Monday, July 20, 2015

The lost hills around Hillview.

I was just sharing with a nostalgia group on Facebook on the topic of lost hills in the Singapore city. Right in the city long ago were some small hills named Mount Wallich, Mount Erskine and Mount Palmer. These hills are no longer there, having been levelled and the earth dumped into the sea for land reclamation.

While sharing my thoughts about those lost hills, I recalled recently the incredulous looks from some young school children who had invited me to take them on a tour of the Jurong and Bukit Batok areas as part of their National Education programme.

I had done four tours with four different primary schools and each time the kids all had that same unbelieving look. They just can't visualise the area being full of hills in the past!

Since Singapore's Independence, the routine construction method seemed to be 'level everything and begin anew'. The country now seems to be so flat and connected that a whole generation has now grown up not knowing the difficulties of moving around these hills to get from place to place.

When I was growing up in Princess Elizabeth Estate in the 1960s, the furthest we could go along Hillview Ave was just beyond today's Hillview Villas where the track ended. Beyond this was the hills into Jurong and the farm area. It was not only hilly but forested in many parts.

Recently I came across this photo on the net and remembered I had the same copy from my days working at the Church of St Mary of the Angels.

This is a picture of the hill top, where today the Church of St Mary of the Angels is located. It was taken in 1957. The man is Fr Virgil Mennon who built the original church.
Right at the back on the top right is Bukit Gombak. Gombak II was another hill that was part of Bukit Gombak. The private housing estates of Chu Lin and Jalan Remaja would be later built on this smaller hill.

What is interesting to note is that between Gombak II and the church foreground, the hills have all been levelled and today the flats of Bukit Batok New Town are built there. The hills are completely gone !

The old Jurong Road (9m.s.) ran across the picture just beyond the church boundary 10m below the clump of large trees in the valley.
It would be only later around 1960 that Hillview Avenue would be connected to Jurong Road here (somewhere to the right of the picture).

So when I was telling the children about how the soldiers during the war had to climb over hills after hills to escape the Japanese army advancing through Jurong, I usually can see bewildered faces.
They just can't imagine that it took hours to cross Bukit Gombak to get to Bukit Batok, today a 5 minute drive by car.

From this aerial photo map of the Bukit Batok battle area, you can actually see how hilly the area used to be; the lumps and bumps in the photo.


  1. I too lament the loss of the surrounding hills that was so much a part of the verdant landscape in the mid sixties. Our estate nestled nicely in a valley. My secondary school was at the 12th milestone old Jurong Rd and I used to trudge across Hillview Ave and wend my way through the many farming plots to Jurong Road. It always gave me a thrill to see all the sprouting vegetables with the early morning dew still on them. Of course your nostrils would be assailed by the pungent odour of manure. James, I wonder how the response would be if you were to conduct a walking tour of the Bukit Batok / Gombak area and regale us with some stories of the past. Former estate residents can be our target group. It's not only primary school students that would enjoy a good dose of history on a Sunday morning.

  2. Only if we had our portable camera in our pockets! now, we can only rely on whatever memory we have, our imagination or James' recollections!! Well done and keep it up!

  3. My house or rather the block that I'm staying now is somewhere in the Sleepy Valley...I see it every day... my thoughts and prayers are for those fallen heroes who fought for our country...