Sunday, October 28, 2012

Factories around P.E.E. (7) - Union Carbide

I have been meaning to write an article about the Union Carbide factory ever since I started on this heritage blog as Union Carbide had a very significant connection with so many residents at Princess Elizabeth Estate. I have not done this till now for several reasons.

Firstly, I did not have a photograph of the factory. 
I asked almost everyone I knew who had some connection but the result was still zero. So I ended up having to use the low resolution aerial picture above.

Secondly, because of this close connection with so many ex-residents, I wanted to make sure that I had the facts correct. Alas, even this was difficult as many ex-residents are no longer around and those that are had very little memory left of it. Strange to say, both my parents worked at Union Carbide, but my mom who is still living, can't remember much as well.

The Union Carbide factory was built in 1947 immediately after WWII and was originally call the National Carbon (Eastern) Ltd., a subsidiary of the National Carbon of USA. Its main product was the Eveready flashlight batteries and these were made in the then state-of-the-art manufacturing facility at Hillview.

The factory building situated beside the trunk Upper Bukit Timah Road made it one of the most prominent landmarks in this area. There was a 10m tower that had a huge model of the silver Eveready battery on top. This was floodlit at night  and the giant battery could be seen for miles around.

A huge model of this battery sat on a 10m tower.
It was the most prominent landmark in the area.
Found a photo showing the battery tower!
The landmark tower is on the left of the factory beside Hillview Road. 

Princess Elizabeth Estate was built about 5 years after the Union Carbide factory begun. The S.I.T. had specified that priority for homes in the new estate would be given to those who worked within the vicinity.
The resourceful management at Union Carbide encouraged its staff to apply for homes at the upcoming estate. The result was that almost twenty percent of all the homes at Princess Elizabeth Estate had someone working for Union Carbide!  Other residents worked at the nearby factories of Malayan Guttas, Hume Industries and Kiwi Polish company. Consequently, the community spirit in the estate became very close knit due to neighbours having known each other before moving in.

In the 1960s & 1970s, Union Carbide was also renowned as a powerhouse for sports. They had teams winning national sports events in football, softball and table tennis. In those days, sports events were mainly from business houses and Union Carbide was the Business League football champion for many years. The Princess Elizabeth Estate football field became the home ground for Union Carbide football teams. You can read this article about the estate football field.

Unfortunately. as Singapore's economy grew with trade liberalisation, Union Carbide battery manufacturing became less viable with the introduction of cheaper Japanese made batteries. They even tried getting tariff protection but eventually the Union Carbide battery factory at Hillview was finally shut down in 1985. Today the Hillview Heights condominium complex sits on the former factory site.

Vintage photos of the battery production line at Union Carbide factory at Hillview.
Pictures from NHB PICAS photo archive.

Here is a photo, courtesy of Bro Roger from Boy's Town, showing the location of Union Carbide with its prominent battery tower.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Bro Roger Photo Collection (1)

Bro Roger Venne is a Gabrielite brother at Boys Town Singapore.
He has been in Singapore since 1953 teaching and working with the students and staff there.
Last Saturday, I met Bro Roger as I wanted to do an article about Boys Town, one of the institutions found around our old Princess Elizabeth Estate.

I had a most enlightening 3 hour conversation with Bro Roger who opened his archives to me.
I was in 7th heaven! As Bro Roger had been the official photographer for Boys Town, his treasure trove has photos dating back to the time when Boys Town was just a small workshop called St Joseph Trade School.

Starting from this page, I will post the photos from his vast collection.
Please remember that all these photos belong to Bro Roger and if you wish to use any of these, you must get his permission for copyright respect.

Bukit Gombak Hill 1953.
The RAF radar station on the summit has not been built yet.
Notice the farms and plantations all around the hill side.

Bukit Timah Hill viewed from Chestnut Drive, 1953.
The hillsides are scarred by the Dairy Farm Granite Quarries.
In the foreground is the St Joseph Church cemetery at Chestnut Drive.

