Category Archives: history

Troika of Exceptional Educators and Leaders

La Salle School Brickfields was blessed to have such personalities at the helm

Recently, there was a guest blog post by Denis Armstrong on my blog site that had a relatively simple heading: La Salle School, Brickfields, Kuala Lumpur. It was an incredibly nostalgic, interesting and factual sharing of the early days of this school and of that particular era in the days when the country was known as Malaya.

Denis Armstrong also shared some wonderful photographs from that era. These included photos of some of the pioneer teachers at the school as well as some photos of the school when it was first built in the fifties. That this then nondescript, small school could rise above its grim situation and become a school to reckon with is now the stuff of legends.

However, no history of La Salle Brickfields can be complete without some mention being made of the incredible troika of educators and outstanding leaders.

Overwhelming Response to the Blog Post

This blog post had an overwhelming, positive response. To date over 2,711 individuals have read that particular blog post. It is a clear indication of the great interest that many old boys and even residents of Brickfields have on the subject matter.

However, no history of La Salle Brickfields can be complete without some mention being made of the incredible troika of educators and outstanding leaders. These individuals gave so much of themselves in leading La Salle School Brickfields to much success not just in academic matters but also in sports, games, athletics and extra-mural activities.

The Troika

The troika consisted of Rev. Bro. Gaston, headmaster of La Salle Primary School 1, S. Ratnasingam, headmaster of La Salle Primary School 2 and Albert Rozario who succeeded Rev Bro Gaston as headmaster of the school. All three leaders have since passed on but they have collectively left behind, to their credit, a great legacy.

Group photo of teachers from the three schools

Group photo of teachers from the three schools: La Salle Brickfields Primary School 1, La Salle Brickfields Primary School 2 and La Salle  Brickfields Secondary School ( 1976 )

There are two more individuals who also contributed significantly to La Salle School being a success story. They are Denis Armstrong, the extraordinarily talented athletics coach and strict disciplinarian who later became the supervisor of La Salle Secondary School. The next person is L A Fernandez, an able administrator and a confident as well as a humourous public speaker who later succeeded S Ratnasingam as headmaster of the school.

  1. Ratnasingam – A Charismatic Leader

In a troika, all the three individuals are supposed to be of equal status. However, in my opinion, S. Ratnasingam, who always chose to wear a bowtie, was the undisputed leader of the pack. Ratnasingam, a Normal Class trained teacher had the vision, the drive and the will to unite all three schools. In this effort, the troika succeeded brilliantly.

Mr & Mrs S Ratnasingam

Mr & Mrs S Ratnasingam

At that time and even now, it is quite common to see the headmasters of schools sharing the same premises being unnecessarily petty and small minded. Instead of pooling resources and being prudent, these small minded individuals insist on being difficult and are overly bureaucratic.

With the troika firmly in place there was unity in purpose and much was achieved at La Salle Brickfields during that golden era.

To his everlasting credit, Ratnasingam generously made time to undertake other civic and community-related responsibilities willingly. He was no mere pen pusher or a laid back, stodgy bureaucrat. He was mainly responsible for building a new 2 storey block for La Salle Brickfields. By his actions and his approach, he stood head and shoulders over the other headmasters of his time by being a leader who could inspire his team.

Ratnasingam also served a stint as Boy Scout Commissioner for Kuala Lumpur. In addition, he made time to serve as an adviser to the Juvenile Court in Kuala Lumpur for a number of years.

S Ratnasingam as Commissioner of Kuala Lumpur Scouts

S Ratnasingam as Commissioner of Kuala Lumpur Scouts

In retirement, Ratnasingam stayed true to his DNA! He continued to contribute his time and effort behind the scenes to the Kuala Lumpur Befrienders.

Albert Rozario – A Leader with a Human Touch

Like S Ratnasingam, Albert Rozario was also a Normal Class trained teacher. Later on, he attended and successfully completed a year-long course at the Specialist Teachers’ Training Institute (STTI) in Cheras, Kuala Lumpur. He achieved a distinction grade in his field of specialisation i.e. Physical Education. Albert Rozario was also a good swimmer and a keen gymnast.

He had an affable personality and was pretty down to earth in his relationships with the teachers and admin staff. He also possessed a keen and sympathetic understanding of human nature and this was put to good use when he had to counsel a few individuals who had committed some malpractice.

