Liberation 70 by All Things Bukit Brown

Publishers: Singapore Heritage Society and Ethos Books

Date Of Publication: 5 December, 2015

The Singapore Heritage Society (SHS) and All Things Bukit Brown (atBB)  are pleased to announce their plans to publish a collection of essays and poems, mined mainly from oral history and family archives, which looks at the Second World War (1942-1945) and the impact in Singapore from the perspective of those interred at Bukit Brown Cemetery.

The book commemorates the 70th anniversary of the Liberation of Singapore under Japanese Occupation (Sept 1945) by offering new material and insights into the human tragedy of war, which adds another layer to the already vast literature on WWII in Singapore.

“The stories have taken us to the Endau Settlement in Johor, to Taiping (Malaysia) and to the beaches of Normandy in ways so unexpected they took our breath away,” said Claire Leow and Catherine Lim, co-founders of All Things Bukit Brown, a group of volunteers who work to raise awareness of the municipal cemetery. “It is a slow and at times painful unravelling of family history, lost in memory but for the persistence of descendants. It has taken seven decades for some of these fragments to be pulled together, and we see this not as a one-off book but a first step in the difficult journey of re-discovery and re-membering. The narratives also re-affirm to us Singapore’s place in regional and global historical narratives.”

It is a known fact that many who lived through the horrors of war and Occupation barely spoke about those days. The 70th anniversary of the Liberation, coinciding with an outpouring of emotion as Singapore celebrated the Jubilee of independence (SG50), unlocked the memory vaults of strangers who entrusted the editorial team with intimate familial stories and memorabilia. The compilation will span across the immediate pre- war, occupation and post-war years for the people of Singapore. It will also feature a poem of lamentation for soldiers lost in the battle at Bukit Brown, juxtaposed against recently unearthed official archival material on the battle that was fought at Cemetery Hill aka Bukit Brown Cemetery, with anecdotes from the diaries of soldiers, the pastor who bore witness to the aftermath, as well as memories of surviving prisoners of war who lived in the nearby Sime Road POW Camp. Most of this will be new, unpublished material.

SHS is pleased to support this ground-up project, as an extension of the advocacy the society encourages and the Bukit Brown cause that SHS has backed since 2011, when the cemetery came under threat of development first through a highway and later, housing.

“Bukit Brown has unexpectedly turned out to be a touchstone about the loss of heritage – tangible and intangible – in a Singapore eager to modernise and develop,” Chua Ai Lin, President of SHS. “The book is an important evolution of the civil society movement to uphold Bukit Brown as a site of national significance, and illuminate one of its more fragile narrative threads. It brings together at once the strategic and personal importance of the site, and SHS is pleased to once again support All Things Bukit Brown, which has evolved from a volunteer base guiding weekly public tours and regular customised tours, to hosting exhibitions and participating in arts programmes to reach as broad a support base as possible to save what is left of the site.”

The book, which now has the working title “Liberation70”, is ultimately a tribute to those among us,  civilians and soldiers who laid down their lives. In the Ode of Remembrance read at most war commemoration ceremonies worldwide, the public repeats the key line, “We will remember them.” This is our collective act of remembrance.

The book will be co-published by the Singapore Heritage Society and Ethos with a partial grant from the National Heritage Board, under its Heritage Participation Grant. All proceeds from the book will be channelled into future Bukit Brown projects.


Singapore Heritage Society was founded in 1987 and is a non-profit, non-governmental organisation and registered charity with Institution of Public Character (IPC) status. It is Singapore’s leading organization dedicated to research, education and advocacy on Singapore’s history, heritage and identity. SHS is behind many significant publications on Singapore history including Syonan: Singapore under the Japanese, 1942-1945 (1992); Memories and the National Library: Between Forgetting and Remembering (2000); Spaces for the Dead: A Case from the Living (2011).

All Things Bukit Brown (atBB) is the banner for a community of volunteers who conduct independent research and guided walks on Bukit Brown Cemetery. Since they came together as a community in 2012, they have collectively organised public talks with partners such as the NUS Museum and Chui Huay Lim Club, two exhibitions and successfully nominated Bukit Brown Cemetery as the first site in Singapore to be placed on the World Monuments Fund Watch list 2014-2016. Claire Leow and Catherine Lim, co-founders of the blog, are the editors for the book, backed by a volunteer editorial team from within the community.

Drama Box_

(Photo credit Han Xuemei, Dramabox)

Screen Shot 2015-09-22 at 11.57.13 pm



SAA award

The Award (Photo: Theresa Teng)


All Things Bukit Brown is pleased to announce that it is the first recipient of the Civil Society Advocate Organisation of the Year Award in the inaugural Singapore Advocacy Awards. This is our acceptance speech at the ceremony on August 30, 2014. 

“We are honoured and humbled to have been deemed deserving to receive this award by a dedicated and diverse panel of activists, many of whom have worked tirelessly and for a much longer time on a variety of causes such as foreign worker abuse, AIDS awareness and education, the protection of women’s rights and the championing of the local arts scene.