A view of the Boys Town complex in 1958. (taken from Bt Gombak)
St Joseph church is the building at the extreme right centre (partial)
In the background are the pastures of Cold Storage Dairy Farm.

The original boarding Home of Boys Town.

Related links: Boys' Town

Places around P.E.E. (7) - Boys Town

He ain’t heavy, he’s my brother.

You may have heard these lyrics as part of a popular song made famous by The Hollies.
But did you know that this is the motto of Boys Town?
 In one simple phrase it tells all that they strive for.

Boys Town in Singapore was set up in 1948 as a result of the meeting of two men with a singular vision. 
Canadian Bro Vincent and Australian philanthropist 
Mr W. McDermott were both prisoners of war. 
While being interned at Changi Prison by the Japanese, they decided that upon release they would set up a facility to ensure that young boys could get the opportunity to lead better lives. And so, following their release at the end of WWII, they realized their vision by building Boys Town, modelled after the Boys Town of America.

Mr McDermott donated a sizeable chunk of his fortune, while Bro Vincent and his fellow brothers from the Brothers of St Gabriel religious order made up the teaching staff. They started initially with a small workshop built on the land that was beside St Joseph Church at Bukit Timah. 
Except for the land that belonged to the Catholic Church, they had to provide for everything else themselves. It was a herculean task at the time given that the war had just ended and supplies and money were in woeful shortage.

Their aim was to provide for boys, between 11 to 18 years old, a form of vocational education, guidance and support to see them through. Early vocational training included carpentry, motor mechanic, tailoring and printing. 

Over the years as Boys Town grew and became more established as a VITB training centre, it also took on main stream education, establishing Assumption English School to provide primary and secondary education. Recently, the Assumption Pathway School was set up to provide an education for children who are academically challenged.

The Assumption English School at Upper Bukit Timah.

While the schools are run independently, Boys Town Home is a separate entity and is best known as a boarding home for boys who may be less privileged, from troubled homes or in need of special support. 
The new Boys Town boarding home which can cater up to 60 boys annually.

Unfortunately, a wrong connotation is perceived by many who think that Boys Town is a place for wayward youth or for those with criminal records. This probably arose from confusion with the Singapore Boys Home where convicted young boys are incarcerated. The Singapore Boys Home is the government penal rehabilitation prison for male youth whilst Boys Town is a privately run charitable organization. However, with its established care programme, Boys Town has on occasions also accepted Court directed convicted boys for rehabilitation.

Boys Town is a registered charity but does not get funds from the government for any of its programmes. They depend solely on contributions from benefactors You can read more about this organization at their website here.
The old Boys Town building.

Bro Roger Venne, who has been at Boys Town since 1953,
giving me a quick tour of the new premises.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Moliano & Lovehunters - An exclusive preview.

Hillview alive with the sound of music (5)

Continuing with the series on ex-Princess Elizabeth residents who made a name for themselves in the local and regional music scene, I would introduce to you ....
Moliano Rasmadi and his band Lovehunters.

You will know Moliano if you follow the local rock music scene.
Lovehunters is one of the better known local rock bands and is still performing today.

Moliano grew up in Princess Elizabeth Estate, went to PEES and lived at Blk 12 beside the community centre. His father was one of the garbage collectors who cleaned our estate and kept the grass in trim.
If you lived at P.E.Estate in the 60s or 70s, you will remember an itinerant Malay satay seller who went round the estate carrying his stall on his shoulders. In his free time, Moliano's dad sold satay to supplement his income as a PHD cleaner.


A few days ago, I received an email from Moliano, who had read my blog about the estate, and we started to share the 'old times' about the kampong spirit, mutual friends and the haunted house at Hillview.
Of course, I asked him for some leads that I could write an article about his band Lovehunters.
Today, he came back to me with something even better. He is in the process of writing his autobiography and gave me a preview synopsis of his upcoming book.

