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  Straits Times 8 Jul 07
Tree's Company
A group of nature lovers has put together a book to remember and celebrate the old trees at Bukit Timah campus
By Ho Ai Li

EVERY tree has a story to tell. One Angsana tree even made it into the history books when the pioneer law class of 1961 from the then University of Malaya took their graduation photo in front of it.

Almost 40 years later, the law graduates, among whom were Professor Tommy Koh and Chief Justice Chan Sek Keong, returned to the Bukit Timah campus and posed at the same spot.

The tree remained, but an Angsana in the next corner did not.

In remembrance of trees past and celebration of trees present, a team of nature lovers has written a book. Called Trees Of Bukit Timah Campus: A Tribute To Old Friends, it will be launched at the official opening of the National University of Singapore's (NUS) Bukit Timah campus today.

It was based here from 1962 to 1981 when it moved to Kent Ridge. Last year, NUS moved its law school and the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy here.

'The aim is to ensure whatever is here should be preserved,' said Associate Professor Lye Lin Heng, one of the book's editors and deputy director of the Asia-Pacific Centre for Environmental Law based at Bukit Timah.

The seed of the idea was planted by National Institute of Education lecturer Vilma D'Rozario, who then roped in Prof Lye, fellow NIE lecturer Shawn Lum, botanist Hugh Tan, retired botanist Wee Yeow Chin and retired teacher Angie Ng-Chua.

They started brainstorming last November and took about four months to wrap things up.

Published jointly by the NUS and Nature Society (Singapore), 1,000 copies of the book will be given out today at the campus' official opening. There are no plans yet to sell it.

The campus and its immediate surroundings - known as 'the cradle of university education in Singapore and Malaysia' - play host to about 60 species of trees, a mix of native and non-native woods.

The 123-page book documents 41 of these and includes essays from prominent alumni sharing their memories of trees long gone.

One that lives on in the hearts of many is the Acacia tree in the area called the Upper Quadrangle, on whose low-hung branches many sat.

As a PhD student in the late 1970s, Professor Lee Sing Kong, now director of NIE, would often rest there in quiet reflection. It is also his NIE predecessor Leo Tan's favourite tree.

'Many a romance and future leader blossomed under that tree,' he recalls.

Also missed are the tall Casaurina trees which lined the Manasseh Meyer block, and the two Brazil nut trees chopped down to make way for a gymnasium in the 1980s.

But the authors often drew a blank when asking alumni for their memories of trees.

'They said: 'We were too busy studying',' said Prof Lye with a smile. 'It's how sensitive we are to nature. In the early years, the awareness of nature was not there,' she said.

But the tide is changing.

Plans are already afoot to make it a Campus In A Tropical Rainforest.

The idea is to 're-nativise' the campus, to bring in plants of Singapore stock and boost the biodiversity of the campus, said Associate Prof Tan. 'It's like an extension of the nature reserves into the urban area. A compromise between conservation and the pressures on land use in Singapore.'

Indeed, what drives the book's contributors is their love of nature and a wish to spread 'the gospel of conservation'.

As Professor Tommy Koh wrote in his foreword for the book: 'The campus is loaded with history and memories. Let us take good care of this precious national treasure.'

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