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Saving the Last of the Giant Tin Dredges


Saving the Last of the Giant Tin Dredges

The last tin dredge in Chendrong, along the Batu Gajah-Tanjung Tualang Road, is described as “a heritage icon” of the once world renowned tin mining region of the Kinta Valley. Following a report that the dredge was in danger of flipping over and sinking, Ipoh Echo highlighted it and even carried out an on-line poll to gauge the views of the people, especially those in the Kinta Valley where the  tin mining industry had meant a lot to them, on whether to preserve it or not. The result has been an overwhelming “yes” for preserving the tin dredge, although it is clearly understood that it would be a mammoth task and as well as a costly one. It is also agreed by those favouring the preservation that the tin dredge by itself and on its own could not be sustained as a viable project. Other activities need to be developed around it.

Promises to Save the Dredge Comes With Major Financial Implications and Wise Planning

David Palmer

Subsequently, the state government through its state executive councillor in-charge of tourism, Dato’ Hamidah Osman, stated that the tin dredge would be saved. Dato’ Hamidah said there had been discussions of relocating the tin dredge to some other suitable locations. However nothing has been finalised until the full scope and cost of the project has been determined.

The Perak Government’s plan to preserve it as a monument of the tin mining industry and as a unique tourist attraction has been received with approval from various quarters in the state. “Ideally it should be part of a Tin Museum with the dredge being the main attraction and promoted strongly to attract the tourists to enable it to be sustainable,” said David Palmer, a retired mining consultant and the last CEO of Osborne & Chapel, the company that introduced hydraulics to the mining industry and operated mines in Perak and Selangor. “The dredge, as it is, needs to be upgraded and be made safe and sound for tourists to appreciate it. If possible, the dredge should be relocated to a viable and easily accessible location.”

Heritage Buffs Join the fray

The preservation of the dredge had also caught the attention of the local heritage buffs. Chairman of the Perak Heritage Society, Law Siak Hong, said “everything must be done to preserve it. Not only did it help make Kinta Valley world famous, it helped provide the wealth which built our country’s infrastructure and development”. “The dredge was presented by the mining company to the state for the people. That should be the inspiration for its conservation and subsequent re-use” added Law.

Elizabeth Cardosa, executive director of Badan Warisan Malaysia, had similar sentiments. “Tin mining played an integral part in our nation’s economic growth and a tin dredge is part of this legacy,” she commented. She added that the Tanjung Tualang Number 5 Dredge, if repaired, and well managed, would provide an excellent way to share the story and the very important role played by tin mining in the Kinta Valley, and in the development of the nation as a whole.

An on-line debate, started following a commentary written by the director of Ipoh World Ian Anderson on his views that preserving the dredge would be a “drain on resources forever”, resulted in a wealth of ideas to make it a viable tourist attraction by injecting economic activities in the vicinity of the dredge. Among them is the idea to induce various developments, such as allocating a piece of land for the construction of a large petrol station with attached fast-food outlets and shop-houses.

Dredge co-centre of attraction

A reader, engineer Aaron Ong, felt that the dredge could be successfully preserved as a heritage by making it a co-centre of attraction with the existing tourism based industries. He stressed that the dredge by itself and on its own could never be a centre of attraction. “No one would drive miles along empty roads to visit a dredge no matter how nicely dressed up” he said.

Therefore, local folk should be enticed to set up shops for their famous Tanjung Tualang’s freshwater prawns in clean and hygienic surroundings, with lots of open air for alfresco dining and ample parking; and using state machinery and media to promote this as a tourist spot.

“Sure this will take at the fastest a couple of years, so in the meantime some public money will have to be used for maintenance. But after this, the public money will be withdrawn and the owner/maintainer has to think of ways how to make the tourists appreciate the dredge so that the dredge will be self supporting,” Ong said.“I will certainly agree to the use of limited public money for maintenance of the dredge for the first two years, on condition that an economy is developed to boost and upgrade the existing prawn based tourism for the benefit of the local folk. I mean who wouldn’t be happy? For sure these people will be happy.”

Big Spruce Up

First and foremost, he said the dredge would have to be thoroughly repaired to display condition. All the riggings and the winches have to be inspected and made fast so nothing loose could come crashing down on the heads of visitors. Paint up the sides in bright beautiful colours like what they did to the Penang ferries. Next fix it up with beautiful lights inside and outside.

Ong have seen how ships and buildings far older than the dredge have been saved and preserved in Europe for future unborn generations so that their rich history is not lost to time. “To save the dredge, if not too late, the government would have to use public money for limited maintenance. By limited I mean, to arrest and recover the list and to make the hull waterfast. That is a priority. If this is not done, the dredge would list past its centre of gravity and would totally collapse. “How much is needed I have no idea, and it depends on a detailed hull examination by a competent engineer, and may even require the services of a professional diver, welder from a salvage company. If the leak is localised and not too serious, a ballpark figure maybe in the region of 10’s of thousands, perhaps” he said.

Costing Taxpayer

Responding to Ong’s suggestions, Ian Anderson says “It is a good idea and if it could be achieved then that would be great, but, and it is a big BUT, it does need a far-sighted developer to come in with several million to put up, up front. Meanwhile the dredge will still be costing the taxpayer, or someone, however many millions it will take to bring it up to an acceptable tourist level in terms of maintenance, repair and safety.”

The dredge was built in 1938 by the consulting engineering firm of F.W. Payne and Co. It started operations at Teja, Gopeng, and after 44 years ceased operations and moved to its present location in 1982. The company responsible for managing the dredge, Century Mission Sdn Bhd is unable to repair the pontoon due to financial constraints.  Meanwhile, with the pontoon rusty and leaking the situation of the tin dredge is getting worse each day. Ipoh Echo hopes that the commitment made by Dato’ Hamidah to save the dredge will materialise in the very near future to preserve the last visible heritage of the tin mining industry that brought the Kinta Valley the fame and glory that it enjoyed in the past.