The last goodbye
WE ARE AWARE THAT September 16, 1963 or Malaysia Day was an important day in Sarawak history as it was a day we entered into mutual partnership with the Federation of Malaya, Sabah and Singapore to form what we know now as the Federation of Malaysia.
Less than two months earlier on July 22, the last British governor of Sarawak, Sir Alexander Waddell left the Astana on a white sampan to cross the Sarawak River to witness the lowering of the Colonial flag and the raising of the old Sarawak flag with a black and red cross and a yellow crown.
As governor, he appointed Stephen Kalong Ningkan as the first Chief Minister of Sarawak. It was a day Sarawak had declared its independence.
But it wasn’t until the eve of September 16 when the governor and his wife, Lady Jean Waddell left Sarawak’s shores saying their final goodbyes to all the Sarawakians.
Sir Waddell and Lady Waddell left their residence at the Astana at 12.30pm on Sept 15 by state sampan from Pangkalan Batu before boarding British frigate Loch Killisport which was anchored at the Steamship Wharf.
“The Astana is all yours now,” was what he said to Openg before he boarded the Astana sampan.
Built in 1870 by the second White Rajah, Charles Brooke as a wedding gift to his wife Margaret, the Astana served as the official Brooke residence and that of the British governors.
Since Sarawak joined the Federation of Malaysia, it has become the official residence for the Yang di-Pertua Negeris of Sarawak.
As the sampan drew near to the frigate, three cheers of “Hip Hip Hurrah” rang though the crowd who came to witness the departure of the last governor.
Lady Waddell made her final gesture of farewell by standing on the bridge of the British frigate, waving goodbye with a white handkerchief to crowds lining both sides of the riverbanks.
The frigate strolled slowly along the Sarawak River and as it was sailing past Fort Margherita, the Sarawak Constabulary Band played ‘Auld Lang Syne’.
At 1pm his farewell message was broadcast over the radio to the peoples of Sarawak. “To say goodbye is never easy but it is particularly difficult to say goodbye to Sarawak – the more so at a time of historic change and of great events,” he said.
His words were both careful and thoughtful as he said, “Of these I will not dwell but you can be sure that tomorrow Malaysia Day and in the future our thoughts, our hearts and our prayers will be with you as you step out on the great high road of independence with the star of hope and promise before you.”
Waddell reminisced over the three and a half years of his service when he visited various rural places in Sarawak such as Rajang and Baram in his final words.
“Those are but few of the memories that come crowding in – there are millions more and of gay and tragic events none more than in the last crucial years of endeavour.
“But the sum is of a wonderful country with a charm and vigour and tradition that is unequalled in the world, with its peoples of dignity, rugged individuality and warmth at heart”.
“These things you must not lose for they are Sarawak and you will add immeasurably to the strength of the new nation upon which you enter tomorrow,” Waddell reminded Sarawakians.
“You will all, I know, support the new government to the full in the days that lie ahead when the State flag, of revered origin, is unfurled tomorrow.”
Waddell was appointed as the Governor of Sarawak in 1960 and he spoke in Malay at his installation.
The departure of the last governor marked the end of one chapter in our history which started seventeen years earlier when the Act of Cession brought us under the direct rule of the British colonial government.
A new chapter started the day after, on Malaysia Day when the flag of Federation Malaysia was first raised and the national anthem ‘Negara Ku’ was first played at Central Padang, now known as Padang Merdeka.
The last British governor of Sarawak died at Cirencestor, Gloucestershire on June 14, 1999. He was 85.
Fifty one years have passed since the last British governor left Sarawak, the question now to ask of the new generation of Sarawak is if it is still – in Waddell’s words – ‘a wonderful country with a charm and vigour and tradition that is unequalled in the world, with its peoples of dignity rugged individuality and warmth at heart’?
Photo credits: Jabatan Penerangan Malaysia Negeri Sarawak