Author’s speech at the book launch
It is lovely to see such a big crowd here today – thank you all for supporting the event and in particular to Geoff (Morris – MC) and Judith (Justice Prakash – GOH) for their introductions.
I am conscious that today is a book launch and not a talk about Bahau, so I hope that those who know less about it will have had the opportunity to go on one of the Friends of the Museum guided tours this evening – many thanks to our volunteer docents tonight: Cassie (Wait) and Peggy (Lee).
Apart from reading the book, if after tonight you want more information on Bahau, as I have in the past, I will in the future, be giving talks about my research into Bahau at various venues in coming months. If you are interested, please make sure you have put your name and contact details on the list and we will advise you of dates/times/venues nearer the time or you can check on my website for latest news.
So, today is really about how I came to find out about Bahau and why the book needed to be written.
My mother (Mary Alethea Dougal nee de Souza) died of cancer after only a relatively short illness 10 years ago – at that time, although I was aware of my Eurasian ancestry I had not delved deeper.
As a child, I remember my mother telling stories of living in the jungle; of elephants needing to scratch their backs and rubbing against houses which fell down. These stories were told in such a light hearted way that I did not for a moment consider the seriousness of what these stories represented and I now realise how well my grandparents protected my mother and her sisters from the truth.
It was only when, shortly after moving to Singapore in mid 2008, when I was taken to the Eurasian Association for the first time by my aunt and uncle visiting from Australia, that the truth of Bahau began to emerge.
First I met Therese Thompson (who you may have met/seen as you arrived), then Educational Assistant at the EA, who introduced me Dr Barry Pereira then Heritage Chair who had conducted early research into Bahau culminating in the Bahau exhibition opened in 2007 at the EA.
Over time, a shared interest in Bahau, led Therese, Barry and I to form an informal group with Geoff, and Paul Rodrigues, sadly not with us tonight as he is currently working in the UK, which we have come fondly to refer to as ‘Team Bahau”.
When I took a year off work in mid 2009, to research my family history, Barry asked me to incorporate Bahau into my research and so the Bahau mantle started to pass from Barry to me.
Since 2009 I have visited Perth and met many people who have contributed to my research. These have included
- Jock Oehlers and his wife Ursula, ex settlers who have been very supportive. They were due to represented here today by Jock’s nephew and his wife who sadly had to cancel at late notice.
- In addition there was Gwen Lange, nee Perry, who is represented here today by Mr Gordon Klassen, who shared a house with the Perry family in Bahau.
- And there was Joe Hogan represented today by various members of the extended Hogan family.
- And Mervyn Woulfe represented by his son and daughter
I also visited and spoke with people in Malaysia and the UK, and here in Singapore not only have I met people who live in Singapore but also many people from the US, New Zealand and Australia who have been visiting Singapore.
Tonight we have here in person,
- Cedric Monteiro and his son
- And Joe Conceicao and his grand nephew
- Thesie Angus and her daughter Maureen are represented by Thesie’s niece and daughter in law;
- Adrian Fernandez is represented by his wife;
- Robert Mitchell is represented by various members of his extended family.
- Aloyius de Souza is here
- And Jean Hogan, sister in law of Joe, is represented by her daughter
- Sadly Brian Bogaars, Rudy Mosbergen and members of the Grosse family who I have also spoken to are not able to be here today.
As my research grew, I began to realise, that whilst Bahau is often thought of as a Eurasian story, and yes, a vast part of that community was affected, they were only just over half of the settlers in Bahau and so began my quest into the larger Catholic story.
To this I am indebted to the orders of La Salle, Gabrielite, Redemptorist, Infant Jesus, Good Shepherd and Canossian who have shared with me diaries, manuscripts, memories and annals of members who were in Bahau. Most of these orders are represented here today and I thank you for your presence.
And once I had the religious angle, I realised the number of Chinese who were also in Bahau, mainly in the section of Mukim V, but as they were much larger section of Singapore society and were linked with other larger WW2 narratives such as Sook Ching and Endau, Bahau is rarely seem from a Chinese perspective.
So to develop this perspective, I am indebted to
- John Chua represented here today by his daughter;
- Sam Ong here with his daughter
- and the Tie/McTaggart family who have been in contact over the last few days from New Zealand and are here in spirit
I realise that the research into the Chinese in Bahau is only in its infancy and I hope that this book, will open discussion and bring more names and information forward in time.
In all in my research I have spoken to over 60 people connected to Bahau and as many have since past away, I am conscious that this is probably the final opportunity to delve so widely into the living memory of this period.
