Love for Sabah stops British woman from going home


KOTA KINABALU: Love for Sabah could have been the ‘pull’ for 94-year-old Tina Rimmer to stay on in the state.

Born Christina Lewin in Dover, England in 1917, Rimmer arrived in Jesselton (now Kota Kinabalu), North Borneo in September 1949 to serve as the first woman education officer appointed by the British colonial government.

One of the main challenges that she initially faced was tackling the language barrier – Malay was the common communication medium. Resolute, she overcame the problem and soon was speaking the tongue albeit with her native accent.

She remembered having to do lots of walking in the course of her duties, covering distances on foot such as from Kota Belud to Ranau. “We had a pony but only to carry our things.”

In 1959, she relinquished her post after marrying Bert Rimmer and followed him to Lahad Datu. She became a teacher at Siew Ching Primary School and after that, at St Dominic’s School until 1974.

They later moved to Tamparuli and set up residence on a 2-hectare land atop a hill.

“The owner was a Eurasian police officer, Timothy Peters. When he died, his son decided to sell the land so we bought it,” she said.

Her husband died of cancer in 1984. They had no children and Rimmer stayed on in Tamparuli but some years later decided to leave and move to Kota Kinabalu. Returning to England was out of the question.

“I’ve been here almost all of my life. I am used to the life here. And I have many friends here, they are like family,” she said.

Barely a month after arriving in North Borneo, while staying at the Jesselton Government Rest House located behind the Atkinson Clock Tower, she sketched her first portrait of John, a young Chinese who worked at the rest house.

Later she befriended a police officer’s wife, Lucille Plunkett, also an artist and they decided to form a group to develop their style.

“We used to meet up at the Chinese Middle School (now known as KK High School) to draw,” she recalled. Rimmer remembered (Datuk) George Chin as one of the locals who joined them. Chin went on to become an architect.

Most of Rimmer’s drawings are about people.

“I would often go to the Tamparuli Tamu (bazaar) that’s held every Wednesday. I would draw one or two sketches (of the people’s activities) each time,” she recalled.

A collection of Rimmer’s paintings had been compiled and published as a book entitled, “The Tamparuli Tamu – A Sabah Market”.

Published in 1999, proceeds from the sale of the book went to the Sabah Society which sponsored it. In return, Rimmer gets life membership in the organisation.

She also paints animals – buffaloes, chickens, cats.

“They are very shapely things. Their movements are very amusing,” said Rimmer.

One of her drawings done in 1980 depicted buffaloes cooling themselves in the Tawau River.

In 1951, Rimmer created history when she together with Plunkett staged the first art exhibition ever to be held in the state, at All Saints School in Likas, near here.

She notched another ‘first’ by being the first artist and therefore first female artist as well to hold a solo exhibition at the Sabah Art Gallery when it opened in 1984.

To date she has produced more than 900 paintings, excluding sketches done as early as 1949.

“I have updated some of these sketches into paintings,” she said.

She tries to keep a record of her paintings including those sold or auctioned, in an exercise book.

“I cannot recall how many had been sold or auctioned. It’s all for charity. I don’t do it for the money.”

Among the beneficiaries were the Palliative Care Association and the Sabah Society.

However Rimmer does not allow foreigners to buy her paintings.

“I don’t want my paintings to go overseas. I want them to remain in the country because I feel that the people here should be able to see how it was back then. The paintings hold Sabah’s history,” she said.

Despite her age, Rimmer is still mentally, visually alert and physically steady, and moves around quite comfortably.

In fact she is a regular visitor at the Palliative Care Unit in Queen Elizabeth Hospital, going there from her home in Likas either by taxi or hitching a ride from friends.

And she is never without her box of drawing tools – why?. Because she has taken to drawing portraits of the patients.

“I get the permission of the family first before I would do a portrait,” she said.

Done in a matter of minutes, the portrait would be presented to the patient’s family. “I do it for them to keep as a memory of the last days of their loved one.”

She has done almost 500 portraits of patients. – Bernama