Albert Rozario and Rev Bro Gaston

Albert Rozario and Rev Bro Gaston

Albert was also a talented administrator and a headmaster who readily supported his teachers’ efforts. He was also equally quick to recognise good performance. I can vouch for both – his strong support and due recognition during my 15 years of service at La Salle Brickfields.

Sometime in 1965, he successfully underwent a major operation, while at La Salle Brickfields, to remove an ailing kidney. He survived for more than 50 years with just one kidney.

Albert Rozario was married to a teacher, Mary who later became a headmistress at St Theresa’s Primary Convent, conveniently situated next door to La Salle Brickfields. They had eight children.

In view of his physical education qualifications and related abilities, he also served with considerable energy and enthusiasm for about three years as the Organiser for Physical Education at the Selangor Education Department.

One of his unique skills was his uncanny ability to get a teacher to undertake a difficult task. His approach was disarmingly unique: He would not summon you to meet him. Instead, he would casually accost you as you walked along the passageway to your class. As he reached you, he would put a friendly arm on your shoulder and then make the request – it was never an order or a directive. No one could ever turn down such a friendly approach!

Rev Bro Gaston – Good Rapid Writing Promoter

I remember meeting Rev Bro Gaston when I first reported for duty at La Salle Brickfields Secondary School in 1966. We exchanged pleasantries and indulged briefly in some small talk. However, over the years I, unfortunately, did not have much interaction with him.

Many old boys fondly remember this genial gentleman with a ready smile for introducing them to Good Rapid Writing – an activity forever associated with him.

Rev Bro Gaston was not very much involved in the day to day administration of the school, leaving that important task to his able senior assistant ( deputy headmaster ), Albert Rozario. But he was a familiar sight in his smart white robe along the corridors and classrooms of La Salle Brickfields – both the primary schools as well as the secondary school.

Many old boys fondly remember this genial gentleman with a ready smile for introducing them to Good Rapid Writing – an activity forever associated with him.

This was a mission of crucial importance to Rev Bro Gaston because he believed that good rapid writing was a much-needed skill that students needed to master.

He emphasised the formation of each alphabet in a smooth flowing movement. A former student and an education professional himself, Loh Kok Khuan described it as: speed, modernity and poetry in motion! Loh Kok Khuan also mentioned that some alphabets seemed to resemble rockets and racing cars and that those were the heady years when the US was aiming to land a man on the moon.

Rev Bro Gaston was the master trainer in this field and he went around the many classes teaching the skills with a passion that was contagious. To encourage and motivate the boys to take this training seriously, he organised competitions in good rapid writing from time to time.

The prize was a Parker pen – a quality pen in those days that many could not afford. Kok Khuan also revealed that a classmate who excelled in this good rapid writing and in the process won many Parker pens much to the chagrin of his fellow classmates is Chang Hoe Yoon. By some strange coincidence, Hoe Yoon subsequently qualified as an engineer and worked for a reputable regional airline.

Rev Bro Gaston was also responsible for promoting the Ukulele musical instrument.

He encouraged the boys to take up this small, four–stringed guitar-like musical instrument. For the record, the Ukulele was introduced from Portugal into the Hawaiian Islands in about 1879.

After his retirement, he returned to Canada. He was not in the best of health when S Ratnasingam decided to pay him a visit. He was overjoyed by this unexpected visit from an old colleague and dear friend and perked up considerably. Rev Bro Gaston even made a brief visit to Malaysia later.

La Salle Brickfields in Kuala Lumpur was indeed very fortunate to have had such visionary and caring leaders during those formative years before and after Malaya gained its independence. They may have moved on but the teachers and many old boys do have wonderful memories to treasure.

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Amazing Sikhs From Around the World

A Community that Punches above its Weight Class

Sikhs seem to possess an indomitable spirit and a desire to rise above their station in life. This is not just happening in India where most Sikhs live but throughout the world.

Members of the vibrant Sikh community in the United Kingdom, for instance, are taking their noble tradition of religious hospitality to one of the most inhospitable places on the planet.

This is a remarkable and edifying example of real caring, concern and sympathy for the downtrodden and it is manifested in this act of feeding the displaced individuals.

