The day George Town grew up

loading Ong Ee Lynn

The seal and plaque commemorating George Town’s city status, which can be found today in City Hall, Penang.

IT IS THE MORNING OF the New Year. The face of the Victoria Memorial Clock Tower blocking the rising sun to the east shows the time to be 8.50.

Here, on the Esplanade beside Fort Cornwallis stands a specially erected platform of gold and blue. On it sit members of the new City Council, including the acting Chief Minister Inche Suleiman bin Datuk Abdul Rahman, the acting United Malays National Organisation (Umno) president Inche Sardon bin Haji Jubir and Minister of Transport Mr Ong Yoke Lin.

Honoured guests such as the Sultan of Perak and the Sultan of Pahang arrive to the band playing their respective state anthems.

Everyone is in place by the time Sir Donald MacGillivray, the last High Commissioner that the British will have in Malaya, arrives. He keeps his speech short and meaningful, and after 12 minutes calls on Resident Commissioner Mr R.P. Bingham to read Queen Elizabeth II’s letters patent elevating George Town into a city.

The crowd of 12,000 Penangites and well-wishers gaily welcome the promotion.

From what I am able to make out above the noise, Sir Donald says:

“At almost precisely this spot in August 1786, Captain Francis Light of the East India Company first landed on Penang. Here he felled enough standing jungle and scrub to set up a few huts, which he named George Town, in honour of King George II. And there, across the padang, he shortly afterwards built a small fort, later to be named Fort Cornwallis.

“This centenary celebration, which I have been asked to declare open today, is not only a ceremony in honour of local progress over the last hundred years, culminating in endowment by Her Majesty of the status of city upon this municipality. It is also an occasion of country-wide significance.

“At this point in Malaya’s history, we may pause a while and look back into the past before turning our eyes forward to the years that lie ahead.

“Penang Island, with its capital of George Town, was the seed-bed for the first planting of democracy and modern progress throughout Malaya. This town and this island may take credit for giving the original impetus to the progress made towards the great goal of independent government which we confi dently expect will be achieved this very year of which we today stand upon the threshold.

“Whilst the people of Penang have indeed much to be proud of, therefore, in the great contribution they have already made to Malaya’s progress in years gone by, it is a matter of great joy to us all to see that George Town with its fine motto of ‘Leading We Serve’, is still in the vanguard of progress, not only by being the first local government throughout this country to elect its own president and its own council, but also by being the first municipality in Malaya to be elevated to the status of city. Penang continues to lead.

“Your many splendid schools have provided in many fields of endeavour much of the skill and leadership which has set the pace of past progress; your fine deep water port and your trade have been major assets of economic stability. These and other contributions to the welfare of Malaya will continue to be expected of you when Penang takes her place this year as a proud and important member of the independent Federation of the States of Malaya.”

Then the Chingay procession begins, winding down the streets of the new city to the joy of thousands lining the way. Lion dances and dragon dances follow, teasing floats full of pretty girls dressed as “anak Chingay”. So begins Penang’s Centenary Festival.

The whole declaration ceremony is over in half an hour, a rite of passage for little George Town into sovereignty and democracy.

Daniel Lee.

Ong Ee Lynn.

Celebrating City Day 1.1.11

According to the Ministry of Housing and Local Government, there are 12 cities in Malaysia - Alor Setar, Ipoh, Kuala Lumpur, Petaling Jaya, Shah Alam, Malacca City, Johor Bahru, Kuala Terengganu, Kota Kinabalu, Kuching North, Kuching South and Miri. George Town is not on this list.

But George Town is a city. It has been one since January 1, 1957 and there has been no offi cial order retracting the city status. It is unfortunate that the ministry, and by extension the federal government, has chosen to ignore a simple historical fact.

To revive some pride, “George Town 1111” that was organised by the Penang Municipal Council (mppp) brought thousands of revellers together at the Esplanade for an evening of food, cultural shows and traditional games.

Ong Ee Lynn.

Johnathan Tan.

Johnathan Tan.


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