British Empire Article

Courtesy of OSPA

by Gordon Brennan
(Basutoland and Hong Kong 1958-2000)
The Acquisition of the New Territories
of Hong Kong
Hong Kong 1980s
Of all the postings since joining the Overseas Civil Service in 1958 it was difficult to decide which might be of interest to readers. Whenever asked what I did in the Service my stock answer has been “administration” which covers a multitude of sins. I eventually came to the conclusion that my posting as Government Quartering Officer in Hong Kong might be of interest and somewhat funny. I have refrained from naming names just in case I might be sued for defamation of character but I am sure some members might be able to name some of the incidents.

The Hong Kong Government owned a lot of flats but in the mid 80’s there was a massive recruitment of overseas officers who were entitled to Government quarters. As result the Government had to lease numerous flats on fixed term tenancies. As one can imagine problems arose when the lease terms came to an end. Families had settled in the location of their flats, sent their children to local schools, joined local clubs etc, so it was only natural that they would prefer to stay in the same location. Needless to say this was not always possible therefore complaints were made to the Quartering Officer.

Some of the excuses to stay in a particular area were quite amazing and I could write many pages on these. For example, one family who had been living in a ground floor flat with a small garden, very rare in Hong Kong, said a member of the family was disabled and could only live on the ground floor. On investigation this “disabled” person was seen sailing! They never got a another ground floor flat but were moved into a block of flats on a high floor. Others claimed it was difficult to drive to their offices, not a good excuse as public transport in Hong Kong was excellent and cheap. The main problem was schooling but in the end most families accepted the situation and got their children into suitable schools but not always in the location of their original school.

On vacating quarters I or my assistant conducted what we termed a marching out inspection. This was to ensure the quarter vacated in a reasonable state and no major alterations had been made. Some of these inspections were a real eye-opener. One occupant who lived in a remote part of the New Territories in a bungalow had sealed off the garage with iron bars inside of which we discovered a brown bear! On further looking inside the bungalow there were snakes in cages and other reptiles. In one of the more senior quarters a four-poster bed had been built on a platform to which access was by way of a pebble footpath from the main door. The whole bedroom was painted bright pink. Some occupants converted their amahs quarters and rear balconies into huge bird cages. The squawking of yellow crested cockatoos and parrots didn’t go down too well with neighbours so complaints to the QO. One occupant collected LP records but had two of one, one which he played and one as a reserve. One and a half bedrooms were completely lined with shelving storing hundreds of LP’s. On another occasion an occupant built a small dinghy in one of the rooms but on finishing it he couldn’t get it out. It took the Public Works Department and a crane to extricate it, at the occupant’s expense! Another occupant hoarded newspapers to the extent that rats and other bugs had infested the flat in three of the rooms filled with newspapers and were spreading to other flats. It cost the occupant a lot of expense to remove the papers and the flat had to be fumigated five times. That inspection was quite frightening. Waterfilled king-sized beds caused problems as they created a worry over floorloading and flooding into lower flats. One did in fact burst and caused a lot of damage to lower floors.

Abandoned cars was a major problem as it took a lot of administrative work to check ownership, removal and eventual crushing. One of these stands out as I had gone through all the proper procedures and then one day the so called “owner” turned up to ask where his mini was. I explained what I had done and that the car had been crushed. At this point “war” broke out and the threat of suing me and compensation came up. The matter was resolved but not to the “owner’s” benefit, to say no morel

Finally I must add that on retiring to Australia and joining a monthly group of ex-Hong Kongers and when walking into the restaurant my greeting was it’s the “b.... Quartering Officer, you kicked me out of such and such quarter”. No offence was taken and we have a good group who frequently reminisce about Hong Kong and even ask me to tell some tales of my experiences as the QO.

map of British Empire
Hong Kong Map, 1984
Colony Profile
Hong Kong
Originally Published
OSPA Journal 112: October 2016


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