The Kallang River was once the “immemorial haunt” of the Orang Biduanda Kallang, a commu- nity 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. There were about 500 Orang Biduanda Kallang in the early 19th century when Raffles arrived, but they were later resettled by the Temenggong at the Pulai River in Johor. Unlike other Orang Laut groups, however, these people avoided the open sea, staying near the river mouth where they fished or gathered forest produce, and heading upstream at dusk. The population was almost wiped up by a smallpox outbreak in 1847.
A few descendants of the Orang Kallang or other Orang Laut, however, are said to have remained in Singapore, dispersing to the southern islands or the Geylang area. Others may have settled in Kampong Rokok, a village of stilt houses on an intertidal sand flat by the former mouth of the river, just south of Kallang Road. Kampong Rokok, along with the nearby Kampong Batin, Kampong Kallang and Kampong Laut, vanished when the area was dregded and reclaimed for the Kallang Airport in the 1930s. The villagers were resettled at Kampong Melayu in Jalan Eunos.
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.
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.