structure.

Trainees from the final training session with Coach Bala – who is also the Secretary of SABA.

Coach Bala closing up for what may be the final time.


Farrer Park

Named in honour of Mr Roland John Farrer, who presided over the Municipal Commission from 1919 to 1931and had played a key role in procuring the former racing ground of the Singapore Turf Club for the Singapore Improvement Trust, much of the grounds at Farrer Park was converted into much needed sporting grounds as part of a drive by the Commission to provide public sporting facilities for the fast growing municipality in the 1920s and 1930s. This drive, motivated by a growing awareness of the benefits “wholesome sport” to the health and well-being of the working classes, also saw Singapore’s first public swimming pool built at Mount Emily (see: A Short History of Public Swimming Pools in Singapore).

As the race course, which was established in 1843, the grounds also played host to other sporting pursuits including golf and polo. It was also where the first aeroplane seen in Singapore, took off and landed on 16 March 1911. The plane, a Bristol Boxkite bi-plane, was piloted by French aviator Josef Christiaens. Christiaens was granted the rights for distribution of the Colonial Aeroplane Company’s aircraft in the region and required the help of the Royal Engineers to assemble the plane for the demonstration flight.

As sporting grounds Farrer Park – with its 8 football pitches – had also a strong connection with football. Besides being a venue for many matches, its grounds were also where coaching workshops and training sessions were held. The late great Uncle Choo or Choo Seng Quee, one of Singapore football’s best loved coaches, was once a fixture, together with many household names such as the likes of Dollah Kassim, the Quah brothers and Fandi Ahmad, to name a few.

Heather Siddons (Merican) at an Inter Schools Athletics Meet at Farrer Park in 1967 (source: National Archives Online).

Farrer Park was also a name associated with school sports meets – many of which took place at Farrer Park Stadium / Athletic Centre. The centre, which opened in 1957 at the northern end of Farrer Park (straddling Gloucester Road around where Blocks 11 and 12 are today), had a simple grandstand added along with a bitumen track (originally cinder) added in for the second meeting of the Malaysian Amateur Athletic Union in July 1965. The stadium was also were hockey matches were held and where Farrer Park United – a now defunct football club through the ranks of which the likes of Malek Awab rose – played its home matches at from 1975.

Many will also remember Farrer Park for its food stalls at Northumberland Road – across from where the SIT built flats were. Two stalls that I recall were one selling one of the best Indian Mee Siam around and a drinks stall run by a Chinese lady that served bandung with bits of jelly in it.

Farrer Park also became camp for the 2nd Battalion, Singapore Infantry Regiment (2SIR) in 1966. Having returned from a deployment in Sabah in August 1965 as part of the Malaysian Armed Forces with their base at Ulu Pandan Road (Camp Temasek) still occupied by a Malaysian unit still based here, the unit made Farrer Park a temporary home with tents pitched on the sports fields (more at this link).

Three storey blocks of SIT Flats being built across Northumberland Road from the playing fields (source: National Archives Online).

A more recent sporting introduction to Farrer Park – Frisbee.

Football training – long associated with Farrer Park.

The boxing gym with a view towards the are where the Farrer Park Stadium was.


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Riding on in a world that will soon change

26 11 2013

One of the few places in central Singapore left untouched by the spread of the concrete jungle, the area bounded by Thomson, Whitley Road (Pan Island Expressway) and Lornie Road, will in the not so distant future, see the change it has long resisted.

The area bounded by Thomson Road, Lornie Road and Whitley Road, hides some beautiful sights which has long resisted the advance of the concrete world.

The area bounded by Thomson Road, Lornie Road and Whitley Road, hides some beautiful sights which has long resisted the advance of the concrete world.

The area, a large part of which Bukit Brown Cemetery and the cemeteries adjoining it occupies, is where a calm and peaceful world now exists, one not just of cemetery land reclaimed in part by nature, but of laid back open spaces, colonial era bungalows beautifully set in lush greenery, and where horses sometimes outnumber cars on a few of its roads.

