Bukit Batok is an estate located in the west of Singapore. Bukit Batok in English literally means “Coughing Hill”. It is bounded by Upper Bukit Timah Road, Old Jurong Road to the east; Pan Island Expressway to the south; Bukit Batok Road to the west and Chua Chu Kang Road to the north.1 The land size for this area is approximately 1,104-hectares covering nine sub-zones – mainly Gombak, Hong Kah, Brickworks, Guilin, Hillview, Bukit Batok West, Bukit Batok Central, Bukit Batok East and Bukit Batok South.2 Bukit Batok today is a housing estate with public housing and a variety of private dwellings, industrial estates with all the necessary facilities and amenities.3
Bukit Batok was described as a sleepy, rural outback with undeveloped areas occupied by farmlands, villages, granite quarries, forest reserves and factories.4 There are many different versions concerning the origins of the name Bukit Batok but what is clear is that, according to the Malay language, bukit means “hill” and batok means “cough”. A possible explanation for being conferred the name batok was the cold air in the area that caused coughs and cold. There are several other explanations concerning the use of the term batok. According to one version which can be traced to the Javanese village chief in the tiny village of Gassing, coconut trees grew on the hills in this area, and hence the term batok, the Javanese term for “coconuts”. The Chinese interpretation says that the hills were of solid granite, and hence called batu, the Malay name for “stone” which had been mispronounced as bato and finally batok. However, another interpretation points to the blasting of the granite quarries, which sounded like as though the hills were “coughing”. Yet another version, argues that the hill resembled a skull top and batok could also be construed to mean skull top. However, these explanations are difficult to verify.5
A prominent landscape even back in the early days, the Bukit Batok Hill (present-day Bukit Batok Nature Reserve) was an area that stretched to the west of the Amoy Canning Corporation factory and the former site of the Poh Hin Granite Quarry. This hill was partly owned by the Hume Pipe Company.6 It was marked by two war memorials built by the Japanese forces during the Occupation. One of them was the Syonan Chureito, a Shinto shrine built by about 500 Australian prisoners-of-war in 1942 to commemorate the Japanese soldiers who died, and the other, the British Memorial Cross, a wooden cross which stood behind the shrine, was dedicated to the fallen Allied soldiers. Both were demolished in 1945 by the Japanese before the British returned. All that remains of the memorials today are two nondescript pillars standing at the foot of the hill. The 125 steps that once led up to the memorials still exist.7 Today, they lead to the new Bukit Batok Transmission Tower. Back in 1963, the original tower was Singapore’s first and only TV transmitting tower. The television broadcasting services was officially launched on 15 February 1963.8
The Bukit Batok Hill was also the site where sporting events, mainly the hill climbing competitions were held. Singapore’s first hill climbing contest since liberation was organised by the Singapore Motor Club. This event attracted some 40 competitors who took part in motorcar and motorcycle races. It was held on Sunday, 25 April 1948.9
As early as the 1950s, prominent factories that operated in Bukit Batok included the Hume Industries and the Ford Motor Works Factory along Upper Bukit Timah Road. It was also used as a military training ground and a site for granite quarrying activities; the most famous being the Poh Hin Granite Quarry.10
In the 1960s, the area was sparsely occupied with the bulk of its population living in squatters and temporary structures. These made way for a modern satellite town in the 1970s. A total of 1,872 flats for an initial population of about 10,000 were to be completed in two building phases by 1978.11 Subsequently, works on the public housing estate known as the Bukit Batok New Town began under the Housing and Development Board’s (HDB) five-year plan (1981−1985). The new town spanning a total of 750 hectares was to have four neighbourhoods comprising a total of 26,000 flats to house approximately 130,000 people.12
