The Esplanade Set To Create History Again

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By Nur Adila Abdul Wahab
GEORGE TOWN (Penang, Malaysia) Aug 3 (Bernama) -- At 6 p.m. sharp on Aug 30, 1957, the Union Jack was lowered at the Esplanade or Padang Kota Lama to indicate the end of colonial rule in Penang.

The Esplanade is steeped in history, with one of the more significant events that took place there being the lowering of the British flag a day before Malaya was declared an independent nation.

Also located there are some of Penang's most historic buildings, including the City Hall and Town Hall structures and the crumbling Fort Cornwallis that was built in 1786 by the British East India Company.

The Esplanade's scenic seafront promenade facing the Strait of Malacca is a favourite haunt of the locals who come there in the morning or evening to jog or take a stroll or just enjoy the sea breeze.

After 61 years, the Esplanade is set to make history again tomorrow. The new Pakatan Harapan government has chosen it as the venue for the launch of two events – National Month and Fly the Jalur Gemilang 2018 – in conjunction with its first-ever National Day celebrations.

Spearheaded by the Communications and Multimedia Ministry with the cooperation of the Penang state government, the celebrations will be launched by Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad at 8 p.m. Saturday.


Social historian Liang Chow Ming said the choice of location for the launch of the National Day-related events was apt as it was surrounded by heritage buildings. The celebrations would also bring back feelings of nostalgia because that area marked the beginning of British colonisation of Malaya.

"Padang Kota Lama symbolised the arrival of the British in this country. They entered Malaya via Penang and that was how the Esplanade (Padang Kota Lama) came about," he told Bernama, adding that there was no other place more symbolic than the Esplanade for tomorrow's celebrations.

"It's a new start... new hope after 61 years of independence."

Heritage activist Khoo Salma Nasution said Penang was the first to be colonised by the British after they established their base in Padang Kota, Tanjung, which is now known as George Town.

"On Aug 31, 1957, the Independence Day celebrations were held in Padang Kota. Today, Padang Kota is an archaeological site where we can learn about our history and the heritage of our multiracial society," she said.

Reminding Malaysians to uphold the independence enjoyed by their nation, Khoo Salma – who is Penang Heritage Trust vice-president – said this year's National Day theme, 'Sayangi Malaysiaku', denoted that Malaysia's dignity should never be traded off.

"We need to remember that when we sell a piece of land to others, we no longer own that land," she said.


Sharing what he knew of the Esplanade's history, Penang Malay Association president Mohd Yusoff Latiff said many among the younger generation were not aware of its rich history and regarded Padang Kota Lama as a tourist attraction and a place for recreational activities or to have a meal.

"Long ago, Padang Kota Lama was the place where various celebrations and campaigns were held. It is replete with history," said the 88-year-old former political secretary to Penang's first chief minister Wong Pow Nee.

Recalling the days just before and after Malaya attained independence, he said the Esplanade ceremony that marked the lowering of the Union Jack was a historic affair.

"On Sept 1, 1957, another historic event took place at Padang Kota Lama where (newly-appointed chief minister) Wong Pow Nee read out the declaration of independence.

"It was such a joyous and fun-filled gathering and I had the opportunity to be present there that day. It was such a meaningful celebration as we had just won our independence," he told Bernama.

Mohd Yusoff, who is also Penang Malay Heritage Trust Organisation president, said the flag of the Federation of Malaya was also raised at Padang Kota Lama when Wong read out the declaration.

Earlier, on Dec 5, 1955, Tunku Abdul Rahman Putra chose the Esplanade as the location to make an announcement pertaining to the granting of pardon to a large number of communists.

"Tunku flew in a helicopter from Butterworth and landed at Padang Kota Lama before making the announcement. It was very crowded as many people had turned up to hear Tunku's announcement. It was a historic occasion too," he recollected.

The Esplanade was also where the British played cricket when Penang was under their administration.

The first Pesta Pulau Pinang, or Trade Fair as it was known as then, was held at Padang Kota Lama in 1970. All kinds of Penang-made products were exhibited at the 10-day fair, said Mohd Yusoff, adding that the fair's venue was later shifted to Sungai Nibong.

Currently, events promoting arts and culture, as well as gatherings and state-level National Day celebrations are held at Padang Kota Lama.

In conjunction with the launch of the National Month and Fly the Jalur Gemilang 2018 celebrations, various events have been planned over a three-day period, starting Friday and ending on Sunday.

Among the events planned are an exhibition titled 'Caring Bridge' in which 80 government agencies and private corporations, including telecommunications companies, will participate.

Translated by Rema Nambiar