Wallace Bay, you just got Lights!

Finally my kampung gets electricity! That means my mother's house will have a refrigerator which is greatly needed and we are able to switch on the lights whenever we want to. With the previous individual generator supplier, the lights were switched on at 6 pm till 11pm and then, the oil lamps would see us to the next dawn. Without constant supply, you cannot imagine how the kampung folks survived and dealt with food storage during the festival celebrations. My mother was really an expert on this. My children quite love this 'quiet' life of their mum's kampung and objected to their grandma's intention to move to the town.

Wallace Bay is located on the Malaysian part of the Island of Sebatik. The other part belongs to Indonesia. It is said that, there are houses which are built on the boundary making half part of the houses stand on the soil of either one of the countries.
The shore of Wallace Bay as the boat is approaching the jetty at far right.
The everglades at Sebatik Island. This area is near the Malaysia-Indonesia border.

Early Undated picture of the wharf in Wallace Bay. Photo courtesy of Mr. Brian PaulLai. Copied from Panoramio.
The present jetty, the gateway into Wallace Bay

This is the 21st century and yet Wallace Bay (the name was so English) had no government supplied electricity and clean water. It was until this year it got those two major, long overdue basic needs. It's not located in remote area of Sabah but just a two-hour ride in a medium speed motorboat.

I had lived in WB for 7 years, from 1970 to 1975 after my parents moved from the palm oil estate in Merotai Kechil. My father worked as a Mandor or supervisor at the Merotai estate while my mother stayed at home. Previously, my mother worked as unskilled laborer at a cocoa plantation in Tawau with her sister. What I remember was a blissful childhood life: I bathed in the clear and cold small river while collecting wild kangkong, playing galah panjang with my cousins and went for quran recitation class of which after that, I had to help wash dishes of my 'guru Quran'. 

I didn't know why my parents moved to Wallace Bay but I knew my grandparents lived there. When we arrived, the place was such a lively 'kampung' with many basic social needs provided by the then British company called North Borneo Timbers. We had tennis, badminton and basketball courts, small clinic or dispensary, a community hall, two sessions school and more than enough sundry and coffee shops. 
I remembered we had concerts where Emilia Contessa (a very popular singer at that time) and Orkes El Suraya came to perform. We also had Quranic recitation and nasyid performances. Movies were shown on large screen outside the hall in the open space.We spread mats on the ground so we could sit and watch movies with our family. Various movies were shown but mostly were english speaking ones! Wallace Bay at that time seemed to be full of people!
Then, the company left. No jobs, the people had to move elsewhere. I wasn't there when it happened as I had left the place to further my studies at a famous boarding school in Seremban. From then on, there were no more supplied electricity and water and the villagers had to rely more on rain and groundwater. We did used the well water and collected rain water when the company existed as we were supplied with water once in a few days which we had to store in big ex-oil drums. We would patiently waited for our turn to fill our pails with water from the big tap. One tap was shared by two rows of' rumah panjang' which backs faced one another and when the water came in, somebody would be shouting ' Hidup air, hidup air!'. A person from every family would then rushed and lined up with their water container and waited for their turn.
"Sebatik folk to get clean water supply 15 August, 2004
Tawau: A RM12.45 million water project to be launched at Kampung Wallace Bay, Sebatik Island, off here, today (Sunday) heralds the end of the hardship faced by the community there." 
Really. I only knew that my mother had piped water only since 2009!

The company's housing for its workers which were built after 1975. Previously, they lived in a Kongsi.
When I left for the peninsular, my family was living in a Kongsi Housing, a long house which was divided into 8 family rooms which was further divided into 2 parts, the kitchen and living/sleeping rooms

Well, there isn't much left of the past. Some of the structures are still standing but are already dilapidated. Since it was the Chinese who ran the shops before, they were no more there when business went down. I'm still looking for one of my best friends, Kong Sook Pik, whom I had shared my primary school childhood, hanging around together. I remember we sat together at the stairs of her father's shop writing the Chinese words in Rumi and their meanings. Once I ate rice with sardines and kangkung at her house, too. She liked to give me things which of course, she got from her father's shop.
Below are some pictures of the present day Wallace Bay.
A small sundry shop 
Nothing much was sold here since we could easily obtained our provisions from the town.
It used to be located near the shore to make dealings with the Indonesian migrants easier.

