Kolam Ayer - from swampland to modern estate

Dr Yaacob Ibrahim (right) at the exhibition at Kolam Ayer CC, along with Mrs Kiang-Koh Lai Lin, 64, who chairs the committee behind the book (below) and exhibition. With them is Mr Leong Sing Wee, 63, SG50 Kolam Ayer committee chairman.
Dr Yaacob Ibrahim (right) at the exhibition at Kolam Ayer CC, along with Mrs Kiang-Koh Lai Lin, 64, who chairs the committee behind the book and exhibition. With them is Mr Leong Sing Wee, 63, SG50 Kolam Ayer committee chairman.ST PHOTO: KUA CHEE SIONG
Dr Yaacob Ibrahim (right) at the exhibition at Kolam Ayer CC, along with Mrs Kiang-Koh Lai Lin, 64, who chairs the committee behind the book (below) and exhibition. With them is Mr Leong Sing Wee, 63, SG50 Kolam Ayer committee chairman.
Dr Yaacob Ibrahim at the exhibition at Kolam Ayer CC, along with Mrs Kiang-Koh Lai Lin, 64, who chairs the committee behind the book (above) and exhibition. With them is Mr Leong Sing Wee, 63, SG50 Kolam Ayer committee chairman.ST PHOTO: KUA CHEE SIONG

It is hard to imagine Kolam Ayer, a modern neighbourhood in Kallang today, as a swampland in the 1800s, inhabited by people who lived in sampan panjang, or long boats, and caught fish for food.

This piece of history is highlighted in a book and exhibition launched yesterday, which details the area's transformation. Also mentioned are the area's brickmaking kilns and sawmills in the late 19th century, and the National Aerated Water Company built in the 1930s, which manufactured popular soft drinks Kickapoo and Sinalco.

Dr Yaacob Ibrahim, an MP in Moulmein-Kallang GRC, said the Kolam Ayer Community Centre, where the launch was held, used to be a dumping ground.

The stretch of "stinky" Kallang River, which ran through the estate when he was a child, has since been cleaned up and turned into a recreational facility.

Dr Yaacob, who is also Minister for Communications and Information and Minister-in-charge of Muslim Affairs, likened the transformation of Kolam Ayer to that of Singapore - both made possible thanks to the efforts of Singapore's pioneers. "I think... we should be grateful for the efforts of our pioneers, especially Mr Lee Kuan Yew and our founding fathers," he said at the event attended by grassroots volunteers, residents and students. "They worked hard against the odds and from Aug 9, 1965, when nobody gave us a chance, they were able to turn this place into a miracle."

RECOGNISING PIONEERS' EFFORTS

I think... we should be grateful for the efforts of our pioneers, especially Mr Lee Kuan Yew and our founding fathers... They were able to turn this place into a miracle.

DR YAACOB IBRAHIM, MP for Moulmein-Kallang GRC

The book, with more than 200 pages, also features the estate's residents and grassroots volunteers, and will be available at public libraries, schools and government ministries.

The exhibition at Kolam Ayer CC, which also features artefacts such as a radio from the 1960s, will be up until the end of next year.

Mrs Kiang-Koh Lai Lin, who chairs the committee behind the book and exhibition, said: "We hope the exhibition is one that everyone can enjoy, and it will bring back their memories of the past."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 24, 2015, with the headline 'Kolam Ayer - from swampland to modern estate'. Print Edition | Subscribe