Category: Muar History & Story

A booming town with a fading past

Chong Chee Seong

Liu Ni Seng, 57, is a businessman and an active community leader.

BANDAR Maharani (literally Queen’s Town) in Muar is rapidly developing into a modern riverine city.

It is located in an 8km coastal belt that is bathed by the Sungai Muar and the Straits of Malacca.

Within the last 50 years, this “pensioners’ town” has become a jewel in northern Johor where visitors come to admire the beauty of the town, especially the clean and breezy Tanjung Emas.

Luxury properties are being developed such as the 17-storey Maharani City Tower, one of nine high-rise condominiums. There are also multi-million ringgit luxury terraced houses which the wealthy turn into holiday houses when they return home.

The town now boasts a RM1.6 million mini Roman Colosseum at Padang Niru near the Sultan Ismail bridge. With a neatly manicured lawn, the project is not to immortalise the cries of gladiators, but the joy and laughter of the coolies who worked at the jetty carrying goods from Chinese junks.

It serves as a green lung for the townsfolk where the air is being polluted by increasing traffic.

I commend the Muar Municipal Council for providing senior citizens with a place to jog.

Born in Muar and educated in a Chinese primary school in Panchor, Muar, I left my home to work in Singapore and returned 10 years later. I then started a business and settled down.

During those years, I learnt it has been the vision of many leaders, including Menteri Besar Datuk Abdul Ghani Othman, to develop the coastal belt.

He has fond memories of Sungai Muar from his schooldays when he studied at Muar High School.

Abdul Ghani said each time he crossed the river using the ferry, he envisioned the beauty of Bandar Maharani if the 8km coastal region, stretching from Tanjung Emas to Jalan Ismail, was transformed into a pedestrian walk.

I think Abdul Ghani’s vision is unlikely to become a reality.

The coastal belt is currently occupied by government buildings like the Royal Customs and Excise building with the first clock tower (built in 1909), the Sultan Abu Bakar building (1921), Masjid Jamek Sultan Ibrahim (1927) and the Johor Sultan’s palace and they cannot be demolished to make way for the riverine walk.

To me a positive step is to build a 2km walk. This will keep the heritage buildings and will enhance the town’s charm.

I regret that knowledge of local history during the Japanese occupation has declined among the younger generation.

Many are surprised when I tell them that the town’s landmark — the Muar Chiang Chuan Association building at Jalan Ali — was the Japanese Army’s headquarters during World War 2.

Hundreds of locals were taken prisoner, interrogated and sentenced to be executed. They were packed like sardines into trucks and sent to Parit Bakar Darat and Tanjung Ketapang to be beheaded.

The Japanese Army kept their food supplies in a storeroom at Jalan Ismail (near the present animal slaughter house) and the guards would shoot anyone on sight.

There are several roads in the town that bring back vivid memories. “Gluttony Street” (Tam Cha Kui at Jalan Haji Abu), has been serving up a feast for more than 70 years.

Jalan Bentayan and Sungai Bentayan was the site of the fort that withstood a Portuguese assault during the Malacca Sultanate. The history of the site is now a distant memory to all but a few.

However, the history of the oyster industry at Sungai Muar has been immortalised with the name Parit Tiram.

Many roads where industries thrived are slowly being forgotten like Jalan Abdullah (Mee Sua Street), Jalan Ismail (Kerosene Street), Jalan Sakih (Bullock-cart Street) and Jalan Datuk Haji Hassan (Stone Mason’s Street).

Only one blacksmith shop on Jalan Ali (Blacksmith’s Street) and a few Sikh families on Jalan Mohammadiah (Sikh Street) offer a glimpse into the past.

Category: Muar History & Story