Besides the public housing initiatives, Bukit Batok also benefitted from the other efforts to improve public works such as the nation-wide drainage schemes in 1979, which cost $31 million to keep floods at bay floods in low-lying areas. The Pang Sua scheme called for the widening and deepening of the Pang Sua River that ran parallel to Woodlands Road for 14 km from Upper Bukit Timah Road to the Straits of Johore. The completion of this project alleviated flooding in the low-lying areas of Woodland Road, Upper Bukit Timah Road, Bukit Batok and Bukit Panjang.13 Bukit Batok has since developed into a self-contained new town with shopping centres, a driving centre, nature parks, clubhouses and an industrial park.14
Prominent landmarks include Bukit Batok Town Park spanning a land area of 36-hectare that features well-established secondary forests and “Little Guilin”,15 Bukit Batok MRT Train Station and Bus Interchange; and the former Ford Factory where the British surrender to the Japanese took place on 15 February 1942 during World War II.16
Vernon Cornelius-Takahama & Bonny Tan
1. Urban Redevelopment Authority (Singapore), Bukit Batok Planning Areas: Planning Report 1996 (Singapore: Urban Redevelopment Authority, 1996), 4. (Call no. RSING 711.4095957 SIN)
2. Urban Redevelopment Authority (Singapore), Bukit Batok Planning Areas, 6. 3. “New HDB Estate,” Business Times, 16 September 1981, 1; “Bukit Batok to Have 26,000 Flats,” Straits Times, 16 September 1981, 11 (From NewspaperSG); “Bukit Batok,” Housing & Development Board, accessed 3 August 2016.
4. Urban Redevelopment Authority (Singapore), Bukit Batok Planning Areas, 8; Our Home on the Hill: Bukit Batok 1998–2008 (Singapore: Bukit Batok Grassroots Organisation, 2008), 23. (Call no. RSING 307.76095957 OUR)
5. S. Ramachandra, Singapore Landmarks, Past and Present (Singapore: Eastern Universities Press, 1961), 25 (Call no. RCLOS 959.57 RAM); Victor R. Savage and Brenda S. A. Yeoh, Singapore Street Names: A Study of Toponymics (Singapore: Marshall Cavendish Editions, 2013), 50 (Call no. RSING 915.9570014 SAV-[TRA]); Our Home on the Hill, 23; “What’s in a Name?” Straits Times, 9 August 2005, 114. (From NewspaperSG)
6. “Hill Tests for Cars and Cycles,” Straits Times, 13 April 1948, 7. (From NewspaperSG)
7. Brenda Yeoh and Theresa Wong, Over Singapore 50 Years Ago: An Aerial View in the 1950s (Singapore: Editions Didier Miller in association with National Archives Singapore, 2007), 25 (Call no. RSING 779.995957 YEO); Lea Wee, “An Oasis of Peace and Tranquility,” Straits Times, 20 May 2001, 10. (From NewspaperSG); Ramachandra, Singapore Landmarks, Past and Present, 35.
8. Our Home on the Hill, 23; Judy Yong, “Raja: This Could Be a Start of Cultural, Social Revolution,” Straits Times, 16 February 1963, 1. (From NewspaperSG)
9. “Over 40 Competed in Hill Climb,” Straits Times, 26 April 1948, 8; “Hill Tests for Cars and Cycles.”
10. Urban Redevelopment Authority (Singapore), Bukit Batok Planning Areas, 8.
11. Urban Redevelopment Authority (Singapore), Bukit Batok Planning Areas, 8.
12. “Bukit Batok to Have 26,000 Flats”; “New HDB Estate.”
13. Joseph Yeo, “Two More Schemes Costing $31M to Keep Floods at Bay,” Straits Times, 28 January 1979, 3. (From NewspaperSG)
14. Housing & Development Board, “Bukit Batok.”
15. “A Guide to Bukit Batok Nature Park Walking Trail,” National Parks Board, accessed 3 August 2016; “Bukit Batok Town Park,” National Parks Board, accessed 10 August 2016.
16. “Ford Motor Factory Gazetted a National Monument,” Business Times, 8 February 2006, 10. (From NewspaperSG)
The information in this article is valid as at 2016 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.
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