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ST Forum, Oct 24, 2011

Bukit Brown can be Singapore's Arlington

BALANCING the needs of development against conservation has always been a delicate act in this small island that is our home ('Keep Bukit Brown graves: Descendants'; last Wednesday).

However, our home is also our country and a country needs its memories.

Without Singapore's history and the stories of its leaders and pioneers - what they lived, fought and died for - the country will have no heritage and no soul - no spiritual sustenance. It will be much like the situation of an unfortunate rich man with Alzheimer's disease.

Our survival as a nation depends much on our spirit.

Bukit Brown is the most significant and important cemetery left, filled with memorial gravestones of many of our pioneers and ancestors. The gravestones themselves are sculptural works of art and tablets of rich history.

This estate is adjacent to MacRitchie Reservoir and part of this land can be considered as catchment area.

Can we not keep most of this estate as a memorial and heritage park, much like the Arlington Cemetery in the United States, for citizens who served Singapore with honour?

It can also be used for recreation while the rest can still be used for some development, as roads or homes.

The Conservation Advisory Panel visited this estate in 2009 and was told then that the consideration of the site would be left for the future generation.

Each time I drive under the Fort Canning tunnel, I wonder if the destruction of our old National Library building was worth it.

Once an important heritage site like this is lost, it can never be regained. Can we really afford to lose this priceless part of our history?

Dr James Khoo

FORUM NOTE: The writer was chairman of the Conservation Advisory Panel from 2002 to 2010 and the founding chairman of the Asian Civilisations Museum. He is also a former member of the National Heritage Board.

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