While we are very much the “new kids on the block” among causes highlighted today, we have stalwarts before us who championed the cause of heritage preservation and protection. We look upon this award as encouragement and affirmation, that what we do in promoting awareness of the Habitat, Heritage and History  of the iconic Bukit Brown Cemetery is contributing to the growing voices of concern about how rapid development has resulted in the loss of our old places and a growing sense of alienation of what is home.

Our encounters on the ground talking to and documenting stories from tomb keepers to descendants have been enriching, and our wider Bukit Brown experience has led us to places we have never been, to temples and other areas of cultural and ethnic significance, and in observing the customary rites and rituals which are being practiced today, and further afield to maritime port cities linked to our past. By celebrating the rich diversity of a shared past which is being kept alive by sheer dint of devotion and effort, we find ourselves sharing in a larger collective act of preservation of our culture and identity. We are far from alone.

In receiving the honour of this award, we pledge to continue to engage in conversation and in concert with all stakeholders to make heritage a part of the development paradigm, and to re-imagine spaces which will reinforce memory and identity from one generation to another generation.

We would like to thank especially Raymond and Charles Goh, for leading the way and sharing with us so generously and so passionately all your research from when both of you started exploring Bukit Brown eight years ago. Our abiding gratitude goes to the community especially on Heritage Singapore – Bukit Brown Facebook group which have encouraged and supported us, and which enlivens Bukit Brown daily with the members’ sharing of interesting articles and stories, anecdotes and sometimes grave discussions. It is your enthusiasm that led us all on this journey; unlike most online communities, we are glad to have met many of you face-to-face in on- and off- site events.

We thank the Singapore Heritage Society for nominating us and finally we thank the SAA for this honour, which we will endeavor to live up to. We have much to live up to.

We acknowledge and congratulate all the other nominees. For us, it was enough to have been nominated.

This initiative by SAA makes all of us nominees winners because it celebrates the acts and sacrifices made by volunteers across different communities. Volunteers are the heart of many communities, raising awareness, lifting spirits, affirming shared values, shaping aspirations, and connecting the different threads of society into a fabric that is stronger for weaving its constituents together. Volunteerism is often driven more by passion and purpose than resources, and demands us to be creative, persevering and collaborative. It is often, especially in the nascent stages, lonely and intimidating, confusing and almost crippling in the face of lofty expectations of what a few individuals can and should achieve.

We acknowledge and endorse the efforts of the SAA to bring voices to the communities that need encouraging, causes that need acknowledgement and affirmation, and issues that benefit from airing in public discourse. We do ourselves a service by taking ownership of issues and responsibility for making dreams a reality. This is our contribution to our society. It is humbling to be acknowledged.

Next year, we as a country will commemorate the 50th anniversary of the founding of Singapore as a republic, and the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Singapore from occupation during WWII. We salute all the communities and civil society activists before us who have taken our country to where it is today.”


Claire Leow & Catherine Lim, Co-Founders, All Things Bukit Brown


The Brownies with Constance Singam, one of the judges and a highly esteemed civil activist and writer

The Brownies with Constance Singam, one of the judges and a highly esteemed civil activist and writer


The symbol chosen is an inverted ‘A’ (for Advocacy) and stems from the idea of the ‘tipping point’, which in sociology is defined as ‘a point in time when a group —or a large number of group members— rapidly and dramatically changes its behavior by widely adopting a previously rare practice’. Malcolm Gladwell’s book ‘The Tipping Point’, defines the tipping point as “that magic moment when an idea, trend, or social behaviour crosses a threshold, tips, and spreads like wildfire”.Here, the inverted ‘A’ is placed in a transient state in which it may sway both ways. Its position and layout in relation to the text suggest that the ‘A’ will stand firmly over the text if you choose to tip it over.
The Judges:

  1. T. Sasitharan (Panel Chair) – Arts educator and Cultural Medallion winner
  2. Cherian George – Academic
  3. Richard Ho – Architect
  4. Faizah Jamal – NMP & Environmental Activist
  5. Sharon Siddique – Consultant
  6. Constance Singam – Civil Society Activist and Writer
  7. Wong Ting Hway – Medical Doctor
  8. Geoffrey Yu – Arts Supporter and Former Diplomat


“Activism and advocacy are the cornerstones of an active and vital civil society movement and the need to establish and protect free space for civil society has never been more urgent than it is now,” said Mr Sasitharan. “A strong civil society will lead to healthy, functioning democracies. Conversely, healthy, well-functioning democracies must allow strong civil societies to exist.”

