Fort Alice left to ruin
SRI AMAN (Sarawak): Every visitor to Sri Aman town, 200km from the state capital of Kuching, will leave the historical town in puzzlement as to why an old fort is left to ruin.
The once glorious Fort Alice is now a public eyesore and an embarassment for the authorities supposed to care for this Brooke-era building. It was a fort and administrative building in the past.
“It is a building of great historical and cultural significance. I don’t understand why the state does not feel an urgency to protect or restore it,” a Chinese community leader in Sri Aman lamented.
Sri Aman businessman Stanley Lau said the fort was left to rot and could pose a safety hazard.
“Although there is a sign at the gates leading to the fort to warn people against going into the building, there will be curious visitors who will venture in.
“Also, one side of the wooden gate has been torn down,” he said.
A quick peek inside reveals a desolate condition. Much of the ceiling has collapsed, so has the floor. Some of the walls are missing, either collapsed or due to vandalism.
A few cement tanks outside the fort are collecting water and can become mosquito breeding grounds.
“The authorities do not take matters in a small town like Sri Aman seriously.
“The fort could have attracted many tourists if it had been properly maintained or restored,” said a hotel owner who did not want to be named.
She said that many Malaysian and foreign tourists coming to Sri Aman town always enquired about the old fort.
A senior government officer in Sri Aman who wished to remain anonymous said it was heart-breaking to see an important and beautiful historical building abandoned for so long.
Fort Alice is one of the few forts built in Sarawak by the Brooke regime which ruled the state for over 100 years.
It is located atop a small hill overlooking Lupar River and just 200m from the town centre.
Built in 1864, the 145-year-old structure is rectangular with an open centre courtyard, a drawbridge and a lookout tower at each corner of the building.
The whole building is protected by a spiked iron perimeter fence.
This typical Brooke era fort was built almost entirely of belian timber, with thick walls to withstand attacks.
It also served to prevent the Skrang Dayaks from going down the river to join the Saribas Dayaks in their attacks on coastal areas, an activity prevalent in the head-hunting days.
It was originally built as Fort James by Rajah Charles Brooke, but he renamed it after his wife Ranee Margaret Alice Lili in 1870.
In 1971, the fort was gazetted as a historical monument under the care of Sarawak Museum.
In peaceful times, it served as a police station, prisons department and community welfare department offices.
It is understood that the fort’s deteriorating condition had forced out all its tenants.
According to government sources, the state was anxious to commence full restoration work on the dilapidated building under the 9th Malaysia Plan.
However, due to the lack of funds, work has not started.
Sri Aman Resident Abang Shamshudin Abang Seruji, whose office is opposite the fort, hoped that funding would be available under the 10th Malaysia Plan so that there would be no further delay to the restoration work.
He suggested turning the fort into a museum-cum-cultural centre after it was restored.
Attempts to contact officials at Sarawak Museum in Kuching for comment were unsuccessful.
Meanwhile, on the hillside facing the river, construction and beautification work on an esplanade and benak (tidal bore) observation centre have been completed.
The benak is unique to Lupar River and seen daily during high tide when the tidal bore fills up the river rapidly, creating waves two to three metres high in the process.
The annual Benak Festival held between April and May attracts thousands of visitors.