Pulau Ubin

Pulau Ubin, (Pulo Obin) island, located in the north-eastern coast of Singapore, with Selat Johore to the north and Serangoon Harbour to the south. Its name is derived from its original Malay name, Pulau Batu Jubin meaning "Island of Granite Stones". Granite quarries provided the initial draw for early local settlement as much of its granite was used for Singapore's early developments. Pulau Ubin will be developed into a nature and leisure island with all the amenities for a rustic holiday and an outdoor recreational retreat.

In 1825, exactly one year after Singapore was ceded to the British, Dr John Crawfurd the Resident, made an expedition trip around the island, Pulau Ubin or Obin as it was spelt, to take formal possession of it. On 4 August 1825, they landed in Pulo Obin, hoisted a British Flag there, and fired a 21-gun salute. The occupants then were a few local woodcutters who lived in huts. It is believed that a certain Encik Endun Senin who had been living along Kallang River, had initiated the major move for local settlers to the island in the 1880s. Chinese quarry workers soon followed. In 2000, there were 250 residents on the island most of whom were fishermen.

World War II
On the evening of 7 February, 1942, during World War II, the Japanese Army occupied Pulau Ubin; and the next day, began a heavy bombardment on Changi itself. The Changi fortress artillery replied with great intensity but with little effect, destroying only rubber trees on the island. Despite these actions the Japanese had no real intentions of landing in the east. It was a tactic merely to distract the British. That night the enemy made their assault across the narrowest part of the Johore Strait, and the standby defenders of Changi had to stand idle, while the Japanese rapidly breezed through, and gained a stranglehold on the western part of Singapore island.

The Serangoon Harbour seperates the island from the mainland. Shaped like a boomerang and covered with low hills, namely Bukit Tajam and Bukit Tinggi, this 1,000 ha island was named for the light-blue granite found on the island's seven granite hills. The granite of Ubin island has been used for many early developments in Singapore. Examples include the Horsburgh Lighthouse (1851) whose granite block walls were quarried and shaped at Pulau Ubin by Indian convicts, and the Singapore-Johore Causeway which was made with granite from the island along with granite found at Bukit Timah. Today the five disused quarries still exist and these are Aik Hwa Quarry, HDB Granite Quarry, RDC Quarry, Ubin Granite Quarry, while the Ho Man Choo Granite Quarry is used for Army training.

The rock cliffs on the island are ideal for abseiling in which climbers scale down rock faces with ropes. It has a large quarry about 10-storeys deep and one and half times the size of the East Coast Swimming Lagoon. The island with a secondary forest covering most of the western corner, was also renowned for the wild boar and deer that attracted tigers from Johore. The island's unspoilt territory was also for a long time ideal for camping and simple pleasures like walking and exploring. There are many Malay kampongs here with Pulau Ubin Village as the island's main centre. Wooden houses, duck ponds and stray chickens are common features of life there. The rustic village atmosphere encompassing granite quarries, coconut and rubber plantations, mangrove swamps, fish and prawn farms, and traditional fishing "kelongs" has served as an ideal recreational getaway for Singaporeans. Presently too, there are two privately owned Shrimp and Fish Farms, seven Chinese temples and eight shrines. Pulau Ubin is accessible by boat from Changi Point at Changi Creek (Sungei Changi) in Lorong Bekukong. Only a 10-minute ride by boat from Changi Point, a day on the island would be incomplete without a sumptuous meal at a seafood restaurant, and a visit to the colourful magnificent Thai Ma Chor temples by the seashore.

Nature & Environment
The endangered wildlife include the 'no more to be found' on mainland Singapore, the Buffy Fish-owl, the Red Jungle Fowl which run around freely, the Magpie Robin, and the Dugong (from Malay word duyong) a "whalelike sirenian mammal" which thrive in the tropical waters of the island. There are swamps in the central parts of the island, and Ubin possesses some of the most viable and extensive (maybe the last of) mangroves in Singapore. These fringing the northern and western shoreline, are vital source of food for the wildlife that the island harbours, especially migratory birds.