 The big boat berthed at the jetty as it arrived from Tawau in early afternoon. We had to climb up the ladder to the roof of the boat and went up another ladder to the jetty. See those chairs? They would be carried up after all the passengers had gone.

We didn't need transportation if we were able to carry the things ourselves. There were paid 'taxis' in the form of pickups when the things were too bulky to carry.  

The low afternoon tide.
The cocoa plants behind my mother's house. The soil in Sebatik is considered one of the most fertile that they once tried planting paddy on it. My mother planted coffee many years ago for home consumption. Now, some parts of the island are planted with crops such as palm oil, coconut and bananas.
To go to the town of Tawau, we had to wake up as early as 5 am to catch the 6.30 am boat. See the high morning tide. It was a beautiful and serene early morning. The place might lack many comforts of life but if you are looking for a relaxed and calm atmosphere, this is the moment. Even my young daughters feel the same.

 We sat on benches like this. The boat could accommodate more than 50 people and was especially full at the end and beginning of the month. There were only 2 big boats ferrying passengers once a day from Wallace Bay to Tawau. On the way, they would stop at another jetty in Kg Mentadak (below) to pick up passengers. 

The boat took between one and a-half hour to two hours to reach Tawau. 
The Tawau Port. The boat used to berth here decades ago and it was more proper then the present day jetty (below). 
I wasn't as brave as my mother (in orange baju kurung) to climb down the moving ladder. It's quite precarious, isn't it? Is the town council looking at it? Must we have something bad to happen before a proper jetty is built? 


  1. Thanks for this article which reminded me of my early childhood in Wallace Bay.I moved out from there to further my study in Tawau in 1980.I still went back there but only until 1982, as my parents moved out from there. In 1986 went Penang to study at USM and now settled down in Kulim.

    My parents, bro & sis still in Tawau.Myfather & brother will still go back there once a while and recently for voting on 5/05/2013.

    I saw from your photos the jetty in WB still intact.Well those days if one need to go to Tawau, the boat will depart at 4.30am.I used to walk alone at 3.30am from my house to the jetty, but that time electricity still available (NBT ceased operation somewhere 1982-1983).Quite scarry but actually it is safe. Those were the days.

    Thanks again for the photos. Do you have anymore photos of Wallace Bay? I really missed it. My bro never have any photo to show. Just elaborate in words, so can't rally imagine.

    My parents owned the grocery cum coffee shop
    Kim Fatt until 1982. My name Francis Chong.My email francis533@gmail.com
    Thanks again.

  2. Hi Francis, was surprised to find your comments here. I bet ur father's shop was the 'high' kopitiam located at the corner of the 'street'. :). Did you go to Sek rendah wallace bay? I still have a draft entry on wallace bay revisited which is waiting to be published. But i dont think i took the pictures of the old shops when i went back last year. they have been converted into something else. Yeah, those were the days, when it felt so safe that the only thing we were afraid of at that time were the unseen and the headhunters. haha. Missing the nasi kuning and the mee goreng sabah..

  3. Dear CikgueGeo
    I am Lina, an Indonesian (Javanese) that have visited Indonesian part of Sebatik Island for sometimes for visiting friends and also for my research about the social life in the island. Due to widening my understanding, I am very interested to also have good acquaintance with the people in Sebatik Malaysia but so far i havent got them yet. I have never been in Wallace Bay and really want to go there sometime in the near future. Your blog i appreciate since it gives me a better idea about the lives in the place. Thus, I hope i can make friendship with you and other fellows from Sebatik Malaysia and may have a chance to explore the Malaysian part of Sebatik. I hope that you can accept my greetings :)


    1. Hi Lina, tq for visiting my simple blog. Welcome to Malaysia. I had been to the indonesian part of Sebatik Island too, Nunukan years ago. Or was it a separate island? It is more developed than Wallace Bay. Wallace Bay is rotting and there isn't much there. Just search on Facebook for any sebatik or wallace bay groups, you will find one. Go from there. :)


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