Just a mere five miles from the Syrian border, Sikh volunteers from Langar Aid are feeding about 14,000 refugees fleeing the civil war in that country. This is a remarkable and edifying example of real caring, concern and sympathy for the downtrodden and it is manifested in this act of feeding the displaced individuals.

Religious Hospitality at its Best

Langar Aid is an off-shoot of Khalsa Aid. Khalsa Aid is mainly funded by UK based Sikhs. Khalsa Aid was founded in 1999 in the UK.

In the not too recent past, Khalsa Aid, an international non-profit and relief organisation has also rendered much-needed assistance to displaced Kosovan refugees as well as provided earthquake relief in Turkey.

The answer lies, I believe, in the lofty Sikh principles of selfless service and universal love.

Selfless Service and Universal Love

Just what is it that motivates these Sikh volunteers from the UK to place themselves in harm’s way especially in a danger zone and render much-needed assistance to fellow human beings in distress?

The answer lies, I believe, in the lofty Sikh principles of selfless service and universal love. These are truly noble principles to live up to. It is relatively easy to talk or preach about selfless service and universal love but to actually live it in practice is altogether a different matter.

To carry out this humanitarian service, these committed volunteers have taken time out of work, education, family and other recreational pursuits to travel abroad and render assistance. These volunteers have truly demonstrated in a practical and inspiring way their utmost commitment to their religious principles.

Their selfless service, especially in such dangerous conditions, reminds me of that famous saying: ‘ Greater love than this no man has, than to lay down his life for another ‘.

Golden Temple in Amritsar

The Golden Temple in Amritsar, India –  the holiest shrine for Sikhs throughout the world, provides another telling example of this selfless service and universal love.

How many know, for instance, that nearly 100,000 people are fed on an average day at the Golden Temple? This free meal is not limited to only Sikhs but extended to individuals of every faith, colour and ethnicity who visit the temple.

This simple but nutritious meal, let me reiterate, is free for all who visit, not just Sikhs. Think for a moment about the sheer logistics and costs involved. This goes on day after day. Of course, those entering must observe certain respectful traditions before entering the Golden Temple.

Back here in Malaysia, I have been informed that a number of Western tourists on a shoestring budget have heard about the warm hospitality at Sikh temples in Malaysia. They go with confidence to a Sikh temple for a meal and also occasionally to spend a night there. They have to, of course, adhere to an appropriate code of conduct whilst spending the night within the temple compound.

Four Sikh Cabinet Ministers in Canada

Recently in Canada, the prime minister of that country appointed four Canadian Sikhs as cabinet ministers. These appointments made world headlines because they are serious, high-level positions in the government of Canada. It is also a clear demonstration that this is Canada’s most diverse cabinet. Canada leads the world, I believe, in truly embracing diversity in full measure. There is no lip service or tokenism here.

Harjit Sajjan, a former senior police officer and a veteran of three military deployments to Afghanistan was appointed Defense Minister. This is a senior position in the cabinet. It is no window dressing. Amarjeet Sohi was appointed Infrastructure Minister, Navdeep Bains, a business school professor was appointed Innovation, Science and Economic Development Minister and finally, a Sikh lady named Bardish Chaggar was named Small Business and Tourism Minister.

What some may not know is that there are an estimated 500, 000 Sikhs in Canada today. Sikhs first started moving to Canada more than 100 years ago. The appointment of not one but four ministers from this community is a clear sign that the Sikhs have integrated well into Canadian society.

By contrast, India has only two Sikh ministers. But then again, one must realise that Sikhs in India only constitute two percent of the population.

Sikhs in the Indian Army

Sikhs are by nature respectful, courageous, hardworking and enterprising. Does one realise that nowhere in the world can you find a Sikh beggar? This speaks volumes about the cohesion within the community.

There are no official statistics for the number of Sikhs in the Indian Army for obvious reasons. However, it is generally regarded to be in excess of twenty percent! There are also many senior Sikh officers from the ranks of colonel to general.

A Sikh, Manmohan Singh, a graduate from Oxford University has also served with distinction for a number of years as the prime minister of India.

