The longest river in Singapore, the Kallang River and its tributaries drain about one-sixth of the island’s total land area. At its lower reaches, the river once meandered to form a vast basin of mudflats, sand bars and mangrove swamps whose waters swelled with the incoming tide to flood the surrounding plains.
The Kallang River in the past was home to the Orang Biduanda Kallang, a community of Orang Laut or “sea nomads” who lived on boats in the swamps of the Kallang Basin and owed allegiance to Temenggong Abdul Rahman of the Johor-Riau Sultanate. Unlike other Orang Laut groups, these people avoided the open sea, staying near the river mouth where they fished or gathered forest produce, and heading upstream at dusk.
By the early 20th century, the lower reaches of the Kallang River had become a bustling scene of riverine settlements and tongkangs (a small cargo barge) that ferried timber, rubber, charcoal and sago to factories and sawmills located by the banks. The present landscape of the Kallang Basin is the result of a massive reclamation project announced in 1960. A second phase of development began in 1977 with a 10-year clean-up of the Kallang and Singapore Rivers. The clean-up exercise involved the resettlement of about 26,000 farming and riverine families, who were moved into HDB flats.
Cleared of its former squalor, the river was dredged and its banks were stabilised, turfed and landscaped to form pedestrian walkways, while clean sandy beaches for recreational use were formed along parts of the Kallang River. Today, the Kallang Riverside Park offers facilities for water sports such as canoeing and dragon-boating, as well as jogging and cycling tracks by the water.