The journeys of Daud Amatzin Jackson
Mahbob Abdullah 
Daud ... my father was right to leave the islands
The planting industry has had much help from immigrants, and one of the many groups is the Cocos Islanders. They came to Sabah, and worked on estates, married and settled, and got education for their children. When I tell the story of the Cocos, I must also tell the story of one of them, called Daud Amatzin. His journey would be part of the story of his people, who over a hundred years ago had left Indonesia to join the family of Clunies-Ross in the remote atoll in the Indian Ocean called the Cocos-Keeling Islands.

The coral islands are about 3,000km northwest of Perth, discovered in 1609 by Captain William Keeling. The islands were settled in 1827 by the Clunies-Ross family. Long ago, I had read the story of their rule, and the heirs who ran the plantations. They brought Malays from Java and Sulawesi to plant coconut and produce copra.

For over one hundred years, the settlers lived in isolation. Their culture changed, with celebrations influenced by Scottish dances, and many adopted Scottish names. Amatzin’s surname was Jackson. Of course, like a lot of atolls, the Cocos is paradise, with all the fish you could eat, but as the population grew, the place could get crowded.

From 1955, the islands were governed by Australia. When the British administrators allowed some families to come to North Borneo, Daud’s father, Amatzin, and his relatives came to work for Borneo Abaca Ltd (BAL), outside Tawau.

BAL planted abaca, which was processed into manila hemp and turned into ropes and sacking. Amatzin was a fitter in the factory. Like all Cocos Islanders, he had pride in his skill, and would not want any ordinary work in the field.

Tough training

Daud explained that he grew up in the estate quarters. His father sent him to a mission school where the discipline was strong. Each day he would pass the big houses of the plantation managers of the Colonial Development Company (CDC). From afar, he saw the management club, the swimming pool, and the tennis courts, and decided that he too, would want to live a life like that one day. After leaving school in 1974, he went to see the general manager, Don Byers, and succeeded in getting accepted as a cadet planter. It helped that Byers knew the family.

As many planters would know, the training given by CDC was one of the best in the industry.

Daud explained: “He (Byers)made me work in the hot sun learning about planting rubber which replaced abaca. He sent me for an outdoors course at the Outward Bound School. When I came back I did different jobs, weeding, tapping rubber and collecting latex. I worked on cocoa, and later on we switched to oil palm. I had to sit for examinations set by the Incorporated Society of Planters (ISP). I passed all of them.”

Daud worked as an assistant manager for many years, and when promotion was slow, he left and joined another plantation company that was opening up in Sabah during the cocoa boom in the 1980s. His relatives, too, had fanned out, and many formed their own community in Balung on the way to Lahad Datu. Many others went to Pamol Estate upriver from Sandakan, recruited by Leslie Davidson, the general manager. He helped them get land for smallholdings and they settled there as well. Daud continued his work as an estate manager.

Back with a law degree

“I was doing the same thing every year, so I thought of doing something new. I got a scholarship from the government to study law in England. By then I had married a girl, Kamariah, from Kluang, Johor. We stayed in London for three-and-a-half years. I came back with a law degree.

“But that did not guarantee me a job, and I was again thinking of the planting industry. That was the time when MR Chandran was heading the Malaysian Palm Oil Association, which had members from all the big plantation companies. His office was at Jalan Ampang. I got to work for him, dealing with all government affairs. I got to know the industry from the national level.

“My association with the ISP went back to my time in CDC, and when the job of chief executive of the society came up, I took it and travelled throughout the country. We trained more planters, setting examinations in collaboration with universities.

“We got to train the management staff in Felda plantations too. Then I got to join them eventually, as a regional manager, and later, towards my retirement, I led their training programme. I remained active in ISP, and got elected as the chairman, to this day.

“It requires travelling to the branches, and meeting members. I have a strong interest in training. There is also a business arm, and we bought an office space at Amcorp Trade Centre in Petaling Jaya. We have a team of long-serving staff.

“But I had not travelled to the Cocos Islands before, and I decided to do it it a few years ago with Kamariah. We went to Perth. There is already a big community. I do not think that many would want to go back to the atoll as their children get good education, and find good jobs in Australia. They know that knowledge is the key to a better life.

“Going to Cocos was a letdown in many ways. The people were happy but there was very little that the future holds. It shows that my father was right in leaving the islands.

“At the same time, it was on the islands that Kamariah was struck down with an illness. She enjoyed the visit very much, and enjoyed meeting my relatives. But she fell sick and became unconscious. It was the worst thing that could happen in a remote island. There was no plane scheduled to come, and I finally got the help of the Australian government, because of my family connection with the islands, and my wife was flown back to Kuala Lumpur. I was with her till her last hour.”

But Daud managed to get on with his life. “I can take the blows that life can give, my father was a tough man, I had a tough training and I had got this far.”

He has served as chairman of the ISP for 10 years, and he has been awarded the Datukship from the federal government. But his mission is not over.

“There is still much to be done to see that planters get the right training, practical as well as classroom learning. We have to keep up the high level of skill our Malaysian planters are noted for.”

Daud has a smallholding in the Cocos settlement in Balong, and sometimes he goes back there. But I don’t think he will go back there for good. He has relatives in Kuala Lumpur too, in Scotland, Australia and in Singapore.

The Cocos community will keep on growing. They will be proud that many have contributed to the plantation industry, and an outstanding one is Datuk Daud Amatzin.

Mahbob Abdullah is a former planter. Comments:

This article first appeared in Focus Malaysia Issue 245.