When we travelled on trishaws in Terengganure in the early 1970s

Pasar Payang in Kuala Terengganu in the 1970s.
Pasar Payang in the 1970s

ALMOST OBSCURED: Before World War 2 and up to the 1960s, Terengganu was the poorest and least known state in Malaya. Residents tell A. Shukor Rahman that few people travelled to the state as there were no proper roads. And those heading for Kuala Terengganu from Pahang would have to use 16 ferries to do so

SENIOR librarian Rohaya Yahya recalls that in the early 1970s, there was nothing much going on in the quiet and conservative town of Kuala Terengganu, also referred to by locals as KT.

"Many people, including myself, went about on trishaws, but today, there are fewer trishaws around as most people own cars.""Life here now is more enjoyable. There are more places to see and visit, and more things to buy."

"From an unknown and obscure state in the past, Terengganu has come a long way."
said Rohaya, from Kampung Raja in Besut, has lived in Kuala Terengganu for the last 30 years

Traditional woodcarver Noorhaiza Nordin said Terengganu used to be the country's poorest state, but after petroleum and gas were discovered off its coastline in the 1970s, the state prospered. 

But before World War 2, Terengganu was the least known state because of its isolation from the rest of the country.

In those days, there were no proper roads. People would use every means of transport, such as small boats, bicycles, cars and buses, to cover the 128km distance between the southern district of Kemaman and Kuala Terengganu.

In the 1930s, people would have to cycle or walk to cover the route as there were 16 river basins emptying into the South China Sea along the Terengganu coast.
And during the monsoon season when the east coast was closed to shipping activities, people had to go through southern Thailand and Kelantan.

But in 1935, that all changed when the then Federated Malay States Railways built tracks linking Pahang and Kelantan, and Terengganu was linked with it by an all-weather road to Kuala Krai.At the same time, the state government began building a proper road system in Terengganu.

Former forestry worker Marzuki Jamaluddin of Paya Rawa, Besut, said travellers would have to use 16 ferries to cover the whole of Terengganu.

He also remembered locals using the Setiu Express jeep to commute along the state's sandy beaches.

Dungun district, however, was known because of its famous mining town of Bukit Besi.
The town owed its prosperity after a team of Japanese geologists discovered iron ore there in 1919.

From then on, Bukit Besi became one of the world's largest iron ore suppliers.
By 1963, more than half of Terengganu's annual revenue was derived from the Bukit Besi mining industry, which was run by American-based Eastern Mining and Metals Co Ltd.

With a population of 6,000, Bukit Besi was a self-contained world, with facilities that included schools, clubs, malls, sports field, fire brigade and a Territorial Army platoon.
However, in the early 1970s, the industry floundered and the company stopped production because of the economic downturn and dwindling resources.

In 1980, I recalled meeting Singaporean Sani Shatifan, who had worked in Bukit Besi as a tally clerk for the Eastern Mining Company from 1949 and 1950, before migrating to England.

"There were no roads, no electricity and no piped water supply in Kuala Terengganu.
"There were no cinemas. A ronggeng troupe used to travel from one village to another, and people would pay 10 sen to dance with them."

Dungun, he said, was busier than Kuala Terengganu at that time, with shops selling imported goods, such as watches and shoes, to cater to the foreign shipping crew members transporting the ore to Japan.

Marzuki said Terengganu had progressed and has many attractions.
"Kuala Terengganu has matured from its gloomy past and become better known internationally."

News Article from : New Straits Times

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