Reminiscent of the past: Koay Jetty captured in photographs

WOU’s George Town Institute of Open and Advanced Studies (GIOAS), has published a 140-page photographic book on “Koay Jetty Penang ~ 25 Years Apart” that provides a glimpse of the jetty and its inhabitants before its demolition.

Guests at the launching of the book.

“This is part of GIOAS’ efforts to contribute to the art and culture of Penang. The collections show the history of how the community was formed. What binds us all is the diversity of cultures,” said Tan Sri Andrew Sheng, Chairman of GIOAS.

The publication on Koay Jetty was launched by Penang Yang di-Pertua Negeri Tun Ahmad Fuzi Abdul Razak at the WOU main campus on 15 August 2022. The publication, with narrative history by Dr Chan Lean Heng and photographs by Dr Ooi Cheng Ghee, highlights the deterioration and changes to this cultural heritage in 2004 compared to the bustling site in 1979.

Tun Ahmad Fuzi poses with the book following the launch.

As explained in the book, the Koay community came to settle in Penang from Southern China, and their livelihood was handling charcoal. The cultural heritage and communal spirit of the Koay Jetty drew to a sad end, owing in part to Penang losing its free port status and to nearby public housing projects. The jetty lost its charm and residents had to seek livelihood outside the jetty, leading to its eventual demolition in 2006.

Tan Sri Sheng, in his foreword to the book, wrote that the jetty “rose and fell with Penang’s fortunes” and that the photographs “must be treasured because they capture what was built and then lost”.

Tan Sri Sheng, Chairman of GIOAS, at the event.

The remaining six Weld Quay jetty communities in Penang – the Lim, Chew, Tan, Lee, mixed surname/new and Yeoh – have become tourist and historic landmarks, thanks to UNESCO’s 2008 listing of George Town as a World Heritage Site.

Dr Ooi, 79, in his interview for the book regarding the changes he saw in 2004 after last visiting the jetty 25 years earlier, commented, “In the 1970s, the Jetty still had open access to the sea on both sides but when I returned the reclaimed land completely cut off the Jetty from the sea.”

Dr Ooi offers insights into the past with his photographs.

He added, “It is the life story of the Jetty – how it lived and how it died. What can we learn from this? Could there have been a better way to approach the development of the area? How significant was the Jetty? Towards the end, the residents collectively made the decision to accept compensation and move out.” Dr Ooi retired from medical practice four years ago but continues with his passion for photography.

The month-long exhibition of Dr Ooi’s photographs on Koay Jetty will be held at WOU’s 100-year-old Homestead building until September 15th.

Tun Ahmad Fuzi tours the exhibition.

Meanwhile Tan Sri Dr Koh Tsu Koon, Chairman of WOU Board of Governors, in his opening remarks, shared about the Koay Jetty Memorial Hall and plans for a museum. The hall located in the community building within the affordable housing complex was built on the site of the Koay Jetty, Ping Aun Jetty and Noordin Street Ghaut Area which were gutted by fire in early 2003.

He said the hall features two miniature models. “The Koay Jetty in its hey days before the decline of the charcoal trade and encroachment by mangrove swamp and reclaimed land nearby, and the present-day complex of three residential blocks with over 2,200 units of low-cost and low-medium cost housing, completed between 2007 and 2010, to accommodate those affected by the fire and many low-income people working within the inner-city.”

Tan Sri Koh wants to see the hall upgraded into the Koay Jetty Museum.

The hall has a few photos of the old jetty, including one of Koay Jetty builder, Keay Ah Yeaw, now 94, on a charcoal boat in the 1950s. Dr Ooi has offered to present several photographs on Koay Jetty from his collection for the memorial hall, Tan Sri Koh added, hoping the hall can eventually be upgraded to the Koay Jetty Museum.

Among those present at the event were WOU Vice Chancellor Prof Dr Lily Chan, Think City Chairman Dato’ Seri Anwar Fazal, Keay, and several culture and art exponents.

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