Speech by Senior Minister and Coordinating Minister for Social Policies, Tharman Shanmugaratnam, at the Eurasian Association Charity Fundraising Dinner on 11 May 2019.
Dr Alexius Pereira
President of the Eurasian Association,
EA Board Trustees,
EA Management Committee Members,
Thank you for inviting me to be part of this celebration of the Eurasian Association’s 100th anniversary, and your Charity Fundraising Dinner. It is my privilege to be here.
Small but Special
The story of a 100-year-old Association is special. And more so the longer story of the Eurasians - from the time the Portuguese came to Malacca half a millennia ago and began intermarrying with locals, and from when the Dutch Burghers and British later settled in Singapore and Malaya. The emergence of the Eurasians as an early minority community, and the way they later contributed to our young nation, is a special story in Singapore’s history.
It was alwaysa unique community because to be a Eurasian was to be multiracial. You were always the community with a uniquely multiracial identity, in a country that became a unique in Asia for being a multiracial nation, a home for people of many different ethnicities.
We lost many Eurasians in the 1950s, the 60s and 70s. But those who stayed on in Singapore stayed because they wanted to be part of Singapore, and wanted to be part of the making of a multiracial Singapore.
The Eurasians’ contributions to the Singapore identity, and to nation-building, is permanently etched in our history and present-day Singapore.
Indeed, the Eurasians have made an outsized contribution to Singapore, both before and after independence.
Singaporeans of today’s generation know the most outstanding names. Eddie Barker, one of our founding generation of leaders, Dr Benjamin Sheares, Singapore’s second President. And everyone knows Joseph Schooling.
There are many others who have made major contributions to Singapore:
Strengthening the community and our multicultural fabric
In government. Stanley Stewart, and George Bogaars who took over from him as Head, Civil Service in the late 60s. Herman Hochstadt, who was younger but helped lay the foundations for the Singapore Armed Forces and was one of our top civil servants. Those who served Singapore outstandingly abroad like Maurice Baker and later Barry Desker. And Noeleen Heyzer, who served as Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations, the highest ranking Singaporean at the UN;
In politics. Besides Barker and Kenneth Byrne who were in our first Cabinet, we had Joe Conceicao in Parliament. And today we have three Eurasians in Parliament at the same time, in Chris De Souza, Joan Pereira and NMP Walter Theseira. Remember too that George Oehlers served as Speaker of the first Legislative Assembly of Singapore in 1955;
In medicine, besides Dr Sheares, Prof Ernest Monteiro, who led the effort to stop the polio outbreak in Singapore in the 1950s through vaccination, and was one of our first local Deans of Medicine;
In sport – what an illustrious history! From the early greats like Alice Pennefather and Lloyd Valberg, who was the first from Singapore to compete in the Olympics (1948) and made it to the high jump finals. To Mary Klass who followed suit in the 1950s. And many others who made their name in Singapore sports from the 1960s onwards: in athletics, like Heather Siddons, and the indefatigable Patrick Zehnder who has coached more top athletes than anyone else. In football, Wilfred Skinner, one of our best national goalies ever. In hockey, there are more outstanding Eurasian names than I can mention, but I want to at least say that as national players, Douglas Nonis in centre-field and Farleigh Clarke and Gerard De Cruz as forwards were among our best ever. (It was my privilege to also play with them in the SRC team for a while, before I joined a rival team at the other end of the Padang.) In female hockey, there has been no parallel to Melanie Martens. And in cricket, we had Steve Houghton, who is writing a book on Singapore cricket history and John Martens amongst the country has ever had.
In the arts and culture. Jeremy Monteiro, Singapore’s renowned Jazz musician and Cultural Medallion winner. Douglas Oliveiro, whom I would regard as the first among equals among the rockers in the 1980s and 1990s.And Rex Shelley, one of Singapore’s most renowned and colourful novelists.
The success of Eurasians in Singapore is not just a story of individuals of course. It says something about the strength of the community. Yours is a community that looks out for each other and encourages each other.
I commend the EA for being a pioneer in providing mutual support and assistance to your members. For the last 100 years, the EA has been helping the less fortunate in the Eurasian community, and has over the years added to its range of programmes, including its Family Support Services welfare programmes, supporting needy families, single parents and the elderly. Over the past five years, EA’s Educational schemes and programmes have benefitted about 2,000 under-privileged students.
I am also heartened that there is now strong collaboration between EA and the other Self-Help Groups to leverage one another’s strengths and capabilities to tackle shared challenges, and promote interactions between ethnic groups.
I also understand that the EA’s Performing Arts Chapter participates in inter-community events such as the Inter-Racial Inter-Religious Harmony Nite, Chingay and National Day, actively showcasing Eurasian culture at these events. These cross community efforts matter in our efforts to build a better home for all and a strong shared identity.
And the gifts and contributions that the Eurasian community offer to the rest of us are wide and varied. I should say too that the community has always added life to every occasion - I say this in a positive way - the Eurasians have always been comfortable in social situations!
Preserving its heritage and culture
Later this year, the EA will initiate three milestone events as part of your 100th Anniversary celebrations starting with the Eurasian Centenary Festival at Our Tampines Hub in July, showcasing Eurasian culture and history through dances, food, and music. This will be followed by the opening of the Eurasian Heritage Gallery in September, which chronicles the Eurasian community’s history and contributions to society through colonial times and till today. In October, a book about the Association will be launched, recognising the work of Eurasian pioneers in helping to uplift the community through education and family services, and in preserving and promoting Eurasian heritage. These are important celebrations of the community’s history and heritage, and remind us of our shared identity in Singapore as we continue to build on it and strengthen it.
I am glad that the heritage gallery and publication initiated by the Eurasian Association have benefitted from the National Heritage Board (NHB)’s Heritage Project Grant. The heritage grant scheme is an ongoing effort under NHB’s Our SG Heritage Plan to support ground up initiatives that contribute to our shared heritage. We strongly encourage efforts by community groups to research, document, safeguard and transmit our heritage to all Singaporeans, and to our future generations. The good work by the EA sets a high benchmark for many of our other community groups.
The EA is also working with the Singapore Bicentennial Office to organise a conversation on Eurasian Identity at Fort Canning later this year.
The Eurasian community was amongst our earliest communities. But it is also part of our future. It is again growing, with new Eurasians being part of our population. I hope the special character that the community has had, that adeptness with people of all cultures and that wanting to make Singapore even more tightly knit as a multiracial society, remains the natural instinct of Eurasians old and new in the years to come. I am sure the EA will help make it so.
I commend you for a century’s worth of achievements, and look forward to your continued contributions to our nation’s future.
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