Celebrating Bukit Brown a Success!


Straits Times Jan 21, 2013 report


On Jan 20, All Things Bukit Brown presented All Day Bukit Brown, with the Singapore Heritage Society and Nature Society (Singapore)!

We started with a Nature Society tour in the morning and Celebrating Bukit Brown at the Substation on Armenian Street to celebrate our heritage, habitat and history in Bukit Brown.


What: Bird-watching at Bukit Brown … A free public walk around this unique and quiet corner of Singapore while it is still relatively undisturbed.  This area is partially open with some huge trees.  They came to  see a mix of parkland, open country and forest birds such as babblers, bulbuls, doves, flowerpeckers, parakeets, sunbirds and woodpeckers


Nature Society tour to identify plants and look out for birds


Afternoon-Evening: Celebrating Bukit Brown

Celebrating Bukit Brown @The Substation,  Sunday (20 Jan), 2-8pm. FREE admission.

Since the government’s decision to build a road through Bukit Brown Cemetery was announced in 2011, Singaporeans from all walks of life have flocked to the 200 year-old cemetery to accquaint themselves with its rich heritage and lush greenery. Local volunteers, academics, and artists have dedicated their time and craft to capture, record and understand the legacy and meaning of Bukit Brown and its place in our nation’s history.

This year mass exhumations and the construction of the eight-lane road will begin. Celebrating Bukit Brown showcased the efforts of ordinary Singaporeans who have worked tirelessly on Bukit Brown. It was a one-day event comprising photo exhibitions, poetry, expert presentations, theatrical readings, a public forum and a film screening. We invite you to bring artefacts, family mementoes and creative output (art, painting,poetry, music) to share your stories, and pen what Bukit Brown means to you. Descendants will share their journeys with you. Come celebrate our national heritage with us. There will be books and other merchandise available for purchase.

Highlights included:

1. Talks by battlefield archaeologist Jon Cooper on WWII
2. Presentation on the material culture of Bukit Brown and the Chinese diaspora by Dr Lai Chee Kien
3. First public-screening of the documentary Bukit Brown Voices by Khoo Su-Mae and Brian McDairmant. This 45-minute documentary follows Singaporean families as they carry out Qingming rituals and exhume their ancestors. Rated NC-13.
4. Update on the documentation project by Dr Hui Yew-Foong, with input from Dr Terence Heng and Jasmine Ng.
5. A public forum moderated by Kwa Ching Guan.

For a web-link, click here.

Here are some highlights of the day:


Full house at The Substation when the exhibition opens (Photo: KC Chew)


Celebrating Bukit Brown exhibition (Photo: Gan Su-Lin)


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


Threatre readings to set the tone: Sabriena Loh reads from Kuo Pao Kun’s play (Photo: Gan Su-Lin)


Millie Phuah reads from Kuo Pao Kun’s The Coffin is Too Big for the Hole (Photo: Gan Su-Lin)


Ong Hui Lin reads her poem (Photo: Gan Su-Lin)


There followed a series of talks:


Dr Lai Chee Kien’s presentation to a full house (Photo: KC Chew)


Interesting epigraphs highlighted by Dr Lai Chee Kien (Photo: Victor Lim)

Listen to his previous talk here.


SHS’s Chua Ai Lin makes an impassioned plea to save Bukit Brown (Photo: Victor Yue)


Read about the Singapore Heritage Society’s position on Bukit Brown here.


Jon Cooper, battlefield archaeologist, talks about the WWII battle at Bukit Brown and the soldiers who died defending Singapore (Photo: Victor Yue)


Jon Cooper enthralls the crowd (Photo: Gan Su-Lin)


Read about Jon’s account of the Missing Among the Dead here.


Dr Hui Yew Foong wins a round of applause on announcing documentation by his team will be made public (Photo: Claire Leow)


The documentation team’s work on keeping records of the graves staked for exhumation to make way for the highway is available on the website, bukitbrown.info. Click here.


Dr Terence Heng on the nocturnal rituals (Photo: Marcus Koh Mingjie)


We can’t wait to see Terence’s work published as the photo essay was really fascinating. The talks wrapped up with a robust panel discussion:


The panel discussion. L-R: Moderator Kwa Chong Guan, panelists Tay Kheng Soon (demographics), Yew-Foong Hui (documentation team), Terence Heng (rituals), Jon Cooper (battlefield archaeologist), Lai Chee Kien (Chinese diaspora) and Ho Hua Chew (Nature Society). (Photo: Victor Yue)


Last, the crowning moment of the evening, was the inaugural screening of the documentary, Bukit Brown Voices by Khoo Su-Mae and Brian McDairmant. This 45-minute documentary follows Singaporean families as they carry out Qingming rituals and exhume their ancestors.


Prior to the event, we had coverage from ZaoBao:

ZaoBao Mandarin report on Jan 19, 2013

Raymond’s translation:

Opportunity to Clarify  Ethnic History

Extracted from
Zaobao Jan 19, 2013

by Chia Yei Yei

“What is so puzzling is that the local traditional Chinese communities such as the associations and societies does not seem to be concerned about the recent discoveries of pioneers’ tombs by the Goh brothers, for they have not expressed any response or feedback. Whether it is the Hokkien or Teochew associations, everybody seems to turn a blind eye.

On the other hand, ever since the topic of Bukit Brown became a historical culture discussion topic, some local English-educated people from the cultural circles have constantly headed to the cemetery, discovering and sharing with others their finds and their views.

Tomorrow Singapore Heritage Society and All Things Bukit Brown will hold a 6-hour event at the Substation, with a photo exhibit, poetry reading, movie screening, forum discussion etc, enthusiastically Celebrating Bukit Brown.

Their passion and enthusiasm is in stark contrast with the indifference of the traditional Chinese community, and sparked the curiosity of my friends who noticed this phenomenon.

Frankly speaking, I have no answer, I can only hazard a guess : perhaps it is the taboo of cemeteries, perhaps they think that those are other people’s ancestors. Ancestor worship is for the descendants, and have no concern for those who have no relations. Or perhaps they have not realized the immense historical and cultural value of the tomb inscriptions, or perhaps they really have no more interest in their own ancestors, their own cultural identity or history.

But I still hope that the related societies and associations not abandon their own history and culture, for this opportunity will deepen whatever traditional and cultural beliefs they are adhering to now. Isn’t it our Chinese traditional culture for thousands of years to attach great importance to our cultural history and heritage?” (CYY)


Another report, from Voice of America: Singapore Cemetery Demolition Angers Residents



Thank you for making this event a success!


Sikh guard makes an appearance at The Substation (Photo: Ai Loon)



Sikh guards by Rebecca Byrne (Photo: Gan Su-Lin)
















Celebrating Bukit Brown was brought to you by:

The Singapore Heritage Society

All Things Bukit Brown

with help from The Substation


With thanks to:

Backstage: Chew Keng Kiat, Khoo Ee Hoon

Front of house: Catherine Lim, Serene Tan, Peter Pak, Tan Hang Chong

Set-up: Terence Chong, Chua Ai Lin, Sugen Ramiah, Danny Chew, Victor Lim, Peter Pak, Rebecca Byrne, Ai Loon, and many helpful elves!

Photographer: Gan Su-Lin

Videographer: Millie Phuah and Gel

Ushers: all the Brownies on hand

Technical crew: The Substation

Helpers: History Society NUS students, and many more…..





Look out for our next event, with never-seen-before exhibits from a time past.