Sikhs in Malaysia

The Sikhs constitute one of the many Indian groups in Malaysia. The biggest group of Indians in Malaysia come from the Tamil community. In the early days of Malaya, these Sikhs served in the Police force as well as in the Home Guard. The Home Guard was an earlier version of the Territorial Army.

The Sikhs were recruited to serve in these bodies because of their impressive size and build, towering figures and burly outlook, complete with moustache and beard that made them look fierce. However, they are also big, strong and friendly people if you take the trouble to get to know them. In the Army and Police force too, Sikhs have made great contributions.

Significant Contribution to the Professions

In the fifties and sixties, it was common to see a number of burly Sikh gentlemen serving as guards ( or jagas ) for banks and companies. These guards would sleep on charpoys beds in front of the buildings that they were protecting. The charpoy is basically four wooden legs supporting an open, rectangular structure that is filled with intricately woven network of ropes or chords.

Other economically and socially disadvantaged Sikhs took to goat herding or rearing cows for their milk. The Sikh would then peddle a bicycle with a milk tank on the back and sell the milk to a regular list of homes in the area. Some of these Sikhs also got into the informal but lucrative money lending business.

Lion of Jelutong

Through sheer dint of hard work, discipline and a desire to improve their lot, many of these families provided a disproportionately high number of well known medical doctors/specialists, engineers, lawyers, academics and other professionals.

Easily one of the more well known, highly regarded and respected Sikhs in Malaysia is the late Karpal Singh.  He was regarded as a brilliant and fearless criminal lawyer and many did seek out his services. He was also a committed Member of Parliament, a lawmaker of repute, and a righteous fighter for the underdog.

You can now probably understand why I stated that the Sikhs certainly do punch above their weight class and they do so with style and flair.

Red Rose of Petra Truly Rocks!

A Magnificent Jewel among Jordan’s Tourist Sites

I visited this amazing site during my two day trip to Amman, the capital of Jordan recently. It was a long, tedious four-hour drive from Amman in a not so comfortable tourist bus which had seen better days. But it was well worth the visit.

Petra city is the capital of the Nabataeans. The city was built more than two thousand years ago in the heart of the Shara Mountains! It thrived in the first centuries BC and AD and was a vital link of a major trading area connecting ancient Mesopotamia and Egypt.

It is no wonder that Petra has gained UNESCO World Heritage Site status as a result.

Trade then was mainly in frankincense, myrrh and spices. It was later annexed by the Roman Empire. Much of the city was destroyed in a major earthquake in 363 AD. It appears to have been largely deserted and abandoned partly because of a change in trade routes too.

Rediscovered by a Swiss Explorer

Thanks to the persistence, skill and cunning of a Swiss explorer named Johannes Burckhardt this wonderful place was rediscovered in 1812. Johannes dressed up as an Arab and convinced his Bedouin guide to take him to the lost city.

As a result of this rediscovery, Petra became increasingly known in the West as a fascinating city. It also began attracting visitors in large numbers.

Gains UNESCO World Heritage Site Status

It is no wonder that Petra has gained UNESCO World Heritage Site status as a result.Like the famous Angkor Wat temples in Siem Reap, Cambodia and the equally famous Borobudur Temple Compound and Prambanan Temple in Yogyakarta, Indonesia, the Red Rose of Petra is a most worthy recipient of this prestigious award.

No mere description, photographs or even a video recording of this site can do justice to the wonder and glory of the Red Rose of Petra. In Petra, you actually get to see and marvel at great natural, cultural, archaeological and geological features that truly merge in an awesome display of nature and human habitation at its best.

Why is it called the Red Rose?

It gets this name from the wonderful colour of the rock. I was informed that the many impressive sandstone mountains in that area contain iron and that also partly explains the colour.

Many of the city’s structures were carved from these impressive sandstone mountains. The same mountains also contained intricate tombs that were cut out of the mountainsides. The Nabataeans buried their nobility in these tombs.

Discovering Petra

After a four-hour journey, I finally arrived at the site. I saw a large, well-planned visitor centre with all the modern conveniences that are needed to make this walking tour a reality.

There are fast food outlets, restaurants, shops selling souvenirs, and more than adequate, clean toilet facilities. For those not so inclined to walking all the way through the various trails, they had the option of taking a horse ride ( part of the way only ) or a horse-drawn carriage all the way to the main attraction i.e. the Treasury.

