In the early part of the twentieth century, Jurong was mainly coastal swamplands fed by many small rivers meandering through mangroves. Like many other parts of Singapore at that time, it was still a vast wilderness of jungle and wasteland with no metalled roads.
<<Before 1961, Jurong was a tangle of mangrove swamps, jungle, farms and small kampungs. It took people with real foresight to envision this area as an industrial estate.>>
Then, Jurong stretched from Tuas Village to the Jurong 10 mile stone, through Lokyang, Bulim to Hong Kah Village. The southern limits of Jurong included Pulau Semulun, Pulau Merimau, Pulau Persek and a number of other small islands. Closer to the coast were Tanjong Kling, Pulau Damat Luat and the South Wind Corner. The northern limits of Jurong reached out to Choa Chu Kang.
At that time, visitors to Jurong via Pasir Panjang Road and the old West Coast Road had to stop at Kampong Java Teban on the east bank of the Jurong River and cross the waterway by boat.
While there were no traffic jams at the time, travellers had to contend with the more awesome problem of crocodiles. It was not unusual to see 10 or 12 of these reptiles basking on the mud banks. Even today there are signboards in the Chinese Garden warning visitors to beware of crocodiles. This could be why the river was known as “Tai Nang Kang”, which in the Hokkien dialect roughly translates to “slaughter river”.
In 1929, public roads were built so that visitors could commute to Jurong via Bukit Timah Road. The population at this time consisted largely of Malay and Chinese fishermen who lived in kampongs along the waterfront.
During the Second World War from 1943 to 1945, Japanese army troops occupied the waterfront area in Jurong. They operated a sawmill in Jurong which supplied timber for their military fortifications. After the war, the sawmill site became an open-air cinema that was run by a relative of a local magnate, Joe David. He could very well have been responsible for the area being named Jurong.
One version has it that Mr David was commonly referred to by residents in the area as “Orang Jew” (Jew man) and the words could have become “Jew-Orang” and later shortened to “Jurong”.
The idea of having an industrial town in the south western part of Singapore was first mooted in 1952. Singapore’s first Finance Minister, Dr Goh Keng Swee is acknowledged as the prime mover behind Jurong’s industrial development. However, the man who implemented Dr Goh’s vision was the late Finance Minister, Mr Hon Sui Sen.
Jurong was selected as the site for Singapore’s first industrial estate. Many considered it a “lost region” but three good reasons made it an ideal site for industrialisation. Firstly, Jurong is located in the south western side of Singapore next to the sea. The waters there were deep – making it suitable for ocean-going vessels. Raw materials could thus be moved very quickly from ships to the nearby factories, and finished goods just as easily transported to the wharves for export. Secondly, the land was mostly rural and state-owned. This made it cheaper to acquire the land and the smaller number of residents meant relocation would be an easier task. Thirdly, levelling the land was also easier as the low hills around the area could be cut down to fill swamps and reclaim the land.
<<The industrialisation of Jurong had to be carefully planned so that a lot of greenery would still be retained>>
An area of 2,025 hectares was suggested at first for the new Jurong Industrial Estate. In June 1961, Dr Albert Winsemius, an economic expert from the United Nations Bureau of Technical Assistance, submitted his report on an Industrialization Programme for Singapore, and recommended 6,480 hectares. The Winsemius Report also proposed the setting up of an Economic Development Board (EDB) to develop the area and promote free-enterprise industry. The EDB was established in August 1961.
<<1961: Mr Hon Sui Sen (extreme left) explaining to Mr Lee Kuan Yew on the earthworks in progress from a hill in Jurong.>>
The foundation stone of the first factory in the project, the National Iron and Steel Mills, was laid by the Dr Goh on 1 September 1962. By the following year, 24 factories were granted pioneer status certificates which included benefits like protective levies and no tax.
Since then Jurong Town has grown into a booming industrial centre. On 1 June 1968, EDB passed on the task of planning, developing and managing industrial estates to Jurong Town Corporation (JTC).
<<1961: Dr Goh Keng Swee signs a pioneer certificate as Mr Hon Sui Sen looks on. On Mr Hon's left is Dr Albert Winsemius.>>
In the 1960s, Jurong was unofficially known as “no man’s land”?as all it consisted of were a few fishing villages, prawn farms and a lot of wasteland. There were no telephones, running water or electricity. It was not an attractive place to work in, much less to live in. Workers were reluctant to settle in Jurong and many preferred to be ferried here from their homes.
Soon on 1 April 1965, a toll gate was set up on the road to Jurong on Dr Goh’s order. It was to charge $50 a month for every bus or lorry carrying workers to Jurong. Unionists were angry and EDB officers were worried that the tactic might keep investors away.
Instead, employers began paying their employees a housing allowance to encourage them to live in Jurong. Dr Goh’s toll gate became instrumental in turning Jurong Industrial Estate into Jurong Town. Interestingly enough, no toll was ever collected.
As industrialisation began and Jurong Industrial Estate developed, the population in Jurong increased rapidly. In 1964, Taman Jurong was developed to cater to the fast growing population. At the same time, JTC stepped up its housing programme. After Taman Jurong, JTC developed a second neighbourhood – Boon Lay Garden. This was very quickly followed by a third, Teban Garden, and a fourth, Pandan.
Today, Jurong is a bustling, self-contained satellite town connected to the rest of Singapore by good roads and highways as well as the efficient Mass Rapid Transit (MRT) line. It boasts of a regional National Library, country clubs, a swimming complex with an Olympic-sized swimming pool, a sports stadium, shopping centres, community clubs, Housing Development Board (HDB) facilities and other conveniences.
Apart from these social and recreational amenities, Jurong also offers well-known attractions such as the Chinese Garden and the Japanese Garden, Jurong Park, Jurong BirdPark, Jurong Hill, the Science Centre, the Omnimax Theatre, the Crocodile Paradise and the Tang Dynasty City. There are also three golf and country clubs (Raffles, Fairway and Jurong Country Clubs) plus an international class marina, the Raffles Marina.