Gates of Bukit Brown Cemetery.

Gates of Bukit Brown Cemetery.

While it may be a while before the concrete invasion arrives – much of the area has been earmarked for housing developments in the longer term, the winds of change have begun to pick up speed. Alien structures related to the MRT Station have already landed and exhumation of graves affected by the new road through Bukit Brown will commence soon.

Notices of exhumation at Bukit Brown Cemetery.

Notices of exhumation at Bukit Brown Cemetery.

Close-by, across Thomson Road, which will soon see construction work beginning on the North-South Expressway, Toa Payoh Rise has been widened and looks nothing like the quiet and peaceful road it once was.

Toa Payoh Rise losing its gentle feel in 2010 as work started to widen the once laid-back road.

Marymount Convent, a long time occupant of the mound next to Toa Payoh Rise, already once affected by the construction of Marymount Road, held its last mass – the convent will have to vacate the land on which it has occupied for some 63 years. Not far away – at the corner where Mount Pleasant Road runs through, the houses and the Old Police Academy another with a long association with the area, will also not be spared. The expansive grounds of the academy was where many would have spent a Sunday afternoon in simpler days watching grown men kicking a ball on the field. Besides football matches close-up, one could sometimes get a treat of a glimpse at a parade or a Police Tattoo practice session as one passed on the bus.

Riding off into a sunset - the Old Police Academy south of the Polo Club will be one of the victims of the winds of change will may soon blow into the area.

Riding off into a sunset – the Old Police Academy south of the Polo Club will be one of the victims of the winds of change will may soon blow into the area.

With the many changes about to descend on the area, one probably constant along that stretch of Thomson Road – or at least the hope is there that it would be, is the Singapore Polo Club. A feature in the area for more than seven decades, the club first moved to the location, just as the dark days of the Occupation were upon us in 1941.

The Polo Club's grounds as seen from Thomson Road.

The Polo Club’s grounds as seen from Thomson Road.

Sitting across the huge monsoon drain in which many boys would once have been seen wading in to catch tiny fishes, the grounds of the Polo Club – with it huge green playing field, is one that I almost always kept a look out for, in the hope of catching a glimpse of a match underway.

Some of us would have fond memories of catching fish from the huge monsoon drain running by the eastern edge of the Polo Club.

Some of us would have fond memories of catching fish from the huge monsoon drain running by the eastern edge of the Polo Club.

The grounds, the lease on which the club holds for another 20 years, wasn’t the club’s first. One of the oldest polo clubs in the region (as well as being one of the oldest sporting clubs in Singapore) dating back to 1886 by officers of the King’s Own Regiment – not too long after the rules of modern polo was formalised. The first grounds on which the sport was played at was one shared with golfers of the Singapore Golf Club at the Race Course or what is Farrer Park today.

The Polo Club's Indoor Arena and Stables.

The Polo Club’s Indoor Arena and Stables.

It does seem that from a 1938 newspaper article contributed by René Onraet, the Inspector General of the Straits Settlements Police from 1935 to 1939, who was a keen polo player and also a President of the club that the game was also played at the reclamation site across Beach Road in front of Raffles Hotel. This was where the NAAFI Britannia Club / SAF NCO Club and Beach Road Camp were to come up, a site currently being developed into the massive Foster + Partners designed South Beach residential and commercial complex.

The grounds at Balestier Road which hosted the Singapore Polo Club from 1914 to 1941.

The grounds at Balestier Road which hosted the Singapore Polo Club from 1914 to 1941.

The club sought new premises after being prevented from using the Race Course grounds in 1913 – moving to its first dedicated grounds at Balestier Road (Rumah Miskin) in June 1914 – grounds now occupied by the cluster of buildings which once were used by the Balestier Boys’s School, Balestier Mixed School and Balestier Girls’ School.

The Prince of Wales playing polo at the Balestier Road ground in 1922 (source: http://archivesonline.nas.sg/).

The Prince of Wales playing polo at the Balestier Road ground in 1922 (source: http://archivesonline.nas.sg/).

