Photos offer peek at S'pore life in 1980s

Photos offer peek at S'pore life in 1980s

A tobacco plantation nestling in idyllic Pulau Tekong, and boatmen delivering charcoal at bustling Kampung Kayu near the mouth of the Geylang River.

These are some bygone scenes of kampung life in the 1980s captured by former civil servant Quek Tiong Swee, 67, in his private photograph collection.

Some 8,000 such images will soon be viewed by the public, after Mr Quek offered them to the National Heritage Board (NHB) for digitisation last month.

There are two categories - snapshots of Singapore's kampungs as well as of old streets and annual events such as the National Day Parade.

The first category sheds more light on settlements in rural areas of Singapore and the offshore islands, said Mr Alvin Tan, NHB group director of policy.

The "windfall" offer by Mr Quek can also reveal more about village life and trading then, Mr Tan said, as the number of photos of Kampung Kayu and the Malay kampung on Pulau Tekong in the National Archives of Singapore is limited.

The charcoal trade at Kampung Kayu, for instance, involved Indonesian and Burmese boatmen unloading charcoal pieces, some of which would fall into the river.

Armed with a trusty Shanghai Seagull camera, Mr Quek picked up photography when he was in his 30s. He would venture into areas about to be developed to chronicle life as "realistically as possible". These included sites such as Lorong Fatimah, which made way for the extension of the Customs Department at Woodlands in the mid-1980s.

Mr Quek said he decided to offer his photos after reading about NHB's documentation efforts at sites such as Bidadari cemetery.

The board is now digitising Mr Quek's collection and interviewing him to add details to the photos. Once completed, a copy of the collection will be deposited with the National Archives.

"We hope that more individuals will follow Mr Quek's example so that we can grow our repository of heritage materials and make them available to the general public," said Mr Tan.

Get a copy of The Straits Times or go to for more stories.

This website is best viewed using the latest versions of web browsers.