Petra_TheTreasury
The Treasury

The Treasury, Petra’s most magnificent facade soars almost 40 metres high and is intricately decorated with Corinthian capitals, friezes, figures and more. The Treasury is crowned by a funerary urn, which according to local legend conceals a pharaoh’s treasure. No such treasure, however, was ever found.

Leisurely Walk Along the Trails

I was with a group of fifteen other Malaysian men and women and all of us chose to walk down the gently sloping trails to the Treasury. It was a cool afternoon when we began the 2 km walk and as we walked we were gently cooled and caressed by breezes that kept us comfortable.

We were advised by our experienced tour guide not to choose the horse-drawn carriage because it could turn out to be quite an uncomfortable and bumpy ride. Those with back problems especially had to be very careful.

Amazing Sights to Behold

The sights along the way were mesmerising, to say the least. The beauty, majesty and grandeur of those glorious sandstone mountains were a sight to behold. Over time, mother nature ( wind, rain, snow and earthquakes ) had taken turns to wear down portions of the rock.

In one particular place, as we passed, we could make out the side profile of a fish! As we passed that rock and turned back to look at it again, we could clearly make out an elephant with its trunk! At other areas, we could make out shepherds and even camels but nature had exacted its toll.

The Incredible Siq

Petra_TheSiq
The Siq

This is a narrow gorge that leads visitors into Petra. The Siq actually resulted from a natural splitting of the mountain. A triumphal arch once spanned the entrance to it.

Two water channels run along both rock sides. What an amazing piece of imagination to have constructed such a water conduit those many, many years ago. It also presents a dramatic entryway into Petra.

Good Workout and Great Time

The walk back was a lot different.

Most of it was pretty easy going except for the few hilly portions. I could feel the perspiration on the back of my neck. But all of us in our group, including a senior lady who had knee surgery on both knees and who had the use of a hiking stick to ease the walking process, made it back with relative ease.

A seasoned traveller in my group informed me later that evening that the apps on his smartphone showed that he had taken a total of 11660 steps in all. Not bad for a pleasant and enjoyable afternoon workout.

Some Other Relevant Matters

Part of the trail we took was paved with limestone slabs from the time of the Roman annexation. These were meant to enable the Romans to drive their horse-drawn carriages over them. Over time, these limestone slabs had turned quite smooth.

Petra_TheCollannadedStreet
The Collannaded Street

We also had to put up with the smell of fresh horse dung which was liberally excreted all along the way. But the good thing is that there were workers around at certain sections to sweep these droppings. So we had to be careful and watch where we put our foot all along the way.

The other matter that annoyed me was that the horse-drawn carriages were using the same trial as the walkers. There was no separate trail for us. From a safety angle, this was bad because the drivers of the carriages were all out for the dollars and so they drove the carriages at speed.

Sometimes, they rudely shouted out warnings for us to keep out of their way.  In such circumstances, accidents are just waiting to happen. I do hope the Jordanian tourism authorities will look into the matter and make it safe for the walkers.

Interesting Observations

Petra_BenJordanMorais
Ben Jordan Morais

Throughout our bus journey to Petra and also while cruising around in the city of Amman, I did not see a single motorbike. I checked with our guide Talal and he informed me that the government had some five years ago allowed for the importation of motorbikes but somehow it did not seem to have taken off.

There were no signs of the usual Honda, Yamaha or Suzuki small bikes nor of any big Harley Davidsons! Coming from S. E. Asia and especially in countries like Vietnam, Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia, this was a pleasant surprise for me.

I would also like to commend the motorcar, bus and truck drivers of Jordan who seem to be very level-headed and responsible. Throughout the four hour journey to Petra and even in Amman itself, everyone seemed to drive in a responsible and careful manner.

There was absolutely no speeding on the highway and likewise, there was none of the recklessness you see on Malaysian roads and highways. I did not expect to witness such self-discipline by vehicle drivers in Jordan. But there were, however, some instances of double parking in the city.

Gandhi’s Tryst with Destiny

and His Immense Contribution to Mankind

One hundred and forty-eight years ago, Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi was born on 2 October 1869 at Porbandar in the present day Indian state of Gujarat. Gandhi was often referred to and better known as Mahatma, meaning ‘ Great Soul ‘ in Sanskrit.