The grounds were unfortunately limited in size, and a search was initiated for a new ground at the end of the 1930s. It was the club’s President, René Onraet, who was instrumental in securing the current premises, which incidentally was right by what was the Police Training School – the Old Police Academy.

The Singapore Polo Club has occupied its current grounds since 1941.

The Singapore Polo Club has occupied its current grounds since 1941. The grounds were said to have been used as vegetable plots during the Japanese Occupation.

Although the grounds were ready at the end of 1941, it wasn’t until 1946 that the first game of polo was played on the grounds which by the time required some effort to restore it. The war had seen the grounds turned, as a couple of newspaper reports would have it, into vegetable plots – complete with drainage ditches and water wells. The club’s website makes mention of the Japanese Imperial Army converting the grounds into a gun emplacement area, before turning it into a squatter’s camp.

Prince Charles participating in a game on the Thomson Road ground in 1974 (source: http://archivesonline.nas.sg/).

Prince Charles participating in a game on the Thomson Road ground in 1974 (source: http://archivesonline.nas.sg/).

Over the years, the club has expanded it membership and now includes activities such as equestrian sports, as well as having facilities for other sports. Along with club, the area around the club, also plays host to the likes of the Riding for the Disabled Association and the National Equestrian Centre at Jalan Mashhor.

The sun rises on Jalan Mashhor, home of the RDA and National Equestrian Centre.

The sun rises on Jalan Mashhor, home of the RDA and National Equestrian Centre.

Another view of Jalan Mashhor.

Another view of Jalan Mashhor.

The Riding for the Disabled Association (RDA).

The Riding for the Disabled Association (RDA).

The National Equestrian Centre - with the Mediacorp Caldecott Broadcast Centre seen in the background. The Broadcast Centre is scheduled to move to Buona Vista in 2015.

The National Equestrian Centre – with the Mediacorp Caldecott Broadcast Centre seen in the background. The Broadcast Centre is scheduled to move to Buona Vista in 2015.

The area where a healthy cluster of horse related activity centres are located is one which based on the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) Draft Master Plan 2013 will be retained for sports and recreation use in the future.

Masjid Omar Salmah, at Jalan Mashhor which was built in the 1970s and is now long abandoned by Kampong Jantai it was built to serve.

Masjid Omar Salmah, at Jalan Mashhor which was built in the 1970s and is now long abandoned by Kampong Jantai it was built to serve.

Another view of the National Equestrian Centre.

Another view of the National Equestrian Centre.

The area where the Polo Club is (in green) on the recently released URA Draft Master Plan, is designated for Sports and Recreation use, but the rest of the area around it may see a change.

The area where the Polo Club is (in green) on the recently released 2014 URA Master Plan, is designated for Sports and Recreation use, but the rest of the area around it may see a change (https://www.ura.gov.sg/maps/).

While it does look like this might remain a beautiful world for some time to come, time is being called on the gorgeous world which now surrounds it. It won’t be long before the wooded areas across Thomson Road are cleared for development. The greater loss will however be the places of escape to the west. That is the green and beautiful world of the cemetery grounds. Grounds where men and horses, and perhaps the good spirits of the world beyond us, have but a few precious moments in which they can continue to roam freely in.

Jalan Mashhor at sunrise.

Jalan Mashhor at sunrise.

The road to nowhere ... at least for the time being.

The road to nowhere … at least for the time being (MRT related structures are clearly visible).


More on the game of Polo and how it is played in Singapore: A Royal Salute to the sport of kings.





A Royal Salute to the sport of kings

20 11 2013

Royal Salute is a name in the Chivas Brothers’ household that is as much associated with its exquisite range of blends of highly aged scotch whiskies, as it is with the sport of polo for which the brand is an international sponsor. And, it was in the wonderful setting provided by the Singapore Polo Club – one of the region’s oldest polo clubs, just last week that I had the recent pleasure of being acquainted with both the brand’s offerings, as well as the sport it sponsors.

Polo in the Singapore Polo Club's Indoor Arena.