In addition to people I have spoken to, I have also accessed the diaries, memoirs, manuscripts, books, oral histories and anecdotal evidence of over 40 more who were there but whom I never had the opportunity to speak to. These include:
- my grandfather Herman Marie de Souza (Jnr) who is represented today by two daughters
- And let’s not forget other de Souza clans represented here today too
- Fred and Mona Alves are represented here by their son
- Luke and Flo de Souza are represented by a granddaughter
- Lulu & John Fitzpatrick and Pat de Souza are represented by nieces and a nephew
- the Richards and de Vries families are represented by various family members
- as are the Lazaroo and Trollope families;
- Joseph Desker is represented by his daughter
- As are Ray & Beryl O’Hara
- And William Ess
- Andrew and Albert Clark are represented by various family members
- As is Philip Marcus
I think it is important to recognise that never before have the families of so many ex settlers been together in one spot: I think we have 10 ex settlers here today and family members representing nearly 100 more. And since sending invites out for the launch, even more names of settlers have been brought to my attention who have not been included on the roll call, so I hope if you have family members not on my current list you have filled in one of the information sheets today so it their names can be added to later editions of the book, and I can update them on the website list straight away.
And so, six years of research have led to the culmination of this book. I have to say, when I got the book from the printers my first reaction was that it looked so unsubstantial compared to the copious amounts of research material I have compiled so I think my editor must have done a good job cutting out superfluous material!
But, those of you who read the Straits Times article on Sunday and are expecting lots of sensationalism might be disappointed, as this not a light read but a fairly in depth factual account covering many facets of the background to and life in Bahau.
Of course others, to whom I am grateful, have previously written their own stories, but what I hope I have done, is drawn together many perspectives and represented a more 360 degree view of Bahau. Some may read it and say it does not represent their memories, but I think the message is that Bahau covered an area of about 40 square miles separated by dense jungle, so people’s experiences were not uniform and I hope to have shown this.
But today is not just about one, but two books: those who know me well know that apart from my family, my three greatest passions are: history, reading and education and my second book is an embodiment of that.
As I researched and wrote my main book, the feeling to distil it into a form accessible for children, such as my own, grew stronger and in early 2012 I started pulling my ideas together and as they fell into place so Voices Under the Rising Sun came into being
Using three children, based loosely on my mother, her cousin and a young teenager in Bahau, I have tried to tell the story of how the lives of children were affected by the war telling the story from the different viewpoints through diaries and letters.
And to give an adult angle, I have included letters that my grandmother may have written, mainly to her sister in law who had been evacuated to the UK
All these these viewpoints are supported by other non fiction texts such as biographies (on slide, one shown of Mamouru Shinozaki) and instructions (on slide how to cook snails, based on a Bahau recipe shared with me by two Canossian nuns!)
And from an educational perspective, as well as developing historical deduction, all the texts are exemplars of their form of writing which I have often struggled to find to use in my own teaching and am now applying with my own students – some of whom are here today and I am grateful to them for reading and commenting on drafts of my book.
Beautifully illustrated by an artist, and family friend, Yolanda McKean who visited the region in 2012 and was inspired by my story to do her own pictorial representation, this book thrills me in its form, and whilst not with the detail of my main book, I think conjures a real feel for the events. I urge you if you have grandchildren, nephews and nieces, get them a copy and you will not be disappointed and many adults have enjoyed it too!
Now it just remains for me to thank a few people – I have had huge support from many people over the years and thanks and acknowledgments are in the book, and I don’t want to keep you here all night, but I do want to thank some people specifically for their contribution to the launch:
- the National Museum for allowing us to hold this launch here;
- staff at the Eurasian Association who have facilitated in arrangements for tonight;
- Judith Prakash who has kindly agreed to attend as Guest of Honour
- and family members who have flown in from overseas especially for the event:
- my father and sister
- my aunt Claire and her husband George (who first took me to the EA); my aunt Gillian and her husband John
- plus their cousin Mickey, the inspiration behind Charlie in my children’s book, who will also shortly be presenting the flag, and his wife Laurine
I would also like to acknowledge the support of the NHB who in supporting this project have in turn acknowledged the important part Bahau has played in the social history of Singapore.
And finally, I would like to acknowledge two people who have been instrumental in me getting here
- Dr Barry Pereira who sadly passed away in 2012 but without whom I would never have begun this project
- and Therese Thompson without whose support I would never have completed this project.
Thank you for coming, I hope you enjoy the rest of the evening.
15 October 2014