What better way to tell you of Moliano and Lovehunters than to hear it straight from him!
So below, courtesy of Moliano, is an exclusive extract from his upcoming autobiography.

A JOURNEY... 'MOLIANO-Rock Guitarist' 

Poverty, hardship and difficulties proved not to be obstacles to Moliano’s love and pursuit of music and his ultimate mastery of the guitar. Diligence, dedication and determination, as well as a positive outlook in life, became his ticket to success and advancement in the music industry. “It’s true we cannot live by playing music alone in Singapore, but we can live with music in Singapore.” That is the principle Moliano held on to tenaciously throughout his journey as he strove for success. His ups and downs, beginning from his childhood days, are all chronicled in this novel.

This novel serves not just as an autobiography, but also opens a window to the history of the development of music in Singapore, and the trends and things in vogue at that time. For example, funfairs and expos were commonplace then. The ‘funky chicken’ joget fever was the rage, as were the fashion trends of the hippies, mat rock, and the mat disko. Then there were the ‘bell bozza’ clothes, the wedding practices in Singapore with its buka botol tradition that took place after the wedding ceremony, the ‘resident bands’ at both wedding and birthday parties, the influence of local bands like Sweet n Charity and so on. Below is the synopsis of ‘Moliano…A Journey’.

Since the age of 8, Moliano had been surrounded by people who were into western music. His earliest influence was the Hippies with their Blues rhythms.  When Deep Purple burst into the scene and drew a huge following, Rock began to shape Moliano’s music too. Later funk and disco were added to his already vast repertoire and mastery of musical genres.
At this age, Moliano taught himself the guitar by mimicry. He would observe better players, then run home to try out on his brother’s guitar what he just saw. In order to buy his own instrument, he had to work hard by helping his father sell saté. With a large family to support, his father, the sole breadwinner who worked as a cleaner of a housing estate, could ill-afford one for him. That was why the entire family chipped in to prepare the saté which was sold in the evenings. So poor was the family that they had to go barefoot like their father, as even buying slippers was beyond his means. When his father saved up for six months to buy Moliano a cheap guitar, Moliano was overwhelmed  by his father’s love for him.

Now, with his very own personal guitar, Moliano was able to practice hard. Lugging his guitar together with his school bag to school every day, he would entertain his friends during recess. His first formal performance was in front of his class when Ms Fernandez invited him to play. From then on, his performances became a daily feature of the class at the end of the school day. His first performance in front of an audience of adults was when, once again, he was invited by Ms Fernandez, this time to a party at her house. It was that day, at age 9, that he made up his mind to be in show business.

His friends the Hippies were all 16 years old and above. Being only 8, Moliano looked up to these boys because they were very good at music. However, the Hippies’ influences were not all positive and Moliano began to smoke ganja even when he was only as young as 9 years old. In the 1960s, the police did not take action against ganja smokers but were more concerned with arresting men with long hair and forcing them to get a haircut. They were bent on eradicating the Hippies culture of keeping long hair. Men with long hair were not entertained at government offices, banks and so on. This social oppression resulted in the Hippies becoming increasingly rebellious and anarchical. Of all his hippie friends, Moliano was closest to Hassan.

Friendship is the major theme of this novel. This is evident in the account of how Moliano and his friends were forced to part ways after their Primary School Leaving Examination (PSLE) at the end of Primary 6. They were all assigned to different secondary schools. Moliano lost his friend Richard suddenly when the latter died in a drowning incident. Moliano faced another abrupt end to a friendship with Salleh when Salleh became a fugitive and was subsequently arrested by the police for murder. All these experiences added to Moliano’s maturity and he grew thankful that music had provided him a path away from a life of vice and crime.