Polo in the Singapore Polo Club’s Indoor Arena.

My initial impressions of polo were formed early in life. It was in the many occasions in passing through Thomson Road that I got my first glimpses of horse mounted men chasing a ball with sticks – something I always hoped to catch the sight of in passing.

Thomson Road seen from across the Singapore Polo Club playing field.

Thomson Road seen from across the Singapore Polo Club playing field.

It was however at the recent Royal Salute event that I had the opportunity to better understand the sport, its heritage, and some of its rather intricate rules – and also have a hand at getting on a horse and taking a swing at the ball.

The Singapore Polo Club's outdoor arena.

The Singapore Polo Club’s outdoor arena.

After getting some formalities out of the way in the form of an indemnity statement I had to sign, the small and privileged group that Royal Salute had over were given the privilege of an introduction to the sport’s heritage and some of its basic rules by a well known retired polo professional and the club’s Polo Director, Mr Podger El-Effendi.

Mr Podger El-Effendi explaining the "rules of the road".

Mr Podger El-Effendi explaining the “rules of the road”.

It was interesting to hear of the sports origins, particularly of the modern version of it that is played today. Long held as the sport of kings – some of the better known personalities associated with polo today are in fact members of royal families around us, the sport is thought to have military origins in the training of the horse mounted armies of Central and East Asia. The name of the sport, “polo” is in fact derived from a Tibetian word “pulu”, which is a reference a root used to make the ball used in the earlier days of the sport.

Moving along the line of the ball.

Moving along the line of the ball.

Polo as it is played today is an interpretation of the sport as it was played in India in the 1800s, as the British Crown started to exert its sovereignty over the sub-continent to which the sport had arrived at by way of the Moghuls several centuries before. The British, through members of its cavalry units based in India, were responsible for setting up the first clubs and also formalising how the game was played, and exporting it to Europe and then to Argentina through settlers from the British Isles.  In Argentina, the sport found an ideal setting with the country’s geography and climate, and it is where the sport now thrives.

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From Mr El-Effendi, we hear also of rather curious sounding terms used in the sport such as a “chukka” – a playing period of seven minutes, four of which are played in the Singapore game between teams of four players, and six to eight in the full version of polo.

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Of the rules that were introduced, one that would probably be most important from a perspective of safety is what is to polo akin to road traffic “rules of the road”. In polo, the path of the ball forms the middle the line that the players should move their horses along. Also essential were rules relating to when a player is allowed to intercept the ball or attempt to block a shot by hooking the opposing player’s mallet.

Taking a swing at the ball.

Taking a swing at the ball.

After the quick introduction, it was time to head to the covered riding arena – which is used for games between teams of three players when the weather does not permit a match outdoors, for what might have been the most exciting part of the event.

The indoor arena and the stables of the Singapore Polo Club.

The indoor arena and the stables of the Singapore Polo Club.

At the arena, we met Mr Stijn Welkers, the club’s polo captain, who first introduced the horses used in the sport, and the manner in which they were prepared and dressed – three things did catch my attention. One was the tying of the tail hair to the tail bone to prevent the sweeping horse’s tail getting caught in the swinging polo mallet, the second was the use of two reins – to provide a greater degree of control on the horse’s movements, and the last was the wrapping of the horse’s legs with bandages to protect it from impact on being hit with a ball.

Mr Welkers explaining the use of the two reins.

Mr Welkers explaining the use of the two reins. Polo ponies are smaller than riding ponies and it takes four years to train one. One out of every ten selected makes it as a polo pony.

The saddle.

The saddle.

The leg wrappings.

The leg wrappings.

It was now time to get on a horse and have a swing at a ball, which Mr Welkers did say was what made you crave to get more of once you’ve done it well.

The tied up tail of the polo pony.

The tied up tail of the polo pony.

It was tough getting up the horse, even with a little help from the groom. Rather embarrassing having only just heard that polo ponies are smaller in size than riding ponies. All was forgotten when I did eventually find my way up on the saddle and get to have a swing with the mallet from my mount – with the horse being led safely by a groom. It was certainly as Mr Welkers had insisted that it would be, each successful swing does have to wanting to take one more.

