Two Rivers that Became One
Sembawang Beach: Times Past
Write-up by Margie Hall; photos & maps by Margie HallThe Sungei Sembawang and the Sungei Senoko were originally two distinct but adjacent rivers, the Sungei Senoko lying to the west of the Sungei Sembawang. But nowadays there is only one river, the Sungei Sembawang, which has usurped the original mouth of the Sungei Senoko as well as its name. This did not happen all at once - the change happened in two stages almost fifty years apart, in the 1920s and in the 1970s.
The Sungei Sembawang originally flowed a long circuitous winding route through flat swampy ground to its natural mouth just to the west of the Sembawang Shipyard and to the east of the SAF Yacht Club. But in the 1920s the waters of its middle section were diverted via a long canal called "the New Cut", so that the swampy ground of what is now the Sembawang Drive/Admiralty Link area could be filled to provide land for the British Naval Base. The straight channel of "the New Cut" ran from a point on what we now call the Sungei Sembawang just north of the present MRT line to a point beyond the bridge at Admiralty Road West. There, the waters of the Sungei Sembawang were diverted into the shorter winding Sungei Senoko.
Maps from the 1920s to the 1960s clearly marked the original mouth of the Sungei Sembawang, the higher reaches of the Sungei Sembawang, the "New Cut" and the Sungei Senoko.
In the 1970s the swamps around the winding Sungei Senoko, north of Admiralty Road West, were reclaimed to create an industrial area and the Sungei Senoko was itself straightened and canalized. In this process the river lost its name. The entire length of the 1920's "New Cut" and the 1970s canalization were called the Sungei Sembawang, as appears on maps today. The name Senoko lived on only as a land-based name for the roads and the industrial area. The original mouth of the Sungei Sembawang was no longer marked on maps, although the indentation still shows in the coastline.
Interestingly, the higher reaches of the Sungei Sembawang, where there were still some mangroves and where prawn and fish farmers dug ponds, became known in the 1970s and the 1980s for its profuse bird life. The birdwatchers who flocked to this area and the adjacent grassland gave it the name "Senoko", perhaps to distinguish it from the Jalan Ulu Sembawang birding area further inland. A nature guide-book in the Mobil-sponsored series was even written for the Senoko mangroves, ponds and grasslands Sadly the river and ponds were filled up in the 1990s, and the New Town of Sembawang now covers this once rich area of bird life - "birding at Senoko" is now only a fond memory and the name "Senoko" was lost a second time to the name "Sembawang". Maps
Old Naval Base Map showing Sg Sembawang and Sg Senoko
Current location of the original mouth of Sg Sembawang
Current location of the original mouth of Sg Senoko