Moliano’s childhood was sprinkled with amusing incidences of his mischief.  A rebellious spirit arose within him when he was between 13 and 14 years old, after his religious teacher, the Pak Guru, slapped him publicly for failing a test. Moliano had held fast to his principle of honesty and had failed because he refused to cheat. Reacting to the open humiliation he hurled insults at his teacher and refused to apologise as he believed in standing up for the truth. He also got into other kinds of mischief, like stealing the fares collected by a bus conductor, smoking ganja during recess, playing truant, and even smoking in class. This rebellious spirit turned Moliano into a stubborn but courageous young man who was not afraid to face the consequences of his actions.

Due to Moliano’s flair for music, he found himself standing at a crossroad in secondary 4: to pursue music or to continue school. Despite strong objections and a stern warning from his father, Moliano was determined to prove that he can make it in music, even though he knew his decision would disappoint his father.
Switching from one band to another, Moliano worked hard at realising his dream to be a successful musician. He had to endure bitter experiences, like when his band was unceremoniously dumped on its very first day at a club and was paid a measly $50.  That eye opening episode made him even more determined to prove to people that he could succeed one day. When he decided to enter the ‘Battle of The Bands’, his original group of five members dwindled down to three because two members had lost faith in their abilities. Moliano’s band, Lovehunters won second place and a shot at recording an album. From then on, Lovehunters became a household name with a fan base comprising all races of Singapore. 

Recollection of his teen years, his National Service, and how he met his wife are also included. Moliano wrote ‘Ku Ukirkan Namamu’ for his beloved wife, long before they were offered the recording contract. It was the song that made Lovehunters famous.
Several controversial issues were examined in this novel. Foremost among them was the issue of long hair. What were Moliano’s views and attitude towards this and what did he do in response? The later part of Moliano’s journey saw him advancing beyond performing and venturing into song writing as well as producing. Now, happily married with wife and children, it is their hope that the documentation of his life journey will become a source of wisdom to the young: Emulate what was good, avoid that which was bad.
“In Singapore, it is a fallacy that owning land gives meaning to one’s life.  In Singapore, a man must be bold enough to dream, courageous enough to take a plunge and work towards achieving it with unwavering confidence. In Singapore, it is the pursuit of dreams that gives meaning to life.”

The recent concert featuring Moliano.

in a future article, I will write of 2 other music talents from our old estate - Ramli Sarip and Debbie Phua.

Related links:
Hillview alive with the sound of music!
The Pest Infested
The Blue Stars
The Wrong Note
The estate cleaners

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

A street called Clarence Dale

In the National Archives of Singapore, there is an old dusty pile of documents marked S.I.T 1067/51.
In it is a section called "Naming & Renumbering of Roads within Princess Elizabeth Estate".
It contains pretty mundane official correspondences and notes from various government departments during the construction of Princess Elizabeth Estate in 1951.
However, some quite interesting trivia can be found if you spent some time, like I did, going through this historical document.

There was only one road that led to Princess Elizabeth Estate in 1951 when construction started.
Hillview Road was already in existence and stretched from the junction at Bukit Timah Road 9-1/2ms, pass the National Carbon (Eveready) factory and ended at the gate to Malayan Guttas factory.

During the building of Princess Elizabeth Estate, the road was extended from the end at Malayan Guttas for a further 1/2 mile straight down. In between this new stretch, a branch road was created that led directly into the new estate.

In view of the donation of the land made by the French Belgian bank, Credit Foncier Far East, the SIT offered the privilege of naming these 2 new roads to the donors. However, Credit Foncier bank declined the offer to name the roads. The SIT planning dept then set about naming the roads.

They proposed that the new road connecting to Hillview Road be called Princess Elizabeth Estate Road and the branch road to be called Princess Elizabeth Drive.
Strangely, they also proposed naming the pathways inside the estate that ran in front of the blocks of flats. This was most unusual as these were not roads or streets but merely footpaths from one block to the other, albeit, forming a network of footpaths within the estate itself.

