Among nature-lovers, Sabah is renowned for its varied vegetation, picturesque mountain range, lovely islands and many other natural wonders. Unknown to many, Sabah has its very own history to share with the world, especially its pre-war, post-war and post independence experience.
Kota Kinabalu, the capital of Sabah, is more than 100 years old and the city centre has many historical landmarks. It was originally called Jesselton after Sir Charles Jessel, the vice chairman of the North Borneo Chartered Company in 1899. On 22 December 1967, the State Legislative Assembly under the then Chief Minister, Tun Mustapha bin Datu Harun, passed a bill to change the name of Jesselton to Kota Kinabalu.
Kota Kinabalu (KK) Heritage Walk
Today, the Kota Kinabalu (KK) Heritage Walk gives tourists who follow the well-marked trail more insights into its historical landmarks. However, before you begin your journey, it is best to familiarise yourself with the phrase “Lest We Forget”. It was popularised in 1887 by Rudyard Kipling as the refrain of his poem, “Recessional”. According to Wikipedia, the phrase passed into common usage after World War I, becoming linked with Remembrance Day observations. It came to be a plea not to forget past sacrifices, and was often found as the only wording on war memorials, or used as an epitaph.
The Kota Kinabalu (KK) Heritage Walk begins at Padang Merdeka where a profesional heritage guide greets participants. After a short briefing, the tour is conducted with commentary on the pre-war, post-war and post-independence era of Kota Kinabalu. The walk covers visits to historical sites and buildings such as the Atkinson Clock Tower, Australia Place, Community Centre, Sabah Tourism Building, Jesselton Hotel, Gaya Street, Malaysia Monument, North Borneo War Memorial and the City Council (Hall).
During the journey, a short treasure hunt at Gaya Street provides participants with a little bit of fun and knowledge. The activity is a chance to mingle with the local people and to know the culture. Afterwards, participants enjoy a simple old fashioned tea break at the Museum Kopitiam.
Each participant receives a KK Heritage cap and “A Guide to KK Heritage Walk” booklet as souvenirs. The booklet has pages to collect chops from all the places visited during the tour.
Padang Merdeka (Independence Field)
This was originally a recreational field where football was first played in 1901. When North Borneo (Sabah) gained independence in 1963, it was the venue for the Proclamation of Malaysia. Today, Padang Merdeka is used for cultural celebrations such as Chinese New Year, Christmas carol singing and harvest festivals.
The Malaysia Monument was erected next to the City Council building to commemorate the independence of Sabah and the state joining the Federation of Malaysia on 16 September 1963. From there, the tour takes you to the City Council building.
In 1902, the Jesselton Sanitary Board was set up to oversee the administration of the town but it ended during the Japanese Occupation of World War II. In 1954, it was upgraded to a Town Board under the new Municipal & Urban Authorities Ordinance. When Kota Kinabalu achieved city status on 2 February 2000, it became a City Council.
North Borneo War Memorial
The memorial was unveiled on 8 May 1923 to commemorate the death of 13 local North Borneo soldiers who enlisted in the British Forces during World War 1. Another plaque was added in remembrance of members of the Australian Armed Forces (1939-1945) who died during World War II. The third plaque pays respect to the members of the Malaysian Armed Forces who lost their lives during the Indonesian Confrontation from 1963 to 1966.
Visiting Gaya Street is like walking down memory lane where you can see old shophouses built in the 1950s on both sides of the road. Go to local shops selling clothes and an old barber shop offering a nose trim at 69 cents. Gaya Street is a fascinating place to visit on Sunday morning when it is turned into a street fair with traders selling fruits, food, cakes, plants, flowers, pets, handicrafts, souvenirs and clothes.
Located at Gaya Street, Jesselton Hotel is the first post-war modern hotel. Visitors are welcomed by the doorman attired in a colonial uniform complete with a sun hat. The hotel may be unassuming in looks but many famous personalities have stayed there including boxer Mohammad Ali, Pope John Paul II, Tun Mahathir Mohammed and even Lady Mountbatten. Jesselton Hotel remains the only premier boutique hotel with a colonial ambience in Kota Kinabalu.
Sabah Tourism Building
This two-storey historical building was one of three remaining buildings that escaped bombing during the last world war. It was officially opened by Governor A.C. Pearson on 16 March 1918 as a printing office. During the pre-and post war years, it housed different offices such as a treasury, audit, bank agency and post office. The building was gazetted as a historical building on 13 July 1988 and is now the office of the Sabah Tourism Board.
Australia Place may just be a small lane in the city centre but its historical significance cannot be denied. It was so named by the local people to refer to the camp site established by the Australian Liberation Forces when they landed in Jesselton in 1945.
Kota Kinabalu Community Centre
The centre was built in 1958 and renamed Independence Building as many historical events had taken place there.
This unique coffee shop serves tourists more than just old-fashioned toasted bread as it has many historical artifacts of World War II. The wall is adorned with the chronological history of World War II in Sabah or North Borneo as it was known then. There is also a corner filled with spiritual poems written for the soldiers of the Australian Liberation Forces. Surrounded by such memorabilia, visitors get to feel the vibes of the place steeped in history.
After a two and a half hour tour, nothing is more welcome than a cup of hot coffee or a cold drink straight from the bottle. Don’t forget to order the delicious charcoal toasted bread or the tasty Anzac (Australia and New Zealand Army Corps) biscuits so-called because the Anzac soldiers used to receive them from their families during the war.
Atkinson Tower Clock
From the Museum Kopitiam, visitors can see a towering clock tower. Atkinson Clock Tower was built in 1902 and completed in 1905 to commemorate the first District Officer of Jesselton, Mr Francis George Atkinson, who died of malaria at the age of 28. A two-faced clock was presented by Atkinson’s mother Mary Edith, as a memorial to her son. Gazetted as a historical building by Sabah Museum in 1983, it was one of the three buildings still left standing after the war. The original clock was replaced in 1964.
The KK Heritage Walk is only available on Tuesday and Thursday. However, it can be arranged on other days except Sunday by prior arrangement through participating tour operators or hoteliers with a minimum of four participants. For more information, please contact Miss Grace Leong at 60 128028823 or log on to www.kkheritagewalk.com.