A Gala Day for Perak’s Victoria Bridge

Victoria Bridge across the Perak River at Karai was honoured on Sunday 31 May 2015 when the 115th anniversary of its opening was celebrated in grand Malaysian style. Indeed it was probably the grandest occasion to take place at the bridge since it was opened by the late Almarhum Sultan Idris Shah I and the British Residents-General Sir Frank Swettenham in March 1900. The oldest railway bridge in the country, it was constructed by British engineers between December 1897 and March 1900 for the Perak State Railway to serve the local tin mining industry.

The day of celebration started on the bank of the river around 8am, where a new village had sprung up with a range of tents and stalls had been set up, the largest, complete with a stage surrounded by potted plants. Throughout the morning stallholders and a variety of local organisations, including representatives from the Malaysian Army, provided demonstrations to entertain the crowd. Traditional local food was there for the tasting and T-shirts and other souvenirs were readily available for sale. It was a fun morning with the atmosphere of a traditional country fair from days gone by.

The occasion was graced by the Ministry of Tourism and Culture, Dato’ Sri Mohamed Nazri Abdul Aziz who gave his welcome address to the several hundred gathered there including a group of European visitors. The emcee for the occasion was that popular son of Perak, KT Pillai.

In his speech the Minister praised the British designers and engineers who had positioned the bridge so well that it had never succumbed to flooding of the river and was therefore unconquered by nature. He then referred to the new bridge alongside the old which led to the eventual retirement of the original bridge. He continued by expressing his desire to turn the bridge into another exciting tourism destination and in pursuit of that objective he promised to have the bridge gazetted as a National Heritage structure thus ensuring it would remain an important part of Malaysia’s past for years to come. However, he pointed out that some unscrupulous people had been taking away some of the high quality British steel rails and fittings for scrap and this had to stop.

He ended by explaining that earlier in the day he had planted a new bamboo tree on the river bank as the first step of a project to line the river with bamboo to protect the banks, but he reminded the organisers that he did not have ‘green fingers’ and tasked them with taking care of his tree.

It was then time for the Minister to cut the celebration cake followed by a very unusual lunch of Perakean heritage dishes. These included Putu Perak (rice flour and coconut cake), Masak Lemak Rebung (pickled bamboo shoots in coconut milk), Patin Masak Tempoyak (Patin fish cooked in fermented durian sauce) and Gulai Lemak Siput Sedut (snails) to name but a few.

This was followed by multiracial cultural performances, interspersed with prizes being given for painting and photographic competitions.

The full day of celebration in true Malaysian style, concluded with another local tradition, High Tea.

Ian Anderson

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