Silimpopon – The Forgotten Coal Mine
Deep in the interiors of Tawau in Kalabakan once lies a coal mine village called Silimpopon. The mine was operated by the British Empire from 1905 to 1937. The diversed community that once existed there represents what Tawau is today – a melting pot of cultures from Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines.
There was a book written about Silimpopon by Ross Ibbotson entitled Silimpopon : A Borneo Coal Mine (ISBN 9789833987009).
This is how Silimpopon described in the introduction:
In the early 20th century, the Silimpopon Coal Mine – the only such mine in Sabah (then known as North Bomeo) operated for more than 25 years in a remote location a few miles upriver from Tawau. Owned by the London-based Cowie Harbour Coal Company, the mine was staffed with European managers and engineers. While some locals were also employed, the majority of the mine labourers were Chinese coolies imported directly from China. At its height the mine housed a community of more than 3000, greater than the population of Tawau at that time. It was a self contained community, with its own shops, hospital and police as well as the necessary workshops. A railway with Andrew Barclay locomotives provided the only means of transport to the Silimpopon River – for both coal and people.
The following video was created by Mr. Bryan Paul Lai who is a veteran in Tawau and has a lot of stories to tell about Tawau’s past.