This term of endearment and high respect was first applied to him by that equally famous Nobel Prize winner and the first Asian to be awarded that prize in Literature, Rabindranath Tagore.

Gandhi was destined for success in the conventional sense.  But his tryst with destiny delivered a huge success of another kind. Gandhi is not only an iconic figure in India, he is also highly respected all over the world. His father was chief minister of Porbandar and other states in Western India. At age 19, Gandhi was sent to London to read law. He was subsequently called to the English Bar in June 1891 at the Honourable Society of the Inner Temple.

Sent To South Africa

He returned to India to set up a law practice in Bombay but met with little success. That led him to accept a position with an Indian firm that sent him to its office in South Africa. He was to stay in South Africa for nearly 20 years.

Gandhi used to dress well and carried out his work and struggles with dignity and decorum. He was, however, appalled by the discrimination he experienced as an Indian immigrant in South Africa. In one instance, although he had a valid ticket for a journey in a train in South Africa, he was rudely and unceremoniously thrown out of the train.

Unjust Measures and Policies

After witnessing racism, prejudice and injustice to Indians and other coloured people, Gandhi was determined to fight apartheid through passive resistance. When he returned to India, he was highly critical of the unjust measures and policies of the colonial authorities. His passive resistance involved non – violent protests, civil disobedience and symbolic acts to register the displeasure of Indians.

His bold and unusual actions against the British galvanised the Indian masses and he attained a revered status. He deliberately discarded his western attire i.e. suits and took to wearing khadi –homespun and home-woven cotton clothing all the time. The image of Gandhi clothed simply in a loincloth and plying a spinning wheel is all too familiar around the world. Even on a visit to London, that was his choice of clothing!

Churchill and Gandhi

Winston Churchill, a former British prime minister well known for his war-time role in marshalling the citizens against their enemies, however, did not like Gandhi and made that crystal clear.

This is one of his infamous quotes: ‘ It is alarming and also nauseating to see Mr Gandhi, a seditious Middle Temple (he got that wrong) lawyer, now posing as a fakir of a type well known in the East, striding half-naked up the steps of the viceregal palace, while he is still organising and conducting a defiant campaign of civil disobedience, to parley on equal terms with the representative of the king-emperor’.

For Gandhi, simplicity was a way of life! Symbolism also mattered.

Passive Resistance and Civil Disobedience

Gandhi was involved in protesting Britain’s Salt Acts. Gandhi planned a new campaign that entailed a 240 mile march to the Arabian Sea where he could collect salt in symbolic defiance of the government monopoly. This march sparked similar protests and mass civil disobedience all over India. Over 60,000 Indians including Gandhi were jailed.

In 1942, Gandhi launched the ‘ Quit India ‘ movement that called for the immediate British withdrawal from the country. India gained its independence five years later in 1947.

Inspired Movements for Civil Rights and Freedom

Gandhi’s selfless actions and steadfastness in following through on the struggle was truly inspiring. In that manner, he was to inspire movements for civil rights and freedom across the world.

The great Nelson Mandela was a true admirer of Mahatma Gandhi. He was particularly impressed by Gandhi’s philosophy of satyagraha and non –violent civil disobedience. Satyagraha actually means ‘ insistence on truth ‘ or if you like ‘ loyalty to truth ‘ as part and parcel of his effective passive resistance movement.

As president of the newly emerging rainbow nation, Mandela chose to forgive the past misdeeds of the oppressors. Mandela also chose to actively seek reconciliation in moving forward as a united nation. Such was this iconic figure’s magnanimity!

Another notable figure from history who strictly adhered to Gandhi’s philosophy of non – violence is Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

In 1955, he began his struggle to persuade the US government to declare the policy of racial discrimination in the southern states unlawful. The racists responded with violence to the black people’s non-violent initiatives. The police in these states wielded batons ruthlessly and even used fierce dogs to frighten the protestors. Some in his group wanted to retaliate but Rev. Dr. King stood firm. The bus boycott, for instance, lasted 382 days. On December 21, 1956 the Supreme Court of the United States declared, as unconstitutional, the laws requiring segregation on buses.

