|by Ms. Noraini Binti Awang Damit
While legends and myths are riveting facts interwoven with fantasy can be equally gripping. When the Tanjung Kubong coal mine was closed down in 1911 following a tragedy, it marked the demise of Port Victoria as the bustling port of call for Labuan's coal industry. But the history of the tragedy of the Tanjung Kubong coal mine has since become interwoven with fiction.
The Tanjung Kubong coal mine, the chimney of which still stands today, was productive during the colonial period between 1847 and 1911. Strategically located and connected to Port Victoria by the railway, it supplied good quality coal for the domestic and international markets. The mine employed hundreds of convicts from Hong Kong whom the locals called Cina Shantung (Shantung Chinese). The mine was quite large, and workers laboured in shifts for long hours. There were eight tunnels, through which workers were lowered in baskets in batches of twos and threes, until they reached a depth of more than 100 feet under ground. At the end of their shifts, the workers were raised along the same route that they entered.
One day, the workers, lowered deep into the pits, were ordered to dig upwards, a departure from their usual practice. The change was rewarding - for coal was found in abundance, and they were urged to push further up. They worked hard and long, losing track of time. Suddenly they heard a distant siren signaling the arrival of a cargo ship... and only then realized they were below the sea bed.
deep in the earth, the men had no idea of the weather conditions outside
of the mine or the level of the tide in the sea. Suddenly, the tide came
upon them, and the network of tunnels - their link to the safety of land-was
flooded. The passages filled with sea water, becoming death traps. Workers
who were within reach of the stations where baskets transported men up to
the surface tugged desperately at the dangling ropes to summon help. The
ropes snapped under the strain, the baskets swayed in mid-air, and men tipped
over, out of reach of those waiting frantically below. Except for a few
who managed to escape, most of the workers died in the labyrinth of channels...
their bodies were found floating in the sea a few days later.
The survivors and those who did not go into the tunnels that tragic day were bitter. They sought out the company authorities on behalf of the men who died, and charged the company with unlawfully forcing the workers into sections of the mine known to be unsafe. They said the company was callous and greedy, more interested in profits than in the lives and welfare of the workers. In solidarity, they massed together, determined that the deaths of their fellow workers should not go unavenged. Once docile and meek, the Shantung Chinese and Singaporean Chinese mine workers became frenzied, and attacked the company authorities in a bloody clash. The rampage went on for several days; many lives were lost, and property ruined.
The company enlisted the help of three local Malay "warriors" - Amin, from Ganggarak Village; Asad, from Belekut Village; and Matarap, whose birthplace was unknown. The three had become famous following a railroad disaster at Batu Arang, a tiny village along the busy Tanjung Kubong-Port Victoria route. One day, two trains going in opposite directions collided head-on, causing trolleys of coal to spill their load and the locomotives to derail. The derailment of Beruang and Asli, as the two trains were known, cut off transportation links to Port Victoria, the outlet from which all coal was exported. The coal company worked frantically to get the trains back on track, but all attempts proved futile. Even stripped of their loads, the trains were simply too heavy to move. The company announced that anyone who could get Beruang and Asli running again would earn a reward of five hundred pounds. Amin, Asad, and Matarap took up the challenge. According to local sources, the trio, using only their bare muscles, lifted the two trains and gently put them back in place.
When the angry mob descended on the Tanjung Kubong coal mine authorities, the three heroes were quickly sent for... and just as quickly they stopped the riot. They threw themselves into the centre of the crowd, and lifted the fighting men like they were toy soldiers, flinging them in all directions. The rest of the rioters, watching this unbelievable sight, fled for their lives. But mining activities ceased on the island, and soon the British naval force closed down Port Victoria. Today, the Chimney and the tunnels in and around Tg. Kubong remain Labuan once prolific coal industry.
All Rights Reserved. Copyright © 2001 Perbadanan Labuan