Brunei is to day known for its oil and gas. A century ago, it was famous for another type of hydrocarbon, coal. Vestiges of ancient coal mines and coal still dot the country. But did you know that one of these little known treasures is an abandoned coal mine which drew the Englishmen, W.C. Cowie and Charles Brooke, to extract coal here? It is therefore poignant for Tourism Brunei to coin its catch-phrase, Brunei, A Kingdom of Unexpected Treasures. I bet Tourism Brunei knows a thing or two about this gem of a treasure.
On 12 June 2011, Rudy Gerard Chong and I embarked on a expedition to rediscover Brooketon Colliery. This was a path less travelled. This colliery was mined commercially from 1883 to 1924. According to Wilford (1961) Brooketon Colliery produced a total of 650,000 tonnes. The closure of the mine was due to falling prices and world economic recession. Located to the north of the roundabout where Jalan Muara meets the Muara Tutong Highway, Brooketon is a stone’s throw away from Muara. A rail line once connected this mine to the port at Muara.
Our venture into the colliery was a test of orientation and common sense, of wit and gut. The mine is totally reclaimed by the forest. Dense undergrowth, wet jungle floors and sweltering heat add to our burden of having to carve a way in (to the unknown).
The first artifact we stumbled upon was what appeared like a cast iron boiler. It could very well be a locomotive. Untrained in archaeology, we couldn’t ascertain this object, which has/had been ruthlessly scavenged for the metal. However it was comforting to see some remaining details, such as the well preserved hot rivets that held the iron pieces neatly together.
Penetrating deeper, the ground became swampy. The soggy terrain underfoot meant we were often stuck in mud. Adding to our misery were the endless suicidal kami-kaze attacks by mosquitoes. Insect repellent didn’t help. Next, we came to a clearing and there lay what appears to be remains of a processing centre. There were brick walls, brick columns, a stone wall, a concrete trough flooded with rain water to the brim, and a semi-submerged cast iron tank. Other than an old rusty 150mm diameter pipe, no other tools or machinery was immediately seen. Perhaps a proper archaeological dig on this site would reveal many more secrets and treasures dating back a century ago.
We pushed further, and found an opening into a knob hill. This appears to be a shaft leading perhaps to the underground mine. Whether it was a mine shaft remains a speculation at best. The entrance has concrete pillars and lintel, but it is now covered with dirt almost all the way to the top, perhaps deliberately buried for safety reasons to prevent people from entering the abandoned mine.
If this knob hill was any indication that it bore veins of coal, we didn’t see any other trace that suggested it did. Nonetheless we continued to explore this circular hill, climb its treacherous slippery slopes only to come full circle to nothing. However, on another remote track lay a “tank”, cracked and broken by strong banyan roots. What this “tank” was used for remains a mystery. Now it is a sanctuary for breeding mosquitoes.
It is my hope that relevant authorities would embark on a detailed study of this historic site. This was the mine leased to Charles Brooke, the second Rajah of Sarawak. This very mine bore his name too. Brooketon colliery is a hidden treasure that has great tourism potential. It is a site quite suitable for eco-tourism in this Abode of Peace, A Kingdom of Unexpected Treasures.
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