Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Tribute to Road Construction Workers of Yesteryears


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(Source : 1962 Sarawak Report)

In the early days of road construction in Sibu and especially the building of the Oya Road which took more than ten years,the people of Sibu were very excited with expectations. They considered it as the most important development of the town and even Sarawak. The folks would be aware of what was happening and how it was being constructed from the frequent news reports in the local papers and even radio news.

However life of the road construction workers was tough.

They lived in the makeshift wooden houses and suffered from shortage of water and even food.

However it was good that a few Iban workers had guns and they were able to go hunting for wild boar and other animals.

I remember an uncle , employed by the Public Works Department, who depended sometimes on his wife to send him some food supplies to make his working days better. His loving wife who had to take the motor launch from downriver,had cooked some angchow duck and prepared some salted pork for him. In those days they could only meet in Sibu once a month. But provisions could be sent through the PWD trucks if they made enquiries.

A fortnight later when he managed to come out of the jungle fully sun burnt and teary in the eyes. He was suffering from an eye infection and had to see a private doctor for immediate treatment. He told another one of my aunts that he did receive the goodies but because of the heat and the lack of refrigeration the angchow duck was spoilt the next day! He was very disappointed that he could not enjoy he duck which his loving wife had cooked. How bad was his fate!! Pitiful times. And in Foochow terms,"he had eaten too much of the dust." It was dust dust dust every where.

Finally after three years of hard work and hardship and days of eating dust and very little savings,he decided to return to his village to plant pepper. He prospered because he and his wife worked very hard. But he did not managed to live a long and full life. Today his wife continues to mourn his early passing.

I met up with one of the early Tanjong Lobang students William P (1950-1966) when I first came to Miri. He and his wife were associated with the construction of the Oya Road. They too told me of the hardship he suffered as a PWD employee. Life as a construction worker in the rural areas of Sarawak was lonely and lacking in the basic amenities. Their salaries were only $180.00 at that time. The daily paid workers received even less. Literally some of them had to eat grass if they did not get supplies from home. They survived on tinned food because there was so much dust around.

When we drive along the good roads today we have to remember that many early Sarawakians contributed to this development.

The photo I am showing looks comfortable though. But there are lots of stories behind it like deaths from accidents and heat stroke and even murders, mysterious deaths in the jungle when looking for food,etc. But definitely they suffered days of hardship and tribulations like any pioneers of the olden days.

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