Sunday, February 01, 2015

Fort Alice given a new lease on life

LIKE a forgotten memory from a distant past, Fort Alice would have slipped into historical oblivion but for a major restoration that will ensure her 150-year-old legacy is passed on from one generation to the next as testimony of her existence and role in the chronicles of Sarawak.

Fort Alice whose restoration was completed last December, now stands tall against the backdrop of the Batang Lupar. Though a grand old dame, Alice is also new.
Built in 1864 during a turbulent period in the history of the state, Fort Alice witnessed many changes to the local socio-politico and economic landscapes and survived through the hard and tough times.
The elements may have ravaged her but she remains strong and alluring as a curious new object — thanks to her restorers who used belian or ironwood to re-construct her skeletal frame.

Fort Alice was forged from the bones of her predecessor, Fort James, which was relocated downstream from Skrang.
Fort James, built in 1849, was frequently flooded and a new settlement was sought.
The new settlement was built in 1864 and christened Fort Alice, after the consort of the second Rajah, Charles Brooke.
Abandoned for many years, Fort Alice had lost her lustre and become a relic, blotted out by the march of time and rotting away — her non-belian materials infested by termites.
She was only spared a dip into the dross of history by an earnest conservation effort that has given her a new lease on life.
For those who have never seen Fort Alice, she looks like a two-storey wooden bungalow. However, the deceptively strong wooden facade is a mere shell of her original sturdy frame.
Historians have unearthed much evidence, pointing to Fort Alice being a wooden structure on stilts which was later walled up, as she passed through different hands, according to architect Mike Boon, consultant of the Restore Fort Alice project.
Involvement of local community
Work started on May 28, 2013 to restore the fort to her former glory. The project began with the traditional miring ceremony seeking blessings for the smooth mending of the dilapidated citadel.
Boon said as a historically significant building in Sri Aman, it was only right that the local community was involved in the restoration process to enable the present generation to preserve the history of the fort for posterity.
As Fort Alice would serve as the platform to promote the preservation of historical sites, the restoration project involved six local school teachers as facilitators and over 30 students from Primary 5 to Form 6.
The plan was to dismantle the entire fort and rebuild her to her original form. Following the restoration, Fort Alice will be turned into a community heritage museum under the Sarawak Museum Department.
The students involved in the project can be trained as voluntary tour guides for visitors to the fort.
“The whole idea of basic conservation is do less is more as this equals minimum disturbance and prolongs the lifespan of the building.
“Although appointed for the restoration project 10 years ago, I was lucky it didn’t start back then because many mistakes would have been made as background information on the fort only surfaced in recent years,” Boon said.