“If civil society in Singapore is to grow and mature, then it is crucial that good advocacy work that makes an impact on society, that is engaged with the community and that empowers people, should be properly recognised, acknowledged and applauded.” (Source: TOC article here)


The Honours List:

ACRES * All Things Bukit Brown * Braema Mathi * Chan Li Shan * Damien Chng * Eugene Tay * Jeremy Boo and Lee Xianjie * Louis Ng * M Ravi * Pink Dot


SAA honorees

SAA honorees



Advocate of the Year: Braema Mathi (President of Maruah, a human rights advocacy group)

Advocate of the Year: Louis Ng (ACRES – Animal Concerns Research and Education Society)

Advocacy Organisation of the Year – All Things Bukit Brown

Most Promising Advocate – Chan Li Shan (mental health advocate, author of A Philosopher’s Madness)

Most Promising Advocate – Damien Chng (We Believe in Second Chances)


 The citation:

citation for SAA I

citation for SAA II


Postscript: It is worth mentioning that we acknowledged fellow nominee Eugene Tay, who supported us from the early days, and blogger Jerome Lim of The Long and Winding Road fame, for bringing us together. They inspired us in their railway walks, a precursor to the Green Corridor campaign.


Jerome Lim and Eugene Tay at SAA

Jerome Lim and Eugene Tay at SAA, with us and Constance Singam


We received the award from William Lim, one of the greatest honours we have experienced.


(Photo: SAA)

(Photo: SAA)


William Lim and his wife at the SAA

William Lim and his wife at the SAA


Lim Su Min, a Brownie and a descendent of Tan Tock Seng and Lim Boon Keng, sketched the historic inaugural awards:


SAA sketch (Credit- Lim Su Min)

Related Posts:

Bukit Brown named World Monuments Watch site


A Look Back at 2013

Aerial view of the largest tomb in Bukit Brown (Photo: Franck)

Aerial view of the largest tomb in Bukit Brown (Photo: Franck)


A look back at 2013… 

We lost a dear Brownie, Vicky Tan, but started the Tan Kheam Hock Tour as a tribute to her and her ancestors. Other kin have been clearing the tombs of Kheam Hock’s relatives, and in the process, prettifying entire clusters in Bukit Brown. It has added much needed cheer at a time exhumations have started.

Celebrating Bukit Brown exhibition of posters and tiles (Photo: Gan Su-Lin)

Celebrating Bukit Brown exhibition of posters and tiles (Photo: Gan Su-Lin)


We held 2 exhibitions, “Celebrating Bukit Brown” (above) as a “report” on our efforts to reach students and teachers and their works, and “Bukit Brown: Our Roots, Our Future” (below), an extensive exhibition at Chui Huay Lian Club that featured English and Mandarin speakers and brought attention to the threat to the Muslim graves at Jalan Kubor. Both enabled us to reach out to more communities and decision-makers. The latter also featured a rare reunion of the descendants of Seah Eu Chin. Walter Lim, Yik Han and Charlene Tan deserve special mention, aided by an army of volunteers to put it all together.


Our Roots, Our Future: An Exhibition
More schools signed up for tours, and even resulted in books published. This confirms our belief that Bukit Brown is an educational resource to be treasured, conserved and shared.

Victor Lim has added depth to the tours with his tile expertise. A tile expert team has now taken interest and plans to bring it to the attention of UNESCO.

Expats Bianca Polak and Ritsuko Saito joined the cause, Bianca avidly guiding and photographing, while Ritsuko has given talks in Taiwan and Japan on Bukit Brown. Again and again, Bukit Brown proves to be not just a treasure for Singaporeans. Brownies shared their expertise far and wide, and many a weekend, Yik Han, Mok Ly Ying, Raymond Goh, et al could be found giving talks on knowledge gleaned from Bukit Brown.

Catherine Lim helped put Bukit Brown in the living rooms of Singaporeans with “History from the Hills”, a TV documentary series that moved many and won mention in Parliament.

At least 3 TEDX talks by Claire Leow, Ish Singh and Lavanya Prakash featured Bukit Brown as a focus subject.

Ish Singh with one of Sikh guards [photo: Bianca Polak]

Ish Singh with one of Sikh guards [photo: Bianca Polak]

Ish Singh recently joined the Brownies as a co-guide after penning a reflective piece on how he felt connected to his Sikh history through Bukit Brown and Amardeep Singh has started research there – pointing to the Sikh interest in the history of Bukit Brown.

Sugen Ramiah and Ai Loon stepped outreach for the young, Simone Lee, Zhi Hao and Aaron Chan became our newest guides. More and more are coming out in support because they see the intrinsic value of Bukit Brown. We welcome anyone with the same passion.

Bukit Brown made it to Tripadvisor’s Travellers’ Choice 2013 Winners list.

Battlefield archaeologist Jon Cooper continues to uncover more of our past and his Battlefield Tours are always fully subscribed in record time.

An animated Jon Cooper on his popular Battlefield Tour (Photo: Claire Leow)

Jon Cooper on his popular Battlefield Tour (Photo: Claire Leow)

Behind the scenes, many elves abound to do good work. Khoo Ee Hoon mapped out Bukit Brown and helped with the iBBC app. She, Danny Chew and Edmon Neo-Khoo are among those cleaning tombs every weekend. Lim Su-Min would be on call with his saw to clear fallen trees to prevent damage to graves or visitors.