A third influential figure is Diasaku Ikeda, president of Soka Gakkai International.  Daisaku Ikeda is a peace builder, a Buddhist philosopher, educator, author and poet. He is the third president of Soka Gakkai, a lay Buddhist organisation in Japan and founder of several institutions promoting peace, culture and education. He has dedicated himself to bolstering the foundations of a lasting culture of peace. He is a strong proponent of dialogue as the foundation of peace. A core focus of Ikeda’s peace activities has been the goal of nuclear disarmament.

Mahatma Gandhi, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Nelson Mandela and Daisaku Ikeda are four men from different cultures and continents who have followed a common path. They chose the path of profound dedication and achievement in improving the lives of all people.

Some Profound Quotes

Here are some telling quotes that reveal the thinking and philosophy of these great men. Do take a moment to ponder and reflect on these quotes because they reveal the humanity that guided them even during a troubled and difficult period.

‘ In the moment of our trial and our triumph, let me declare my faith. I believe in loving my enemies ‘ – Mahatma Gandhi

‘ On the one hand I must attempt to change the soul of individuals so that societies may be changed. On the other, I must attempt to change the societies so that the individual soul will have a chance ‘ – Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

‘ A great human revolution in just a single individual will help to achieve a change in the destiny of a society, and further, will enable a change in the destiny of humankind ‘ – Daisaku Ikeda

‘ When I walked out of prison, that was my mission – to liberate the oppressed and the oppressor both ‘ – Nelson Mandela

Gandhi Identifies with Uncanny Accuracy 7 Deadly Social Sins

In concluding, let me share with you the great Mahatma’s uncanny ability to identify 7 deadly sins plaguing our societies today. These are worth pondering over and deserve deep reflection and then, action on our part.

The havoc and mayhem caused by these deadly sins are taking a heavy toll in countries all over the world. Let me be clear: not just in the developing countries but also in the developed countries.

Deadly Sins

Wealth without Work

Pleasure without Conscience

Knowledge without Character

Commerce without Morality

Science without Humanity

Worship without Sacrifice

and

Politics without Principle

 

I acknowledge with gratitude that some of this information was obtained from the souvenir programme provided by the Gandhi Memorial Trust Malaysia on 2 October, 2017 at the Royal Lake Club in Kuala Lumpur.

 

RAAF Base at Butterworth’s Historic and Supportive Role

Lest we easily forget

Many young Malaysians may be unaware of the important and defining role played by the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) and its gallant airmen in Malaya, and later, Malaysia. When we progress as a nation and a people, it is always ever so crucial to know who were there to support and defend us when danger loomed on the horizon. In that respect, Malaysians should never forget the valuable services and sacrifices of the RAAF and its brave airmen.

What is the background to the involvement of the RAAF in this part of the world?

Only One Permanent Base Overseas

It is most interesting to know that the RAAF had an association stretching back to 1941! The RAAF Base in Butterworth was then used for care and maintenance purposes. The RAAF at some point during that period was the fourth largest air force in the world. Although the RAAF had some units based overseas, it had only one permanent base outside of Australia.

Butterworth in North Seberang Perai ( formerly known as Province Wellesley ) and within the state of Penang was chosen as the site for the RAAF Base. Although it was initially under the British, it was handed over to the Australians who managed the base. Later on, after we gained independence as a nation in 1957, it was technically jointly managed by both the RAAF and the Royal Malaysian Air Force (RMAF).

Butterworth had a population of some 11,000 residents in 1910, and a century later, its population swelled to some 800,000 plus residents.

Commonwealth Strategic Reserve

In the mid-1950s, Britain, Australia and New Zealand agreed to set up a Commonwealth Strategic Reserve in Malaya. The primary purpose of this Strategic Reserve was for countering a growing and menacing Communist threat in South East Asia. The prevailing theory pedalled at that time was the Domino Effect.  It was the assumption, for instance, that if Thailand fell, then soon Malaysia and Singapore too would fall to the Communists.

Initially, the RAAF Base in Butterworth had two squadrons of Sabre jet fighters, a squadron of Canberra tactical bombers and reconnaissance aircraft and a flight of Dakota transport aircraft. The RAAF Base commenced operations in June 1958.

At its peak strength during the 1970s, it had 1200 Australian personnel together with their families living on the island of Penang as well as in Butterworth. The RAAF Base, in addition, also employed another 1000 local Malay, Chinese and Indian support staff.

