The Sunday Mail – 26 August 1962
An example of the important role which private enterprise is playing in the development of independent Malaya is the official opening last month of the $100 million Rompin Iron Mine at Bukit Ibam in South Pahang.
It represents the biggest single capital investment in this country since Merdeka.
It is also the largest industrial development project in the history of Pahang.
At a time when rural and industrial development is essential for the future of Malaya, the opening of a mine of such proportions as Rompin is a major contribution to national progress.
For the Mine offers steady employment for hundreds of fishermen who formerly depended on the sea for a hand- to- mouth livelihood.
Also, the significance of the 50 mile railroad built by this company – it cost $20 Million- to connect the Mine with the coastal town of Kuala Rompin cannot be underestimated,
It has opened up an isolated part of Pahang, bringing a better life to hundreds of people hitherto living in wilderness.
Now they can get the products of civilisation without inconvenience.
Like the railway from the mining town of Sungei Lembing to the jetty at Pasir Kemudi, on the Kuantan river, the new line will attract settlers and encourage rural development.
To get to from Kuantan to the Mine, one has to go to Pekan by car, then take the 40 mile sand track by Land Rover to Kuala Rompin, thence by the railway to Bukit Ibam.
As the Rompin Mining Companys’ train chugged along at less than 20 miles an hour, it is difficult to imagine the tremendous amount of hard work that has been put in to build the line.
The railway was laid in just under 20 months – over soft coastal sands, through swamps, hills and thick jungles.
It crosses no less than 400 bridges and culverts. A thousand men and nine engineers under Mr G.M.Wheat, a former General Manager of Malayan railway carried out the construction project, explained Mr J.N.McHugh, General Manager of the company.
“The railway was a vital link. Without it, heavy plant and equipment could not have been brought and assembled in time “.
The completion of the line in 20 months was an engineering feat.
ROWS OF HOUSES
There was only one fatality during the whole operation. This occurred when a man was crushed by a tree he was felling.
Two hours and a half after leaving Kuala Rompin, the visitor is greeted by a panorama which in the morning mist appears like a mirage.
As he gets nearer he can see rows of neatly built houses, a giant iron ore procesing plant, a sawmill, and scores of other buildings.
The sound of shunting wagons can be heard distinctly.
And all around this scene of activity is the thick lush jungle.
The story of Bukit Ibam is one of guts and determination.
Prospecting started in 1952 at the height of the Emergency.
Attacks by wild animals,jungle illness and terrorist bullets were the dangers the prospectors faced.
From this pioneering work, Bukit Ibam developed into a thriving centre. Perhaps in ten years it will grow to the size of Dungun in Trengganu, which owes it’s progress to the Bukit Besi Iron mine.
Kuala Rompin has benefitted immensely from the opening of the Bukit Ibam mine. From a cluster of huts, it has grown into a busy township.
The Rompin mine has 1,400 workers on it’s payroll, — 60 per cent of them Malays.
It has an administration staff of 200 plus 50 Senior Officers, including Australians and Americans.
Several dozen families have already moved to Bukit Ibam. More will join the menlolk as more houses are completed.
Very soon this former jungle wilderness will be home for 6,000 people — a splendid example of progress in modern Malaya.
The Mine’s 58 acres are estimated to contain 20 million tons of high grade iron ore. There is another 20 million tons in the surrounding areas.
Only25 miles from Bukit Ibam is the site of the Bera “find” made by members of the Geological Survey Department. Bera is estimated to have 10 million tons of iron ore.
If the Rompin Mining Company gets the rights to this new iron ore fileld, all it has to do is to push it’s railway further on and then start mining operations.
The company has already spent $100 million on it’s present project, including construction of coastal installations at Kuala Rompin and purchase of tugs and lighters to take the ore to ships.
The present iron ore deposits are expected to keep the mine going for about 15 years. Mr McHugh said it was the company’s aim to develop to the fullest possible capacity all iron ore in the region.
Owing to the Japanese restriction on imports of Malayan iron ore, the Rompin Mining Company can export only one million tons this year.
“We must — and this is equally in the interests of the State of Pahang, increase our export to at least four million tons a year as soon as Japan’s recovery from her temporary economic setback permits increased sales of iron ore” said Mr McHugh.
The decision of Japanese steel mills to impose a drastic reduction in the tonnage of ore to be imported from Malaya this year came as a severe shock to the company.
This unexpected situation had caused a severe reduction of the finance available this year and limited very severely the programme of work it had planned.
Mr McHugh added that with an investment of this size and with a railway capable of handling about six million tons a year, it would be evident that to haul only a million or a million and a half tons a year was uneconomic.
Mr McHugh even envisaged the possibility of the company’s railway being used one day to link the new port of Kuala Rompin with the Malayan Railway system.
The two lines are of the same gauge.
He acknowledged the help wich the Federation and Pahang governments gave to the company in the Rompin project. He said the Malayan police and security forces at the height of the Emergency provided the company’s jungle teams with armed guards.
They also assisted by arranging for supplies of food and other essentials by means of air drops. The Mines and Telecommunications departments also co-operated.
The installation of a VHF link at Bukit Ibam some years ago facilitated the geological investigation of the ore body
Mr McHugh mentioned the vision and drive of those responsible for the project.
They were determined to see this big venture realised in the face of extreme difficulties.
The technical and financial help given by Rompins’ parent company, the Eastern Mining and Metals Co. Ltd was most valuable.
It was EMMCO geologists and surveyors who pioneered the work in the early years. It was from EMMCO the company drew many of it’s Engineers’ and skilled workers.
Emmco’s experience in developing the Dungun mine and training of Malayans for the work had been the foundation of Rompin’s development.
Referring to the construction of the railway, Mr McHugh said the company sought advice in many countries.
It was found that there were few major contractors building railways today.
The best advice the company got was that it would take three years to build it’s meter gauge railway through the coastal swamps and jungle hills.
The company finally decided to do the work itself and brought modern equipment from America for the job.
Work was still continuing now to improve the cuttings and embankments.