The supporting cast of Brownies (photo Gan Su-Lin)

The supporting cast of Brownies (photo Gan Su-Lin)

Edmon spends weekends "gardening" at Bukit Brown to upkeep tombs. He is a descendant of Tan Kheam Hock. (Photo: Khoo Ee Hoon)

Edmon spends weekends “gardening” at Bukit Brown to upkeep tombs. He is a descendant of Tan Kheam Hock. (Photo: Khoo Ee Hoon)

Needless to say, stalwarts like Raymond Goh, Peter Pak and Walter Lim blogged avidly and added to our depth of knowledge of what we stand to lose by losing Bukit Brown. Guides Chew Keng Kiat, Fabian Tee, Andrew, Peter Pak, Beng Tang, Yik Han, Bianca, Mil Phuah, Raymond, Catherine and Claire were ably assisted by many in the community who shared their knowledge, time and talents, often as co-guides. We have now guided 10,000 visitors to Bukit Brown as a community.

Jennifer Teo and Tien of SOS Bukit Brown not only guided but gathered 7,000 signatures and delivered them to the government in the petition to save Bukit Brown. Georgina Chin’s book on the birds, including many at Bukit Brown, sold out.

And together, this community has put Bukit Brown on the world map by getting international recognition for its potential as a heritage site with the World Monuments Watch list 2014.  Ian Chong deserves special mention for his help with the application. And you have been pushing the envelope with your letters to the government, giving us much encouragement.

WMW 2014

If we missed out on anyone, think of it as a blessing that there were so many of you giving support that we cannot list everyone, and not that you have been forgotten.

We have come a long way in 2013. With the highway project starting, we need to do more, not less. We have 95,000 more tombs to save.

Rain or shine or exhumations, we carry on with our tours.

Brownies announcing the World Monuments Watch Listing (Photo: Terry Xu)

And we thank you, this wonderful community, for carrying us. We who stand on the shoulders of others see further. May you be blessed in 2014.


Globalising the Local

( a forum organised by the Singapore Heritage Society)

4 November 2013

In December 2012 the historic Singapore Botanic Gardens became a nominee for UNESCO World Heritage site status. In October 2013 Bukit Brown was selected by the World Monuments Fund to be included in the 2014 World Monuments Watch list. Two equally deserving heritage sites on different pathways towards international recognition. What does it mean to be recognised as a World Heritage site or to be on the World Monuments Watch list? Are these new ways of thinking about the significance of heritage in Singapore? Can heritage give us insights into what being global means for Singapore and Singaporeans?

Join us at the Forum where we will hear expert speakers explain the meaning and significance of these developments.

Please register early as seats are limited:

10 November 2013, 2-4pm
Ngee Ann Auditorium, Asian Civilisations Museum

Dr Chua Ai Lin – President of the Singapore Heritage Society

Dr Kevin YL Tan – President, ICOMOS Singapore
Dr Ian Chong – Political Scientist
Ms Faizah Jamal – Nominated Member of Parliament
Dr Lai Chee Kien – Architect

Globalising the Local _ SHS


NSS Flashback!

Ann Ang found this Nov/Dec 2006 issue of Nature News, the publication of the Nature Society of Singapore, which featured Bukit Brown Cemetery:


The Nature Society is one of the signatories calling for a moratorium on the highway:

The community of concerned groups over the future of Bukit Brown is formally calling for a moratorium on all plans for Bukit Brown. This moratorium should be in place until there is clarity over long-term plans for the area and discussions over alternatives have been exhausted. Given on-going national discussions over housing, transportation and immigration, there is room for policy adjustments. Plans to develop housing and transport infrastructure in the greater Bukit Brown area cannot be made when these discussions are underway and before the public has had an opportunity to fully consider the details surrounding such proposals.

 In addition, there has not been sufficient time for a public conversation over plans by the Urban Redevelopment Authority and Land Transport Authority for Bukit Brown, nor a discussion about the alternatives proposed by the Nature Society’s position paper issued in December. We are asking for more meaningful engagement than what we have experienced so far. Bukit Brown is important enough that all parties should be able to participate in discussions over its future reasonably as interested citizens, whether individually, as informal communities, or organised formally.


Related Posts:

Bird-Watching at Bukit Brown

Bukit Brown at Crossroads

Bukit Brown: Destination Park

Plants by Angie Ng

Not for the Dead Only



Quiet beauty and tranquility ( photo Catherine Lim)


By Eugene Tay

Eugene helms the movement “We support the Green Corridor” and is one of  the  partners of All Things Bukit Brown.

The Green Corridor is a former railway while Bukit Brown is a cemetery, so different yet so similar. The Green Corridor and Bukit Brown both connects the past and future, and both involves heritage and the environment. I hope that all of you can support the preservation of Bukit Brown, just as you have actively supported The Green Corridor so far.

I supported The Green Corridor proposal by NSS because I feel that it would improve Singapore’s long-term resilience. The biggest threat to Singapore is apathy, and when Singaporeans do not feel a sense of belonging and are not bothered with what goes on here, then Singapore is in trouble.

