Postcards from the South: Memory and History of the Malaysian Railways


The first railway line in Malaya was built in 1869 by the ambitious Maharaja Abu Bakar of Johor. Two decades later, the British built an extensive network to facilitate the transport of tin, and later rubber, to the ports. This network remains in use today as a passenger line, stitching together three corners of the peninsula. For more than a century, the railways have remained a mainstay in the lives of all Malaysians, a romantic symbol of travel to exotic destinations, and of power, industry and modernisation.


Postcards from the South retraces the historic Southern Line, giving voice to the railway, the people and the places they call home. A parallel

narrative explores new perspectives on a century and a half of railway history and its role in nation-building, using previously unpublished photographs, documents and maps.


“The writing of the history of any complex nation must necessarily attempt to capture the complexity of that nation itself, and this has always been a challenge for historians and political scientists alike. In so many ways that challenge has been met in this truly extraordinary work, which

recounts the personal experiences and life-histories of Malaysians from all walks of life. Bound together by the theme of mobility and movement, this is not merely a history of Malaysia’s railways, but is a story of Malaysia and Malaysians; connected by their bond to the land that they love and the

hopes and apprehensions they harbor in their hearts. In so many ways, it has identified the conundrum of what Malaysia is, and what being Malaysian means; and marks a major step forward in the writing of Malaysian history from the bottom-up.”

~Assoc. Professor Farish A. Noor, RSIS and the School of History, NTU


Postcards from the South / by Mahen Bala

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