Before the eighties, Tuas Village was one of the westernmost points of Singapore. Made up of largely Chinese Teochew and Malay families, the bustling fishing village was said to have existed since the 1880s, founded by one of the pioneering gambier planters named Zheng Wan Bao.
Tuas Village was hardly accessible by land, reachable only via Jurong Road. The road, connecting to the 7th milestone of Bukit Timah Road more than 15km away, had been present since the mid-1930s, but, until the eighties, was a narrow and poorly lit dual-lane carriageway that was frequently bothered by traffic jams and motor accidents, especially after the official opening of Nanyang University in 1956 (the entrance road to Nanyang University was at Jurong Road 14½ milestone).
Along the long Jurong Road were many small villages such as Lokyang Village (Jurong Road 16th milestone), Huat Choe Village (14th milestone), Jurong Village (13½ milestone), Hong Kah Village (12th milestone), Kampong Ulu Jurong (12th milestone), Kampong Sungei Jurong (11th milestone), Kampong Ulu Pandan (10th milestone) and Ong Lee Village (10th milestone). Tuas Village, located at Jurong Road 18th milestone, was the farthest village in the west.
Jurong Road’s importance as the main route to west Singapore was gradually reduced after the construction of the western section of Pan-Island Expressway (PIE), running parallel to Jurong Road, in the late seventies.
Situated by the sea, Tuas Village naturally had several small rivers running around it, such as Sungei Tuas, Sungei Che Mat Gun and Sungei Piatu. Sungei Tuas had disappeared during the land reclamation, while the latter two became part of the Tengah Reservoir when it was dammed in the early eighties.
To the local Teochews and Hokkiens, Tuas Village was also known as zhap buay kok (十八块), a reference to its approximated location at Jurong Road 18th milestone (joo long zhap buay kok 裕廊十八块 in full). In Malay, the name Tuas was possibly evolved from menuas, referring to an old fishing method where Malay fishermen, after using coconut leaves and fishing nets to create floating shady traps, “hauled up” the catches. The Chinese name for Tuas was first directly translated into 都亚士, before changing to a modern 大士.
The fishing and prawn farming industries in Jurong thrived in the sixties, thanks to plenty of riverine areas and muddy beaches in the vicinity. Tuas as the bustling fishing village peaked in the seventies, with more than 200 fishing boats docked daily at the jetty to unload their catch for the fishing port and the nearby seafood eateries. But situated by the sea had its risks. For instance, in 1984, pirates lurked around the waters near Tuas Village, stealing several boats and outboard motors.
Temples and Churches
One of Tuas Village’s landmarks was its popular Tua Pek Kong Temple (named Tuas Pek Kong Keng). It was founded in 1944 by eight residents of Tuas Village, who sought divine protection for the village during the Japanese Occupation. The 2,000-odd families living at Tuas Village had been terrorised by the war that already seen 39 villagers killed. The place of worship soon became popular; its wayang attracted even the Japanese soldiers.
By the mid-fifties, the temple was upgraded from a modest attap hut to a brick-and-tile building. When the government acquired much of the lands at Tuas in the seventies for industrial development, many of the villagers were resettled at Boon Lay. In 1983, the Jurong Town Council granted a plot of land at Boon Lay Drive for the relocation of the Tua Pek Kong Temple. The temple was later opened in 1987 much to the delight of the former Tuas Village residents.
The Ma Cho Temple was another place of worship at Tuas that had a large following, especially the Chinese fishermen. It was dedicated to Mazu, the goddess of the sea whom the devotees believed would protect the fishermen and seafarers.
Beside the temples, there was also a Chapel of Fatima at Tuas Village. A simple wooden single-storey chapel, it was established in 1958 by Father Joachim Teng to cater for the Catholics living at Tuas. Italian priest Father Thomas di Pasquale was one of the early preachers at the chapel. The Catholic Welfare Services, in the mid-sixties, had also set up a welfare centre at Tuas Village to distribute rice and food to the needy, provide medical facilities and conduct useful courses such as sewing, domestic science and literacy.
Like many other kampongs in Singapore, Tuas Village in the sixties had been frequently bothered by water shortages and rations. The wooden houses, even though many had switched from attap roofs to zinc roofs after the war, were still prone to fire outbreaks. Life was simple but tough. To improve the life of the villagers, a community centre was opened at Tuas in 1960. Equipped with sports and reading facilities, it also occasionally screened movies arranged by the Ministry of Culture.
Many families, however, were impoverished. Hence, it was not unusual for a boy living at Tuas Village in the fifties and sixties to know how to catch mud crabs and monitor lizards to sell for extra incomes for the family. Dead corals washed up onto the muddy beach was useful and profitable too. Coral rocks, when mixed with water, could be used for painting walls white.
Not all children had the chance to study. For the large and less well-to-do families at Tuas Village, the priority in studying were often given to the boys rather than his sisters.
