A happening place since ancient times

  • Nation
  • Friday, 20 May 2005

Chief Minister Tan Sri Abdul Taib Mahmud set out a target in 1985 to turn Miri into a city within 20 years and today the vision has been realised. 

However, the importance of Miri has not been lost on others over the years. 

Historically, this once sleepy hallow has always been of great strategic and logistics importance for settlements, trade, maritime navigation and even military planning and operations. 

Located midway along the lengthy Borneo coastline stretching from the southern-most tip of Sarawak to the northern-most tip of Sabah, Malaysia's newest city has always featured prominently as a focal point. 

When the Japanese imperial army initiated their plan to conquer South-East Asia and Australia during World War II, their first landing target for the Borneo Island was here. 

On Dec 16, 1941, nine days after attacking Pearl Harbour, more than 30,000 Japanese soldiers landed on the Miri beaches as their first assault and landing point in Borneo because of the availability of oil and for strategic positioning purposes. 

The tentacles of the Japanese army spread out around Borneo from this central position. 

When the allied forces led by the Australian and British embarked on their liberation of Borneo, they parachuted down in Bario in the highlands of Miri, also for strategic reasons, and proceeded towards securing Miri to cut off the oil supply from the enemies. 

CITY STATUS: An aerial view of the modern Miri city.

On Sept 11, 1945, the Australian forces liberated the whole of Sarawak because of their success in securing Miri. 

Going back even further into history, Miri is the first place where oil was found in 1910, and is home to the country’s first inland oil drilling platform at Canada Hill, just outside the city centre. 

It was from Miri that Sarawak started its very first shipment of crude oil overseas on April 1, 1913, three years after the Canadians and local natives hit the first drop of oil on top of Canada Hill overlooking the then fishing village of Miri. 

It was this “black gold” that transformed Sarawak into the economic and financial powerhouse it is now. It was this commodity that formed the basic foundations for the transformation of Malaysia after the nation was born in 1963. 

Even in pre-historic times, Miri was significant. Archaeological finds showed that human civilisation existed here more than 40,000 years ago – the first evidence of human settlement in Borneo. 

The remains of this ancient tribe can still be seen in the famous Niah Caves, some 120km south of here. 

Today, Miri will be declared a city, the third in Sarawak, as Kuching has been divided into North Kuching and South Kuching cities. 

And Miri boosts of many firsts. Besides being the oil-capital of Malaysia, it is home to Borneo’s first foreign university campus following the setting up of Curtin University of Technology Sarawak near the border with Brunei in Kuala Baram. 

It is the gateway to the Mulu National Park, the first world heritage site in Sarawak which is home to the biggest cave chamber in the world. 

Miri is also culturally the most diverse place in Sarawak, 19 ethnic and sub-ethnic groups living side by side with expatriates from Australia, Europe, India, the United States and China, among others.  


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