Extended Support during the Vietnam War

Unknown to most Malaysians at that time, the RAAF Base in Butterworth played a behind the scenes role in supporting a squadron that was deployed to Ubon, Thailand. The squadron played a pivotal role there along with medical and transport facilities during the Vietnam War.

Some senior citizens may well remember Harold Holt, the Australian prime minister at that time. Harold Holt gave tremendous, unstinting support to Lyndon Baines Johnson during the Vietnam War. Lyndon Johnson was then president of the United States.  What was Harold Holt’s infamous quote: ‘ All the way with LBJ ‘. Harold Holt later disappeared mysteriously when he went for a routine swim at a beach. His body was never found.

Crucial Role in Defending Malaysia

When Malaysia was formed with the merger of Malaya, Singapore, Sabah and Sarawak, the then fiery Indonesian president, made his displeasure and opposition to the idea publicly known. President Sukarno announced a Crush Malaysia campaign and proclaimed a period of Confrontation.

It was certainly a tense period for the new nation and things got much worse when over 100 plus Indonesian paratroopers were dropped into the state of Johor at the southern tip of peninsula Malaya. Thankfully, they were quickly rounded up.

The base, as such, was especially crucial between 1963 and 1966 during the period of Confrontation. The RAAF Base in Butterworth became the headquarters of the Integrated Air Defence System under the Five Power Defence Agreement. Its main role was to provide air defence for Singapore and Malaysia.

Australia’s Single Biggest Engagement with Asia

The RAAF Base in Butterworth was, without doubt, Australia’s single biggest engagement with Asia. Most young Malaysians may not know about this chapter in our infancy as a nation. But they should know and appreciate it because it is easy to gloss over, pretend otherwise and forget such matters.

The RAAF Base in Butterworth existed from 1955 to 1988. During that thirty-three year period over 50,000 Australians were based there together with their families.

It was Australia’s single biggest engagement with Asia.

Integrated Well with the Local Population

To their credit, the Australian airmen and their families integrated very well with Malaysians of all walks of life. I remember meeting a few of them in the mid-sixties mainly at social gatherings in Penang while I was training to be a certified teacher at St Joseph’s Training College ( STJC ), a La Salle institution in Pulau Tikus, Penang.

They were humble, friendly, socially adept and helpful. In that process, these Australians contributed to the rich, local social fabric of Penang society at that time.  To add to that unique cultural melting pot, we also had a steady infusion of lovely, young and fashionable Thai lasses from Bangkok and Phuket who trooped to Penang for classes in typewriting, stenography and secretarial studies.

George Town, Penang and Adelaide, South Australia: Sister Cities

Australia became increasingly connected to Asia and particularly to Penang and Malaysia I believe, to a great measure, because of their presence and contribution through the RAAF for over those thirty-three years.

It is still quite common to see many Australian families holidaying in Penang. For some, it is like a yearly pilgrimage to Shangri La, both literally and otherwise. For good measure, there are three well-known high-class Shangri-La hotel properties in Penang, two in Batu Feringgi and one in George Town.

In February 1973, the city of Adelaide, on the advice of the charismatic and forward thinking Don Dunstan (then premier of South Australia) proposed the establishment of a sister city (or twin cities) relationship with George Town, Penang.  Don Dunstan, you may be interested to know, actually married a Malaysian journalist named Adele Koh who hailed from Penang.

In December the same year, Dr Lim Chong Eu, a long-serving chief minister of Penang signed a sealed scroll attesting to this sister city arrangement. The sister city relationship has resulted in many enjoyable yearly programmes being hosted in both cities much to the satisfaction of the citizens.

Social History of RAAF Butterworth Base

KampongAustraliaBookDr. Mathew Radcliffe recently completed a fascinating social history of the RAAF Butterworth Base.

I am no historian but if what little I have shared has whetted your appetite for more on this unique history and contribution, do get his book, ‘Kampong Australia‘ which was published recently. (Read the Sydney Morning Herald review of the book).

Mathew was incidentally born at the RAAF Base in Butterworth and served in the RAAF for seven years.

He later went to university and completed a BA majoring in history before earning a Ph.D from Macquarie University.

Lest We Easily Forget

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