Among the schools in the old Jurong vicinity were Joo Koon Public School (公立裕群学校), Joo Hwa Public School (公立裕华学校), Sin Nan Public School (公立醒南学校) and Joo Long Public School (公立孺廊学校). Funded by the community leaders, businessmen and the residents, the schools were established in the 1930s to provide primary education, in Chinese medium, for the children living in the kampongs.
The public schools, like the villages, were built along Jurong Road. Joo Hwa was located at the 10th milestone of Jurong Road, whereas Sin Nan and Joo Long were established at Jurong Road 12th and 13½ milestone respectively. Joo Koon Public School, situated at 17½ milestone, was a short distance away from Tuas Village and therefore was the main school for the children living at Tuas.
The primary schools were halted during the Second World War, but were reopened and expanded after the war due to an increase in the population. Most of the rural schools were housed in simple single-storey buildings or shophouses, and had small classrooms and inadequate facilities. Sometimes the students had to make use of the village wayang as their temporary classroom.
The development of Jurong in the seventies and eighties had affected the rural schools; many were either shut down or relocated. Their names were also changed to the hanyu-pinyin format, due to the Speak Mandarin campaigns launched in the late seventies and early eighties.
In 1983, Joo Hwa Primary School (its name was changed from Joo Hwa Public School to Joo Hwa Primary School in 1981) was branded as Yuhua Primary School after its relocation to Jurong East. Joo Koon Public School, on the other hand, was closed in 1976 and was reopened in 1984 as Yuqun Primary School. However, due to declining enrolment of students, the two schools were merged in 2002 as the new Yuhua Primary School.
Sin Nam Public School was shut down at the end of 1987. In early 1988, a new primary school at Jurong West was opened. Named after Sin Nan, it was called Xingnan Primary School. Likewise, Joo Long Public School was shifted to a new premises at Jurong West in 1985 as the new Rulang Primary School.
The construction and opening of the Nanyang University in the fifties had brought life to the vicinity and offered opportunities to the villagers, who could earn additional incomes by providing the labours, domestic works and food. In the sixties and seventies, Tuas Village was popular among the groups of Nantah students, who would, after classes, take the bus from the university to the fishing village to feast on seafood and other local delights.
Several larger seafood restaurants sprung up at Tuas Village in the early seventies. Its image as a faraway fishing village had briefly transformed into a seafood haven. Food lovers would come from other parts of Singapore for the fresh seafood. They were well-received by the National Service (NS) personnel of the seventies too, who loved to dine at Tuas Village before bidding goodbye to the “civilised” world and booking-in to the camps that were situated at the western end of Singapore.
Jurong as Singapore’s new industrial town was the government’s most ambitious project in the sixties. As early as 1960, large plots of land at Choa Chu Kang, Tuas and Peng Kang were acquired. Swamps, forests, farms and plantations were cleared. Investors, local and foreign, were invited to set up mills, factories and manufacturing plants. By the early seventies, the industrial development had reached Tuas, and many residents were resettled at the new public housing estates.
As the Jurong Town Corporation’s (JTC) earth-moving machines made their way into Tuas, the fishermen, farmers and other villagers had no choice but to accept the government’s payments and move out. The shop owners at Jurong Road were offered alternate nearby locations to carry on their businesses, such as the new Boon Lay Shopping Centre, or the shops at Taman Jurong, Teban Gardens and Ulu Pandan housing estates.
By the mid-seventies, there were only three thousand plus residents at Tuas Village, a far cry from its 10,000-strong population in the late sixties. Many fishing boats could be found deserted at the jetty. Gone were the days when the jetty was overcrowded with boats filled with fish, waiting to be unloaded.
Tuas Village turned lively in the seventies when it became well-known as a seafood haven. The Tuas Seafood restaurants had enjoyed brisk businesses, but even that was short-lived. By 1978, it was clear that time was up for the seafood restaurants. Some struggled to hang on for another couple of years before their eventual forced closure or relocation.
Land reclamation projects at Tuas were started in the eighties. Before the land reclamation, Singapore had an approximate landsize of only 590 square kilometres. The first phase of the land reclamation, between 1984 and 1999, added some 10.2 square kilometres of land. The second phase, from 2000 to 2008, saw an increase of 19.1 square kilometres. Today, Singapore is about 719 square kilometres large.
Several large facilities have been built at Tuas. In late seventies, its $70-million shipyard was completed. The Tuas Incineration Plant, at a cost of $200 million, became operational in 1986, and in 1994, Tuas Naval Base was officially opened. For the next two decades, the Tuas Terminal will be developed to become Singapore’s megaport.
The rustic, carefree and idyllic Tuas of yesteryears had long vanished. Today, it is a vibrant industrial district. In the future, it will be a busy port that never sleeps. As for the most western part of Singapore, it was no longer Jurong Road 18th milestone. Instead, Tuas South Boulevard is currently the country’s westernmost road.
Published: 15 August 2016