History through a retiree’s lenses

NOSTALGIA: The large crowd at the old Kuching Airport during its opening and open day on Sept 26, 1950. — Photos by Joseph Aloysius Kuek

RETIRED education officer Joseph Aloysius Kuek may not be a storyteller by profession but his historical photos taken over the years speak a thousand words.

The octogenarian’s interest in photography started when he was still in school back in 1946.

“One of my elder brothers took photographs and processed them himself. That gave me the interest to follow in his footsteps. Coincidentally, I have another brother who owns photography shops and that was where I learned the ropes of a cameraman,” the 82-year-old enthused.

Kuek’s first camera was a Baby Brownie which used 127-size films, and after getting quite good at taking pictures, he tried his hands at developing films and printing photos.

“During the old days, most of my salary was spent on photography. From that Baby Brownie, I graduated to better cameras like Leica and Rolleiflex. I still keep a few of them as souvenirs,” he said.

For the old-timer, taking historical photographs was a way to record significant moments of the past so that one day, they can be used as historical records.

The retiree is ready to share his collection of historical snapshots. In his 65-year involvement with photography, he has taken many pictures of historic events and places in Kuching, Mukah and Bau, capturing interesting happenings of a bygone age at these places.

One of his photos shows a large crowd at the opening and open day of Kuching Airport on Sept 26, 1950.

He also captured a formation flypast by the Royal Air Force Lancaster bombers, and the dropping of supplies by a twin-engine aircraft to the Sarawak Field Force during a practice operation by the side of the runway in conjunction with the Kuching Airport opening.

“It was a joyous day for the locals because the air transport facility was made available to them. I photographed the old Kuching Airport with only the control tower.

“That was the very first airport structure in the state back then and as time passed, the upper part was rebuilt and the ground level also extended. The old airport is now used by the Royal Malaysian Air Force,” Kuek said.

Photography aside, his career as an educationist started in 1949 when he graduated from St Joseph’s School and subsequently joined Batu Lintang Training Centre and School.

“At that time, both were joined together. The Training Centre would train aspiring teachers while the School would educate selected bright lower primary students from all over the state for further education until Sarawak Junior Certificate level. The School was closed in 1958 when more government schools were built all over the state.

“The whole idea of starting the School was to train the brighter students and later absorb them into the Teacher’s Training Centre. The Centre had produced people such as former State Secretary, the late Abang Yusuf Puteh, Datuk Seri Daniel Tajem, Deputy Chief Minister Datuk Patinggi Tan Sri Alfred Jabu Numpang and several other ministers.

“Several students from Brunei were also trained at the School such as former Acting Chief Minister, Minister of Education and Minister of Communications, Pehin Orang Kaya Laila Wijaya Dato Seri Setia Haji Abdul Aziz; former Minister of Communications, Pehin Orang Kaya Amar Pahlawan Dato Seri Setia Haji Zakaria and former Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs, Pehin Orang Kaya Setia Raja Dato Seri Paduka Haji Mohd Ali,” he recalled.

In 1958, the Batu Lintang Training Centre changed its name to Batu Lintang Training College which was again changed to Batu Lintang Teachers’ College in 1967.

The Batu Lintang Teachers College was upgraded to an institute on April 1, 2006, and is now known as the Institute of Teacher Education Batu Lintang Campus. Kuek left the Batu Lintang Training College in 1965 to take up another appointment at the Sarawak Teacher’s College in Sibu and lectured there from 1966 to 1967.

In 1968, he was transferred back to Kuching and was attached to the First Division Education Office (now Kuching Division Education Office).

In 1976, Kuek was transferred to the State Education Department headquarters in Kuching as education officer until his retirement in 1983.

On the education system back then, he opined that the curriculum and subjects offered were very good as they were introduced after thorough studies by educationists.

“In those days, students in primary six could write better English than students now in senior secondary,” he noted.

Besides training the students to be good in their studies, the schools also produced people who were hardworking and responsible, he said.

“Nowadays, students don’t carry a broom to clean their classrooms anymore. In the Batu Lintang School, everybody was trained to do ‘gotong-royong’ and other manual works such as cleaning the school’s toilet, sweeping the classrooms and the dormitories,” he added.

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