For Singapore to survive and prosper in the long term, it is necessary to have more opportunities in preserving our shared memories and creating our shared vision. And keeping the railway lands as a Green Corridor is one opportunity not to be wasted.

Similarly, I feel that Bukit Brown is another excellent opportunity that enables Singaporeans to feel they belong here by remembering our past and creating our future.

Remembering Our Past

Bukit Brown tells the stories of our forefathers who built Singapore, and creates opportunities for history education and discovery. The cemetery connects Singapore’s past and present, and allows us to understand that Singapore’s success is built up by our forefathers’ sweat and tears, and should not be taken for granted.

We should preserve Bukit Brown because it helps us remember our past and keeps us rooted to Singapore.

Intense interest in the historical tombs and shared camaraderie on public tours (photo Catherine Lim)

Creating Our Future

Bukit Brown presents the opportunity for transforming the cemetery into a world-class living outdoor museum or heritage park. If this transformation adopts a bottom-up approach and with stakeholder engagement, it would allow us to come together, plan and work towards a future Singapore where heritage, nature and our economic needs can co-exist.

We should preserve Bukit Brown because it enables us to work together and build bonds and resilience, and to create a space where our children and their children can enjoy and be proud of.

A place for children to play (photo Catherine Lim)

Support Bukit Brown

Singapore is a young nation and needs more common spaces like The Green Corridor and Bukit Brown to remind us how we got here and why this is home, and to create opportunities for building our future social resilience. Support Bukit Brown, just as you have supported The Green Corridor.

Here’s what you can do:

1. Sign the petition to save Bukit Brown 100% at the SOS Bukit Brown – Save Our Singapore website.

2. Join the Heritage Singapore – Bukit Brown Cemetery Facebook Group to understand more about Bukit Brown and keep yourself updated.

3. Spread the message by sharing with your friends about Bukit Brown and urging them to sign the petition.

In the end, our society will be defined not only by what we create, but by what we refuse to destroy. – John C. Sawhill

By Eugene Tay

The Nature Society sent the following letter to the Straits Times on April 6, 2012:

Bukit Brown Should be a Destination Park

OUR position is to recommend to the relevant authorities that Bukit Brown be made into a public or heritage park for the benefit of all Singaporeans, not just for nature lovers or nature romantics (‘Don’t get carried away by biodiversity’ by Mr Heng Cho Choon; last Saturday).


Bukit Brown should retain its natural and cultural values and be simultaneously promoted as an area for recreational pursuits like hiking, jogging, strolling, family picnics or appreciating nature.


Crisp morning runs – for joggers and horses (photo: Claire Leow)


Our view is very much in line with the Urban Redevelopment Authority’s (URA) laudable plan to open 20 new parks in the next five years (‘Coney Island set to become nature park’; Feb 19).


Bukit Brown, with its multi-faceted values, qualifies as a top candidate for a ‘destination park’. Because of its cultural assets, it has great potential as a tourist attraction too.


March 25 tour: gratifying to see the young so engaged in our open classroom (photo: Claire Leow)


As there is room for 20 new parks anyway, given whatever plan the authority may have for population increase and new settlements, it should be made part of URA’s park scheme.


Our concern now is the planned dual four-lane expressway which will destroy the existing features of the area that are valuable assets for such a park.


The road will damage if not wipe out a beautiful valley and the service roads around it, apart from the adverse impact on the adjacent woodlands and wildlife.


Raintree – a natural in the tropics (photo: Goh Si Gium)


This portion of Bukit Brown is also the most popular and most frequented part of Bukit Brown for visitors.


Given the value at stake, we think it is necessary to explore more carefully the possible alternatives to the planned expressway.


Being an area of more than 200ha in greenery, such an ecosystem serves all Singaporeans.


Its eco-functions include carbon sequestration, free natural air-conditioning and flood control.


Although globally small, it is highly significant in its contribution in terms of the percentage of Singapore’s total land mass or population. It is imperative that we think globally but act locally.


Ho Hua Chew


Conservation Committee


Nature Society (Singapore)


Dawn – the best time to bird watch (photo: Goh Si Gium)



Related posts:

Update on the NSS Position Paper

Bukit Brown at Crossroad

Rosalind Tan wrote “Beyond Grave Matters“ after a nature ramble with the Nature Society 


Bukit Brown at a Crossroad

by Goh Si Guim, of Nature Society (Singapore)

Proposed Highway (Source: URA website)


Bukit Brown at a Crossroad; Possible alternative

With the increased in population in Singapore, We envisioned that more land would be taken up by infrastructures. Areas occupied by roads will also grow to accommodate the concomitant growth in car population in Singapore. We recognized that the relevant agencies have implemented various measures to manage and curb growth in car population. Over the years, these measures include improvement in road systems and ERP. At the same time efforts have been made to make public transportation palatable to a wider section of the population. The greatly expanded rail network is a case in point.

However, it has been demonstrated that these measures, touted as ways to slash or curb car numbers, have been unsuccessful. It must also be recognized that the car population cannot be allowed to grow unabated, especially when there is fierce competitive uses for limited land. A measure of proportionality must prevail. Should it be skewed one way or another, they should be for the good of the great majority.

