The Ombilin coal mine in Sawahlunto, West Sumatra, the “oldest coal mining town in Southeast Asia”, has been named a World Heritage site by UNESCO.
In the year 1888 Ir. W.H. De Greve discovered coal layers in West Sumatra on the banks of the Ombilin River at a place called Ulu Air. Further exploration was carried out by R.D.M. Verbeek who discovered a considerable vast reserve of approximately 200 million tones. But first the transportation problems had to be solved. In 1892, after the opening of the Emma Haven Port, today Teluk Bayur, and the final construction of the 155 km Teluk Bayur Sawahlunto rail way track, that the mining activities could start. Coal production during the Dutch Colonial period was quit high and once the production of Indonesian coal reached a peak of 2.008.974 tons in 1941.
But during the Japanese occupation the Indonesian coal mines had suffered damages and as a result coal production decreased drastically.
Since 1950 up to 1958 the coal mines were under the supervision of the Directorate of Mines and then during the 1958-1961 period under the supervision of the General Bureau of State Mining Companies (BUPTAN). During 1961-1968 BUPTAN was replaced by the Management Board of State Coal Mines.
In 1918 Sawahlunto was known as Gemeentelijk Ressort or Gemeente with a land area of 778 ha. The name was given to mark its success in coal mining activities at that time. The total population in 1930 was 43,576 consisting of 564 Europeans and little more than 50 families. Even though Sawahlunto had yet to become Stadsgemeente, the management of the town was done by Stadsgemeenteraad(DPRD) and Burgemeester (Major Walikota).
World War 2
During world war two the Japanese occupied Sawahlunto and the Europeans became prisoners of war. Nearly all these prisoners were transported to Padang and later to Bangkinang concentrationcamp. Sawahlunto as well as Bangkinang were more inland and about 100 km from Padang. The history of the war period tells us also the cruelty of the Japanese military. The European men who were all employers of the Ombilin Mines were tortured for nearly a year. Many died of these mistreatment.
After the war many Sawahlunto Europeans left for Padang and occupied the large homes. One of the homes were located on the Djalan Olo 27. On 18 November 1945 Indonesian permuda’s or how you will call them, put the house on the Djalan Olo in fire and burned it down. An estimated 30 Europeans were raped, murdered and cut into pieces. 4 Europeans survived.
From Batubara book published by Departemen per Tambangan dan Energi
From publications on my website Https://MyIndoWorld.com
Ronny Geenen, who was born in Sawahlunto and is a survivor of WW2 and the bersiap period.