5 things I learnt about Punggol from Punggol Regional Library’s new exhibition
The Punggol Stories exhibition covers over 200 years of Punggol’s history.
When it comes to residential areas, most would think that Punggol is one of the younger estates in Singapore.
However, the reality is that Punggol has over 200 years of history.
With the recent opening of the Punggol Regional Library’s third and fourth floors, I headed down to take a look at the new facilities and visit the interactive Punggol Stories exhibition.
With most of the displays located on the fourth floor, the exhibition features four subsections: Punggol Pioneers, Seaside Solace, Farm to Fable, and Winding Waterways.
Here are five things I learnt about Punggol at the exhibition:
1. The many names of Punggol
Did you know that modern-day Yishun was once called “Poongul”, while the Punggol of today used to be called “Tanjong Rangone”?
In the library’s Punggol Stories at the Singaporium exhibition space, visitors may check out various maps from Singapore’s past, ranging from that of the early 1800s to late 1900s.
Of the maps shown featured one from the 1820’s, which referred to present-day Punggol as “Tanjong Rangone” and was consistently referred to as such up until 1844 in a land survey map done by John Turnbull Thomson.
Punggol did not officially receive its name as we know of today until 1898, when its land mostly consisted of areas for plantations to be cultivated in. In fact, Punggol was an evolution from its first referral as “Pongul”.
Although the true origins behind Punggol’s name are unknown, possible translations for it could be “hurling sticks at the branches of fruit trees to bring the fruits down to the ground” or “a place where fruits and forest produce are offered for wholesale”, which links back to Punggol’s history with agriculture and plantations.
Alternatively, Punggol’s name could have also originated from a tree branch (punggur in Malay) that fell on the hut of Kampong Wak Sumang’s founder.
2. Punggol was once home to large plantations
Back in the 1800s, Punggol’s land was filled with large plantations to grow crops like tapioca, coconuts, gambier and rubber.
This was one of the factors that drove the British to colonise Singapore and its land by the late 1800s, as they found the plantations to be profitable despite the fact that Singapore had little to no natural resources.
While Punggol was known as one of Singapore’s more rural areas in the past, it was also here that residents continued growing “cash crops” before the Second World War shifted the country’s agricultural focus to poultry rather than plantations.
Aside from the plantations, Punggol was also home to a few kampong settlements, such as Kampong Punggol or Kampong Wak Sumang, which was known to have a lot of fishing activity even before the British arrived in Singapore.
3. Singapore’s first zoo was located in Punggol
While exploring the various sections of Punggol Stories at Singaporium, visitors may find a particular one called Winding Waterways that shows a timeline of Punggol’s history and highlights over 200 years.
Significant parts of Punggol’s past and present can be found either written on the wall, or viewed with an interactive device that allows visitors to swipe through various happenings in the once “ulu” area.
One of the few memories featured was the first Singapore Zoo, which was opened in 1928 by “Animal Man” William Basapa. Also known as the Punggol Zoo, it showcased William’s private collection of animals and birds.
Although privately owned, the zoo grew to host over 2,000 animals and birds and managed to attract many as a “place where visitors could indulge in a unique experience viewing animals in their primitive state”.
Unfortunately, the private zoo had to be closed in 1942 due to the outbreak of war and all the animals were either shot or released to make room for British defences.
4. Pigs were commercially farmed in Punggol
Once known as a plantation farming heartland, Punggol later became an industrial pig farming hub from 1974 to 1989.
Punggol Stories’ Farm to Fable section spotlights how Singapore became “self-sufficient in pork, poultry and eggs” and relocated all pig farms to Punggol to contain the industry and reduce the environmental pollution caused by the waste generated by pig farms.
At the time, pamphlets and lectures were offered by the Primary Production Department (PPD, now the Singapore Food Agency) on pig production and pig management. They were provided to farmers to advise them on hygiene guidelines, feeding formulas and a pig’s growth cycle, among others.
Although pig farming in Singapore maintained its commercial success for more than a decade, environmental issues caused the industry to die down. The last pig farm stopped operations by 1990 to make way for more sustainable vegetable farms to continue supporting Singapore’s agricultural sector.
5. There was a seafood boom in Punggol after World War II
According to Punggol Stories’ Winding Waterways and Seashore Solace, Punggol Point became a popular place for fresh seafood and water sports after World War II.
It became the go-to place for waterfront dining and leisure, where people could find a wide array of fresh seafood to eat and activities like water-skiing and skin-diving.
Well-known seafood restaurants in the area included Hock Kee Seafood Restaurant, Choon Seng Seafood Restaurant and Whee Heng Restaurant, though they had to relocate out of Punggol in the 1990’s due to reclamation plans.
Fortunately, Hock Kee returned to Punggol in 2006 under the name Ponggol Seafood.
Besides the four sections of the exhibition in the library’s Singaporium, Punggol Stories also features a Memory Map installation that holds over 50 memories of historical Punggol for visitors to view.
Punggol Regional Library is open daily from 10am to 9pm.