In this instance, a eight-lane highway is to be built to allow for a smoother flow of traffic over a short stretch of road. This is essentially to address a localized problem for some transient periods of time.

This problem could also be contributed by heavy and slow traffic flow in regions immediately adjacent to Lornie Road. We ponder its necessity and its ability to ameliorate the bottleneck encountered here and further afield, in areas leading to and leading away from Lornie Road.

These glacial traffics hinder the flow of vehicles, including public buses, which serve a greater proportion of the commuting public. With these schedules disrupted, it is not surprising that public transportation has been branded as unreliable.

An alternative passage to the Pan-Island Expressway (PIE) can be implemented that could alleviate the congestions experience along Lornie Road and the close vicinities.

With the continuing expansion of the rail network (more in the pipeline), it is also time to relook current measures to manage car population.

The alternative


An Alternative Highway? (NSS)


The traffic coming from the north-east region of Singapore is largely channeled to the PIE via Lornie Road. The main axes leading to Lornie Road are Bartley Road, Upper Serangoon Road and the Central Expressway (CTE), through Braddell Road. Lornie Road also receives substantial traffic coming down from Upper Thomson Road, serving heartland areas of Bishan and Ang Mo Kio.  Traffic going down Adam Road could have been slowed down by the busy Farrer-Bukit Timah junction. The slip roads from Lornie Road into both direction of PIE may also be inadequate.

Furthermore, the PIE itself may have been overwhelmed by heavy traffic, streaming from the east and city and north, via the CTE. This, in turn, slows down the traffic joining and leaving PIE at that junction. Several schools are situated around Whitley Road and Bukit Timah Road. Parents dropping off and picking up their children also impede traffic.

All in, the traffic in the wider area around and linked to Lornie Road are in the same state, slowed to a crawl in those hours!

Lornie Road merely serves as a conduit to channel traffic from one congested area to another. Having passed through the snarl on Lornie Road itself, motorist would still find themselves inching their way through many of the roads with myriad of intersections. During peak hours, the traffic exceeded the carrying capacities of Lornie and these other roads that are either feeding traffic into or draining traffic from it.

The junction of Sime Road and Lornie Road with traffic lights serves the needs of a small number of cars leaving Singapore Island Country Club. But it contributes substantially to the congestion and should be done away with.


Sime Road junction leading into Lornie Road


The capacity of the PIE can be doubled with a extensive viaduct built over PIE (akin to West Coast/Pasir Panjang Road, Upper Serangoon Road, near Lor Lew Lian) as a two-tier highway.

With leaving Bukit Brown intact in mind, a viaduct can start from the Thomson/Marymount /Braddell junction (Junction A) area, above the Thomson Road southward towards the old Police Academy, swing west at the corner on PIE west of the Thomson Flyerover (Junction B). A slip road can allow traffic to join the PIE towards the East. The viaduct then follows the course of the PIE, over the Mt Pleasant Flyover (Bottleneck 2) and Adam Flyover (Bottleneck 1). It may rejoin PIE somewhere before the Eng Neo (or even before Exit 22). Alternatively, it can continue westwards to reach BKE. Eastwards, the viaduct can link up with CTE and perhaps beyond.

This viaduct would allow a large part of the east-west traffic to avoid those junctions that are feeding traffic into the PIE or bleeding traffic to surrounding regions. It thus allows some unhindered traffic on the viaduct, enabling them to avoid junctions or exit roads of no relevance to them. At the same time, these measures de-congest the original PIE, early smoother traffic flow in and out of peripheral roads.

Similar viaducts like the West Coast/Pasir Panjang Road viaduct and Upper Serangoon (passing Paya Lebar Methodist Church) viaduct and others essentially serve to allow motorists unimpeded travel,

Doubling the capacity of main carriageways through multi-tier methodology should be carried out more widely. This would allow the capacity of existing land devoted to roads to be harnessed several hundred percents. Converting new land to roads can be avoided, allow them to retain its present purpose or purposes that benefit other segment of the population (other than the motoring population). We ‘double’ exploit, where possible, the thousands of square kilometer of existing road surface that has already covered a substantial amount of land area in Singapore.


At a crossroad

With direct reference to Bukit Brown, the grounds should be left in its existing state. The value of natural greenery defies easy quantification in terms of its biodiversity, climatic and environmental moderation, aesthetic and therapeutic benefits.

The quality matters a great deal too. Open grasslands, such as golf courses, are not substantive greenery, lacking in diversity and biomass. Here the greenery needs to be ‘multi-tiered’ as well and would do better to contribute the benefits mentioned prior.

Spaces need to be set aside for the times when the populace is not contributing to the GDP. Nature areas play valuable roles while seem idle. They contribute to the GDP by providing the counterbalance to a hectic lifestyle; rejuvenate us, enabling us to contribute to the GDP through healthy productivity and optimal consumption of resources. Nature heals in mysterious ways. Though unquantifiable, they nevertheless have immense power and value and contribute positively to the national ‘pie’, our economy.

