The British Empire Library


Under Five Flags: The Story of Sabah

by Ronald J. Brooks

The Lingering Eye - Recollections of North Borneo

by Wendy Suart


Courtesy of OSPA


Review by Christine Holland (Nonh Borneo/Sabah, 1951-1969)
Two books about Sabah (the former North Borneo) constitute a treat for all those who lived in that enchanting country. One is serious, the other light-hearted, but both provoke vivid memories of how it used to be.

North Borneo was never as well-known as the more glamorous Sarawak to the south of it, and Ronald Brooks’ book fills a wide gap in most people’s general knowledge.

Going there as an Administrative Cadet in 1940 (under the flag of the Chartered Company), he travelled widely in the interior and grew to know the different tribes-people well, before the Japanese invasion of Borneo, when he was sent to prison camp in Kuching, a period under the Japanese flag which still leaves him with painful memories.

The third flag in Brooks’ story is that of the Australians who liberated North Borneo and who were regarded as angels by the suffering ex-prisoners.

In 1946 North Borneo became a Crown Colony and the Union Jack hung outside Government House. Ronald Brooks was back in Administration upcountry and in the capital until he was appointed Information Officer, subsequently Director of Information and Broadcasting Services.

He was responsible for publicity in the Colony of the forthcoming Malaysian Federation, and thereafter worked under the Malaysian flag. Although leaving Sabah shortly after the Federation came into being, he returned very soon to found the Museum at Kota Kinabalu which has become internationally famous.

This very readable history, seen through the eyes of one so closely connected with it, gives us an authentic picture of the North Borneo that was and its progress towards the Sabah that is today.

The second book. The Lingering Eye, is written by Wendy Suart, who went to North Borneo as a young Australian secretary in 1949, led a hilarious and busy social life, then met and married a young Cable and Wireless engineer who ultimately became Cable and Wireless Manager, Hong Kong. They lived in Jesselton (now Kota Kinabalu) until 1953, and Wendy Suart evinces almost total recall of every sight, sound and smell in the everyday life of herself and the other bachelor girls and wives in that beautiful place.

Jesselton had been devastated by the war, and everybody lived in palm-leaf houses. There was little or no cold storage and only a poor supply of electricity. Yet in spite of all the difficulties, the young expatriates managed to work hard and play hard, and the enjoyment of it comes across clearly from Wendy Suart’s book. Eccentric characters leap out of the pages, events range from Government House receptions to brilliantly colourful local markets and trips to the off-shore islands.

As the town was gradually being rebuilt, we follow the author’s married life from one inadequate house to another, amid the multifarious difficulties of food shortages, servant problems and inadequate cooking arrangements, culminating in the wonders of a permanent home with two proper bathrooms.

Anybody reading these two books has a splendid opportunity to trace the transition of a country from Chartered Company territory to independence within the Federation of Malaysia, and to enter into the detailed life-style of expatriates involved in that transition.

British Empire Book
Author
Ronald J. Brooks
Published
1995
Pages
256
Publisher
The Pentland Press Ltd.
ISBN
1858213223
Availability
Abebooks
Amazon
British Empire Book
Author
Wendy Suart
Published
1996
Pages
287
Publisher
The Pentland Press Ltd.
ISBN
1858211034
Availability
Abebooks
Amazon


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