They proposed the following names for these footpaths.
Elizabeth Hill, at the hilltop of the estate boundary,
Elizabeth Rise, the slope from the plain to the hillside.
Elizabeth Green, surrounding the football pitch, and
Clarence Dale, at the 'bottom' of the estate.

The proposal for these names were sent to the Singapore Rural Board which was the authority with regards to naming of places in the rural districts of Singapore.

The Rural Board rejected the proposed names for the estate. The reason being that the names were too similar and that it would lead to confusion for the people, especially since the estate was meant for the 'lower classes of locals'.

While the main roads retained the proposed names of Princess Elizabeth Estate Road  and Princess Elizabeth Drive,  the names of the internal footpaths were changed to the following:-

Elizabeth Hill became Princess Anne Hill,
Elizabeth Rise became Prince Charles Rise,
Elizabeth Green became Philip Walk, and
Clarence Dale became Clarence Walk.

After occupation of the estate began in 1952, Princess Elizabeth Estate Road was re-named as Hillview Avenue. This was done as it was planned that the new road would eventually lead to the upcoming Colonial Industrial Estate. Hillview Avenue was extended to start at the circus with Hillview Road.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

The Princess Elizabeth Estate Newsletter.

At the start of Princess Elizabeth Estate's existence in the 50s and 60s, there were no such things as Residents Committees. The Singapore Improvement Trust (S.I.T.) did have an Estates Officer assigned to look after the estate. He was based at the headquarters at Upper Pickering Street and turned up occasionally whenever there were reports of problems like failed electricity, blown street lamps or burst water pipes. His overview were mainly on infrastructure and maintenance.

When it came to social services, residents were left to fend entirely for themselves.
Perhaps because of this hardship, residents of Princess Elizabeth Estate became a shining example of community spirit. Capable residents came forth to assist one another in running the estate.
Central to all these social services was the Princess Elizabeth Estate Community Centre.
(see this link for a history of the community centres)

Remember, these were the Briitsh Colonial days, long before the present government with their People's Association. The original PEECC was non affiliated and was run by officials elected by the residents themselves.
The elected officials managed to obtain a shophouse rented from SIT, initially at No. 8 and later moved to No. 101. Some funding was also obtained from the Department of Social Welfare.

Yet the Community Centre was entirely voluntary. Funds to run the centre were obtained through membership fees! 
Every family was encouraged to join the community centre as a member, though not all did so.
Still, the community centre was not restricted only to members but was open to all.

Thus, the elected management of the Community Centre became the de facto Management Committee for the entire estate. If you had problems, you went to the community centre for resolution.
The CC management committee became petition writers for residents seeking services from the various government departments. The committee liaised with the S.I.T. over all maintenance matters and took up causes for improvements to the estate. They organised the mobile dispensary, the open air cinema entertainment and even 'organised' the early market in front of the CC.

This gotong royong spirit of the PEE Community Centre was in place until the People's Association built a new Community Centre in 1963 and placed 'advisors' in every community centre under the control of the district party MP.

To have a feel of what the early residents went through, read the attached Newsletter of December 1957.   This will give you an idea of how the residents ran the estate themselves.

Please click on the picture to see a larger readable version.


Friday, October 12, 2012

Factories around P.E.E. (6) - Castrol.

If you lived at Princess Elizabeth Estate or at the later Hillview HDB Estate, there was one prominent landmark that you could never miss. It was situated by the Hillview Circus (roundabout). Cars or vehicles driving by this place will have to slow down due to the very steep incline that is Hillview Road. Thus, you were given a clear view of this landmark as you passed the site.

This was the Castrol lubricant manufacturing factory with its huge distinctive silver oil storage tanks.

The storage tanks appear to be painted a dark colour but most everyone remember it in its silver livery.
(Photo taken in 1973.)
The Castrol plant was set up in 1963 with the encouragement of the Economic Development Board. Those were the years of frenzied factory building with great economic incentives given to major brands that wished to set up factories in Singapore.