Overall, this new highway does not alleviate the jam if the downstream hiccups are not done away with. By zooming out, It would be noted that the traffic snarl cover areas greater than Lornie Road itself. A more comprehensive study is needed.

By building this highway, it could only mean that a greater volume of vehicles is trapped and sitting through the jam, spewing toxic gases into the atmosphere.

On a wider perspective, it will be a very expensive undertaking to accommodate more cars on our road. This is in terms of the resources and their impact on the health of the environment and the population.

A high level panel must be created to comprehensively relook the overall infrastructural needs at many levels and involving many levels of consultation. All concepts and projections, however mundane or radical, must not be hastily dismissed but duly and rigorously addressed.

The relevant agencies must be forthcoming in seeking expertise input, even non-mainstream ones. Pertinent information must be shared in order that consultation covers all aspects.

A convincing outcome would be one that is acceptable to all.



The Nature Society is one of the signatories calling for a moratorium on the highway:

The community of concerned groups over the future of Bukit Brown is formally calling for a moratorium on all plans for Bukit Brown. This moratorium should be in place until there is clarity over long-term plans for the area and discussions over alternatives have been exhausted. Given on-going national discussions over housing, transportation and immigration, there is room for policy adjustments. Plans to develop housing and transport infrastructure in the greater Bukit Brown area cannot be made when these discussions are underway and before the public has had an opportunity to fully consider the details surrounding such proposals.

 In addition, there has not been sufficient time for a public conversation over plans by the Urban Redevelopment Authority and Land Transport Authority for Bukit Brown, nor a discussion about the alternatives proposed by the Nature Society’s position paper issued in December. We are asking for more meaningful engagement than what we have experienced so far. Bukit Brown is important enough that all parties should be able to participate in discussions over its future reasonably as interested citizens, whether individually, as informal communities, or organised formally.


Dawn – the best time to bird watch (photo: Goh Si Gium)


To sign the petition to save Bukit Brown, click here for SOS Bukit Brown for other ways to speak up.

More on the NSS Position Paper 


Your Say: SOS Bukit Brown

Some tombs are already marked (staked) for exhumation


What would Singapore be like if our grandparents had won?

By Lisa Li

Cemeteries now occupy less than 0.95% of land – do our grandchildren really need this?

“Do you want me to look after our dead grandparents or do you want me to look after your grandchildren?” asked then-Cabinet Minister Lim Kim San in the 1960s, and Minister of State Tan Chuan-Jin in 2012.

What would Singapore be like if our grandparents had won?

For one, we wouldn’t have the clear, grassy slopes of Fort Canning Park for WOMAD and Ballet Under the Stars. No, in its place, we’d have a messy Fort Canning Cemetery crowded with 19th-century graves of governors, administrators, sailors, traders, teachers, many young women and children – some even buried two to a grave.

Instead of Bishan housing estate, home to 91,298 people at last count, the Cantonese Kwong Wai Siew Association might still have their Peck San Theng (Jade Hill Pavilion) built in 1870 – the largest cemetery in Singapore, with 75,234 graves eventually exhumed. Likewise parts of Tiong Bahru, Henderson, Redhill, Serangoon, Jalan Bukit Merah would still have cemeteries where public housing now stands.

Jewish cemetery dating from 1838 or 1841 would stand in place of Dhoby Ghaut MRT station, its small plot housing 160 graves. And instead of the shops at Velocity, Novena Square, Phoenix Park, we might see Jewish tombs designed by the famous Italian sculptor Cavalieri Rodolfo Nolli in the Thomson Road Jewish Cemetery, in use from 1904 onwards.

Instead of KK Women’s and Children’s Hospital, on the land between Bukit Timah, Kampong Java, Halifax and Hooper Road, we’d have a flood-prone Bukit Timah Cemetery packed with Catholic and Protestant graves from 1865.

Neither would we have Ngee Ann City, Mandarin Hotel, Cathay Cineleisure and Wisma Atria. Instead, in the heart of Orchard Road would sit a 28-hectare burial ground Tai Shan Ting, managed by theTeochew Ngee Ann Kongsi.

And of course, we wouldn’t have those clear, flat fields along Upper Serangoon Road, a space now emptying itself out in preparation for new condominiums and residential towns. In its place, we might still have the 10.5-hectare early 20th-century Bidadari Cemetary, with its delicate marble sculptures and tombstones etched with different languages in the Christian, Muslim and Hindu sections.

One might conclude that the 1960s generation did the right thing. They were self-sacrificial enough (or, were forced) to forgo their ancestors’ graves so that their grandchildren could have the space for housing, shopping, infrastructure, all these modern amenities we now enjoy.

Especially for those of us living and working in Orchard, Novena, Tiong Bahru, Henderson, Redhill, Serangoon, Jalan Bukit Merah, this giving up of graveyard space for modern development seems good and necessary.

