Thursday 23 April 2015

New heritage trail brings to light little-known parts of Jurong's history

Traipse through pre-industrial Jurong
Drive-in cinema, spy camp among highlights of new heritage trail
By Olivia Ho, The Straits Times, 22 Apr 2015

AS A young woman, Ms Cecilia Choo queued with colleagues to get into Singapore's first and only drive-in cinema in Jurong.

"The whole road was jammed when Bruce Lee's movie The Big Boss came," recalled the 60-year-old senior administration executive. "People would sit on top of their cars to watch."

Opened in 1971 by Cathay Organisation, the cinema could squeeze in up to 900 cars. But crowds dwindled with the rise of video piracy, as well as gatecrashers and illegal circuit racing. The cinema finally shut in 1985, after which the Fairway (golf) Club took over the grounds.

The cinema may no longer be standing, but visitors can learn about it from a marker at the site, which is one of the highlights of a new National Heritage Board (NHB) trail.

Developed in partnership with the Taman Jurong Citizens' Consultative Committee, the trail showcases little-known facets of Jurong's history. It will be launched on Saturday as part of the Singapore HeritageFest at the Taman Jurong Community Club by Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam, who is also MP for Jurong GRC.

The trail is the NHB's 13th and will highlight 12 heritage spots, including the old Jurong Railway, which transported raw materials and goods to and from Malaysia, and the former Jurong Town Hall with its 58m-high clock tower.

NHB spokesman Stefanie Tham said: "The stereotype of Jurong is that it is merely an industrial town, but through our research we realised there is so much more."

Before factories, shipyards and large malls filled Jurong, the area was home to gambier and rubber plantations. It also hosted a spy and guerilla training camp, where the Japanese tried to build a submarine base during World War II.

Resident Soh Ah Choo, 71, recalled how as a child of eight she would walk barefoot from her kampung to the rubber plantation where her mother worked to take her lunch. The retired cleaner added that she misses her old kampung, which was demolished to make way for Jurong Road.

She said in Mandarin: "We kept pigs, we kept chickens, we planted trees. We were very poor, but we had so many friends."

Memories of residents such as Madam Soh were an important factor in the trail's design, said Ms Tham. "It's the residents' stories that made this trail come alive, how they felt so much fondness towards the place."

This Saturday's free NHB tours were fully booked within three weeks of registration.

Heritage buffs can also do a self-guided trail using a booklet published by NHB. It is available for download from the HeritageFest website or in hard copy at community centres in Jurong.

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