In 2005, a group of academics and staff from various departments — known as the NUS Campus Green Committee — embarked on a mission to promote a cleaner and greener campus and a greater appreciation of the natural environment among the University community. Fast forward more than 10 years and a new book — Kent Ridge: An Untold Story — documents some of the fruits of these efforts. “We felt that the work should begin in NUS’ own backyard and to this end, proposed that a book on various lesser-known facets of Kent Ridge be put together,” said Dr Peck Thian Guan, the Director of NUS Safety, Health and Environment, who led the project.
Launched at NUS History’s 90th anniversary dinner on 22 February and part of the University’s Bicentennial celebrations, the book features contributions from various members of the NUS community, including NUS English Language and Literature Emeritus Professor Edwin Thumboo and NUS Biological Sciences Associate Professor Hugh Tan.
Meticulously researched and packed with photographs, illustrations and maps, Kent Ridge: An Untold Story delves into various aspects of the area — from its history, geology, human geography, flora and fauna, to its role in the World War II Battle of Singapore, and the development of the NUS Kent Ridge campus.
The multidisciplinary aspect of the book makes it a unique one, said Mr Peter Schoppert, Managing Director of NUS Press which published the book. Another highlight is the vivid picture it paints of life in Pasir Panjang just before and in the early days of NUS. “This really is one of the first ‘microhistories’ of Singapore that captures many aspects of a neighbourhood or particular landscape,” he elaborated.
Some interesting factoids hidden in the book include an introduction to the various animal species sheltered in Kent Ridge Park such as monitor lizards, cicadas, fruit bats and oriental whip snakes; the natural vegetation that covers the Ridge; and its historical significance in the battle on Opium Hill where Malay regiments held off the imperial Japanese forces in World War II.
“Perhaps just as historically significant as the battle on Opium Hill was the construction of the NUS campus on Kent Ridge. Construction work started soon after the ground-breaking ceremony on 25 March 1972 to develop 192 hectares of hilly ground into a campus for some 8,000 students. The development of NUS at Kent Ridge changed the landscape of Pasir Panjang and its environs, bringing further development and vibrancy. More importantly, it reshaped university education in Singapore,” commented Dr Peck.
As a child, Dr Peck remembers staying in a holiday bungalow in the area during the school vacations. “I remember the kampung (Malay for village) houses and coconut trees that lined Pasir Panjang Road and the smell of the sea in which I used to go swimming. That, alas, is no more,” he recounted in the book’s foreword. Directing the project was thus a special and memorable experience for him, allowing him to revisit childhood memories and learn more about a place that was so familiar to him.
“The book was lovingly written by a group of people who not only have a deep knowledge of these subjects, but also a passion for the Ridge. It is our hope that this passion rubs off on all those who read this book too,” said Dr Peck.
Kent Ridge: An Untold Story retails for $24 and is available in bookshops on campus, at Kinokuniya, Books Actually, or via the NUS Press website.