Burial grounds now occupy less than 0.95% of Singapore’s land area

But the fact is, back in 1967, burial grounds only made up 1.1% (619 hectares) of land area on Singapore Island, and by 1982, after the clearing of Bukit Timah Cemetery, Peck San Theng (Bishan) etc, it was down to 534 hectares (approx 0.95% of Singapore’s land area).

Furthermore, this 0.95% figure doesn’t even include the Thomson Road Jewish Cemetery (cleared by 1985), 10.5 hectare Bidadari Cemetery (cleared by 2006), and 7-hectare Kwong Hou Sua in Woodlands (cleared by 2009).

Is it really necessary to wipe clean these remaining precious spaces that take up less than 0.95% of Singapore’s land area?

And if Singapore desperately needs more land, why aren’t we first using the land area currently occupied by Orchid Country Club, Raffles Country Club, Singapore Island Country Club, Warren Golf & Country Club, and the golf and country clubs in Changi, Jurong, Keppel, Marina Bay, Kranji, Selatar Base, Sembawang, Tanah Merah?

(Golf courses cover 2.2% of Singapore, according to the URA Land Allocation Focus Group Final Report 2001.)

Perhaps in the past, it was deemed necessary for our grandparents to relinquish their burial grounds for public housing and the development of the shopping belt in Orchard and Novena.

But how much is enough, and what is the optimum point between preserving tangible heritage and history, and allowing the land to be taken over by even more modern amenities, condominiums and wider roads? This concerns all of us and future generations, and we need proper, genuine discussion before bulldozers irreversibly destroy these old spaces.

Minister of State Tan Chuan-Jin’s argument hinges on Mr Lim Kim San’s question, but asking Singaporeans to choose between our dead grandparents and our grandchildren is a severe misrepresentation of the issue.

I strongly suspect our grandchildren will not live in misery for want of that extra 0.95% of land. In fact, I hope our grandchildren will be more creative in their urban design, with efficient use of land and infrastructure, without resorting to the destruction of the few cemeteries left.

And if current public sentiment is anything to judge the future by, I suspect our grandchildren will enjoy walking in a protected, conserved Bukit Brown, seeing and touching history in tangible forms, and will one day ask, what would Singapore be like if our grandparents had won? That is, if we don’t win today.


Lisa Li is a member of SOS Bukit Brown. The Community of Bukit Brown calls for a moratorium on all plans for Bukit Brown, until there is clarity over long-term plans for the area and discussions over alternatives have been exhausted.


Tan, K. YL, ‘Introduction: The Death of Cemeteries in Singapore’ from Spaces of the Dead: A Case from the Living, (Singapore: Ethos Books, 2011.

Tan, B.H. & Yeoh, B. SA, ‘The Remains of the Dead: Spatial Politics of Nation-Building in Post-war Singapore’ from Spaces of the Dead: A Case from the Living, (Singapore: Ethos Books, 2011).


Plants by Angie Ng

Sunday 18th morning @ Bukit Brown, Nature Society’s Angie Ng conducted a plant walk and shared what she knew about plants which are used as herbs in local dishes and fruit trees.  Here are some of the highlights

Red Stem-fig tree ( Ficus variegata)

They look like dried sea urchins, but from them will spring figs (photo Cuifen)

What the fig? (photo: Angie Ng)

Angie picks up a  fig of Ficus aurantiacea , a climbing fig.” (photo :Suki Singh)

Ferns grow close to the ground

This one is rare (photo Cuifen)


Set again a white backdrop, it is quite exquisite and delicate in design (photo: Cuifen)


The tiny leaf from a frond deserves closer  investigation (photo: Cuifen)

An edible fern found at the foot of hill leading up to Ong Sam Leong’s gravesite

An edible fern, delicious  saute with sambal belachan (a Malaysian dish) according to Angie  (photo; Angie Ng)

The sori (arrangement of sporangia ) is most interesting (photo Angie Ng)

Ferns also grow on hospitable rain trees

This bird’s nest fern in turn hosts a nest for a family of bats. Cuifen who took this photo spotted four. can you spot any?

The False Curry Leaf Plant (Clausena excavata)

The False Curry Leaf Plant is a small tree which looks like a Curry Leaf plant and whose leaves also smell like it. But its small flowers are in panicles and its green oblong berries ripen pink. (photo Cuifen)

Berries from the False Curry Leave tree turning pink (photo Angie Ng)

Geophila repens

Geophilia repens with tiny white flower and bright red berries creeps among the grasses under shady trees.

Salam Tree ( Syzygium polyanth )

The Salam tree is flowering and dropping bunches of its creamy white stamens. Salam leaves are used to flavour your favourite local breakfast dish, lontong. (Photo: Cuifen)

The Napkin tree

The Napkin tree has soft leaves (photo Cuifen)

And the most spectacular of the flowering plants : Wild Orchids

Bulbophylllum vaginatum   (photo Angie Ng)

Hoya Latifolia  – The waxed flowers  hangs  high on an old  rain tree, leaves are almost heart shaped   (photo by Angie Ng)


Read the NSS Position Paper on Bukit Brown



December 2015
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