Future Plans
In 1988, developmental plans set for the future of Pulau Ubin showed the island becoming a nature park complete with trails, shelters, camping sites, chalets and other basic amenities. Much of its natural environment will be preserved with two new sites proposed for development in the 1990s for rustic holiday and outdoor recreation retreats to complement the existing National Police Cadet Corps (NPCC) campsites and the 257 ha Outward Bound School. An expressway road and a Mass Rapid Transit rail system linking the mainland is planned for after the year 2030. However, it is hoped that the island will retain its rustic charm as the last bastion of kampong Singapore, while it becomes a venue for sports and recreational activities, and be a 'fun-in-the-sun getaway' for Singaporeans.

One of the legends surrounding the island is that of a tale of three creatures, a pig, an elephant and frog who had challenged each other to reach Johor from the island. The last one there would be turned to stone. As it was, none of them made it. Pulau Ubin grew out of the elephant and the pig whilst Pulau Sekudu, otherwise translated as "Frog Island", came out of the petrified frog.

Variant Names
Malay name: Pulau Batu Jubin, refering to the granite stones believed to be more than 200 years old.
Chinese name: In Hokkien, Chioh-sua means "Stone hill".
Other names: In Javanese, according to Pierre Etienne Lazare Favre (1812-1887- Dictionnaire Javanais-Francais) ubin means "squared stone" a reference to the granite stones.

Vernon Cornelius-Takahama

Buckley, C. B. (1984). An anecdotal history of old times in Singapore: 1819-1867. Singapore: Oxford University Press.
(Call no.: RSING 959.57 BUC)

McNair, J. F. A . (1899). Prisoners their own warders (pp. 61-62) [Microfilm: NL 12115]. Westminster: A. Constable.
(Call no.: RCLOS 365.95957 MAC)

Probert, H A. (1970). History of Changi (p. 36). Singapore: Prison Industries in Changi Prison.
(Call no.: RCLOS 959.51 PRO)

Ramachandra, S. (1961). Singapore landmarks, past and present (pp. 22-23). Singapore: Eastern Universities Press.
(Call no.: RCLOS 959.57 RAM) 

Turnbull, C. M. (1989). A History of Singapore: 1819-1988 (p. 30). Singapore: Oxford University Press.
(Call no.: RSING 959.57 TUR)

Firmstone, H. W. (1905, February). Chinese names of streets and places in Singapore and the Malay Peninsula. Journal of the Straits Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society, 42, 154.
(Call no.: RSING 959.5 FIR-[IC])

Haughton, H. T. (1941). Names of Places. Journal of the Malayan Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society, 20, 80.
(Call no.: RCLOS 959.5 JMBRAS)

Atoll's history retold as myth. (2000, June 19). The Straits Times, Life!, Cover Story, p. 4. 

Wee, L. (2000, June 19). Ubin preserved. The Straits Times, Life!, Cover Story, p. 1.

Further Readings
Are Ubin's days numbered [Microfilm: NL 20346]. (1999, October 14). The Straits Times, p. 36.

Pulau Ubin may be developed into a recreation centre [Microfilm: NL 16218]. (1988, July 16). The Straits Times, p. 32.

The information in this article is valid as at 2001 and correct as far as we are able to ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.

Recreation>>Places of Interest
Streets and Places
Sports, recreation and travel>>Travel>>Asia>>Southeast Asia
Singapore offshore islands
Architecture and Landscape>>Streets and Places
1942-1945 Japanese occupation
Islands--Singapore--Ubin, Pulau
History>>Asia>>Southeast Asia>>Singapore
Geography>>Geographical Areas and Countries>>Singapore Offshore Islands
Places of interest
People and communities>>Social groups and communities
Events>>Historical Periods>>World War II and Japanese Occupation (1939-1945)

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