Just how many does it take to get a man on a horse?

Just how many does it take to get a man on a horse?

There was an demonstration by one of the club’s instructors that followed but the excitement did not end there … especially with the promise of dinner in the club’s Mountbatten Room accompanied by the promise of indulgence in “the water of life”.

Slàinte mhath! Mr Prentice leading a toast, Scottish style.

Slàinte mhath! Mr Prentice leading a toast, Scottish style.

It was our host, Mr Peter Prentice, the Heritage Director of Chivas Brothers, who provided the introduction to the Royal Salute range of whiskies – Royal Salute, which was launched in 1953 to mark the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II, we are told, “begins where other whiskies end” – in the sense that the blends start with whiskies that have been aged for a minimum of 21 years.

A glass of the 21 year old - the minimum age of a Royal Salute whisky.

A glass of the 21 year old – the minimum age of a Royal Salute whisky.

Even with the 21 year old that we started with, which accompanied the Appetizer of Smoke Salmon and Beetroot Salad, it was evident from the rich colour that the blend was one of whiskies well aged in oak casks (Chivas uses casks in which Spanish sherry and American Bourbon has been previously aged).

The appetizer.

The appetizer.

While I won’t pretend to be much of a whisky connoisseur, I could at least detect the intensity of flavours that did come with the smell and taste of the 21 year old – as with the bouquet that adding an equal amount of water did bring out.

Age does bring out the best in whisky and we did get on to the older and richer flavours of the older whiskies in Royal Salute’s range as dinner progressed – gaining 17 years as we got to the main course for which I chose the Wild Scottish Salmon cooked with Pearl Barley over the Filet Mignon.

Wild Scottish Salmon.

Wild Scottish Salmon.

The 38 year old, Royal Salute’s Stone of Destiny, named after a piece of sandstone which served as symbol of Scottish nobility, is certainly one befitting of its name. The warmness of its dark colour is accompanied by a richness of flavour which the tasting notes describes as having “embracing cedar-wood and crushed almond characters with a sherried oakiness” with which “dried fruit lingers with an assertive spiciness”. It was the spiciness, best brought out neat on the upper gums and the oakiness that did come out with what Mr Prentice described as a Chrsitmas pudding like fruity flavour.

A glass of the 62 Gun Salute.

A glass of the 62 Gun Salute.

Dessert soon followed – the very sinful lava cake was accompanied by the top-of-the-line Royal Salute 62 Gun Salute, described as the “pinnacle of the Royal Salute range”. Named after the 62 gun salute* given on the occasion of the Queen’s annual coronation celebrations from the Tower of London, and priced at USD 2500 a litre, the limited edition blend which comes in a specially crafted crystal bottle, is certainly as its name suggests, one for the extraordinary occasions.

The Royal Salute 62 Hun Salute.

The Royal Salute 62 Gun Salute.

Crafted from whiskies selected from each of its four generations of Master Blenders with a minimum age of 40 years, the blend does offer what it does promise with its notes of dark chocolate, warm spicy cinnamon and Seville oranges. Its finish which as with the other blends does linger is one of nutty and oaky flavours, with a hint of smokiness – a great way to bring a what was a delightful evening to a close.


* The 62 Gun Salute (as posted at the Chivas Brothers’ website)

The 62 Gun Salute is fired at the Tower of London every June to mark the Queen’s official birthday and accession to the throne. Gun salutes have marked important State and Royal events since Tudor times and are traditionally fired as a sign of respect or welcome. The 62 Gun Salute at the Tower of London is made up firstly of a 41 Gun Salute – the traditional 21 Gun Salute, plus a further 20, due to the Tower of London’s status as a Royal palace and fortress. Royal anniversaries, such as the Queen’s official birthday, are celebrated with an additional 21 shots as mark of respect for the monarch from the ‘City of London’, resulting in the prestigious 62 Gun Salute.