It was originally called Castrol (Far East) Pte Ltd and was the first major overseas subsidiary of the British Castrol company which specialised in machine and engine lubricants.
The factory was opened in 1963 by Dr Goh Keng Swee amidst great flourish with the first drum of lubricant marked for shipment to Kobe, Japan.

As a young lad, I thought that the factory was an oil refinery due to the unmistakable oil storage tanks located there. It was only much later that I learnt that Castrol only manufactured lubricants for engines and that this plant at Hillview was its major manufacturing facility outside of Europe.

Castrol operated its factory from 1963 until 1993 when the Hillview area was rezoned from an industrial area to a condominium residential zone.  The factory then relocated to new premises at Jurong Industrial Estate.

Unless you are now in your 70s and lived at Princess Elizabeth, you probably would not have known the previous occupant of the Castrol site. The original factory that stood on that Colonial Industrial Estate site was the Hong Kong Rope Manufacturing Company.

Today, the site is occupied by the Glendale Park and Hillview Park Condominium complexes.

The old Castrol site at Hillview Ave. The condo is Glendale Park.
Note Hillview Circus in the foreground - one of the last remaining roundabouts in Singapore.
I sincerely hope that the authorities will not convert this circus in their zeal for 'progress'.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

The kampong at Hillview Avenue.

There was a Chinese kampong (village) located beside the old Princess Elizabeth Estate at the northern end of Hillview Avenue.

According to old records found at St Joseph Church at Bukit Timah, in the closing years of the 19th century, there were some parishioners who lived in the valley between the church and the hill that would be later called Bukit Gombak. This valley was known as the Antonia Valley and had farms and some small gambier and pepper plantations. Thus, this kampong had a longer history than P.E. Estate which was only built in 1952.  Princess Elizabeth Estate presumably would have been built over parts of the old kampong.

Though I lived at the ‘modern’ Princess Elizabeth Estate, I can remember this kampong of my youth. It had a large number of typical kampong houses occupied mainly by Chinese families. You can tell the difference between the Chinese houses, which were built on cement foundation, from the Malay houses which tended to be built on stilts. Many of my schoolmates at P.E.E. School lived in this kampong.

Typical Chinese kampong houses found at Lorong Taluki

Although most of the kampong folks would just be tenants, there were some who had small farm plots on their homestead where they grew vegetables and other crops. Some grew fruits trees like durians and rambutans. I recalled that these farmers would carry their harvest in wicker baskets to the old Princess Elizabeth market to sell in the morning.
There was a large coconut plantation along Lorong Taluki which was the main track that ran from Upper Bukit Road through the kampong to Princess Elizabeth Estate. This unpaved dirt track was the shortcut for residents and was also used by students who studied at Boy’s Town or the Convent at Chestnut Drive.

Just before the KTM railway line at Lorong Taluki, there was a large scrap metal yard. I recalled that as a young boy, my school friends and I would scrounge around the construction sites of Popular Estate being built at that time for scrap copper wire. We would strip the plastic off the wires and sell the copper to this scrap yard. Usually we would get only a few cents but it was enough for us to buy ‘mica’ to make glass string for our kites.

The only time when this kampong made the news was in 1970 when one of the kampong folks discovered a four-legged chicken. The discovery of this quirk of nature was reported in all the local newspapers and for a while the kampong folks basked in their 15 minutes of fame.

Mrs Wong Yoke Siew with her 4 legged chicken.

This kampong survived till the late 1970s when the Housing & Development Board acquired the land to build the new HDB Hillview Estate. Part of the old kampong land was also acquired by Ministry of Defence (Mindef) to build their HQ Complex on the Bukit Gombak ridge.

Today, the site of the old kampong, and later Hillview Estate, will be housing the next chapter of occupancy with the rise of The Hillier Condominium, along with the yet unnamed condo complex beside it.

New condo developments on the old kampong site.

Related links: The HDB Hillview Estate