The close association with Burchill Partners Pty Limited, engineers and planners (Gold Coast/Johor Malaysia/Japan), resulted in Ken Newton making his first trip to Johor, the southern growth state of mainland Malaysia in 1995.

He was commissioned to work with an international planning team of which Burchill Partners were the key players, in a state project to breath new life into the old city of Johor Bahru, just across the causeway from Singapore.


The outcome was many, many trips, five versions of a documentary and a great deal of assistance for presentations to the government, departmental heads, the Johor Bahru Council and private organisations. Newton was also commissioned to produce the public document for use during the statutory one month public consultation period. It was written in English and Malaysia Bahasa.


The mutual client was the Institute Sultan Iskandar, a research and development organisation comprising practical academics from the biggest technical university campus in Malaysia, the Universiti Teknologi Malaysia, in Johor and Kuala Lumpur

The director of ISI, Professor Dr Azman Awang was, and still is, a driving force in significant urban and regional rejuvenation, economic developments and housing projects in Malaysia and other neighbouring countries.

Professor Azman Awang, head of the Institute Sultan Iskandar, with the Chief Minister of Johor during a Singapore ceremony attended by Ken Newton. At right is a piece of the superb old archicture of Johor.

At left, Ken Newton with Professor Azman Awang, director of ISI and at right, a scene for an ISI documentary called "The New Thinkers", being directed by Paul Noonan of All In One Media (kneeling) and behind the camera is DOP David Endres.

ISI, while funded by the private sector, became an important provider of valuable research and planning for the State government of Johor and subsequently, the Federal government of Malaysia.
The Menteri Besar of Johor (left) Dato Haji Abdul Ghani Bin Othman, with the Director of ISI, Professor Dr Azman Awang, and in the right picture is Prof Azman making a presentation to an Indonesian official during a formal visit attended by Ken Newton

The relationship developed between all the parties to the degree that Ken Newton became a consultant to the Institute and produced a number of significant documentaries, some of which were prepared specially for showing to the PrimeMinister of Malaysia.

Ken Newton also produced documentaries to market the scientific research capabilities of the University to Malaysian private enterprise.

Ken Newton and his production team made many many trips over a five year period to Malaysia and Indonesia, thanks to the Burchill Partners influence.

The result was some of the finest documentaries produced by Ken Newton's company and they take pride of place today in his library.

The association with Burchill Partners continues, and despite the temporary problems caused by the economic crisis in Asia, Ken Newton is counting the days when he can get back and undertake more assignments in this part of the world.

(LARGE PIC: Script writer Ken Newton in discussion at an economic symposium in Singapore with the Menteri Besar of Johor, Dato Haji Abdul Ghani Bin Othman and the Director of ISI, Professor Dr Azman Awang in the background.

No page on Malaysia would be complete with a tribute to our Mr Fixit, Helmi Ishak
administration officer with the Institute Sultan Iskandar. Helmi became our logistics manager, close friend, teller of tall tales and chief problem solver for every camera assignment in Malaysia. Helmi is on the right, on location in a rubber tree furniture factory at Muar.

The Kuala Lumpur symposium and Ken's close shave with death

In October 1998, Ken was asked by the Institute Sultan Iskandar to deliver the opening paper at the annual SEACUM symposium, hosted by the Hans Seidel Foundation of Germany and the Institute. (READ THE PAPER BY CLICKING HERE).

Ken relates:

"I delivered the address on a Friday. The next morning, I felt strange, with a feeling like diarrhoea and a slight nausiousness. I blamed a late meat meal in the hotel the night before.

The pains worsened and by 3pm I was writhing in agony with pains in my right side of the abdomen.

Others had to carry my bags to a late night luxury coach which was to take the team from Kuala Lumpur back to Johor Bahru. I spent the four hour journey doubled up on a seat.

Back at the Seri Malaysia Hotel, where I kept a permanant room during my visits, I just collapsed on the bed in my suit clothes, too ill to remove them. I realised that I needed help, so told the late night clerk to tell the hotel manager that I had caught a taxi to the nearby Johor Specialists Hospital.

Once there, I was greeted with a poorly presented emergency ward and a filthy bed. A young doctor said I was dehydrated and that a drip would fix my problem. I insisted that this was something worse.

I was transferred to a ward, still in my street clothes and lay on a bed. Several doctors looked and probed. One, a pompous Chinese doctor wouldn't even talk direct to me, but just felt around and started ordering emergency surgery to have my appendix removed.

I demanded to see a senior surgeon, and by this time, I had also arranged to summon Professor Azman, head of the Institute Sultan Iskandar, to help me out.

An Indian lady hospital registrar was much more human, and we struck a deal that if the antibiotics they gave me in a drip had not caused any improvement by 6pm they would consider surgery.

In the meantime, Prof Azman arrived and used his considerable influence to call down Malaysia's top keyhole surgeon from Kuala Lumpur, and Prof and his wife Arnnie held onto the side of my cot and stayed with me throughout the many pre-operation tests. Prof quizzed every doctor who looked at me, and made it abundantly clear that they were dealing with a "very valuable consultant of ISI" and that everything possible had to be done to get me fixed up.

I went into the operating theatre at 8pm. In the meantime, I had phoned Bron in Australia and she was on a Qantas plan heading for me.

I awoke, drugged and groggy later that night to a room full of people in a private suite in the hospital. The manager of the Seri Malaysia Hotel was there, eyes wide in horror because she thought that perhaps the obscure native pills she had given me late the night before might have contributed to my illness. Azman and his wife were there, British guests from the hotel were there and others that I vaguely recall.

A jubilant Dr Razak who performed the operation entered and thrust a little jar containing an obscene which, quite frankly, looked spookily like a miniature feotus. It was my appendix, which was grossly inflamed at one end and which had to be removed by open wound surgery because keyhole surgery could not negotiate through the inflammation around the appendix which was showing signs of gangrene on one end.

The next day, as Dr Razak was attending to me and stuffing tubes down my throat to drain the fluid in my abdomen, he explained why he was so jubilant the night before. In his words, that I remember, "Mr Ken, you are a very strong man for your age. When patients present with this condition at your age, we usually find that it is the result of a bowel or abdoment riddled with cancer. Because I had a good look around inside you before we operated, I can assure you that you are in excellent medical condition and no signs of anything other than an inflammed appendix which could have come from any kind of bacteria."

High on pethadine, Bron arrived and they moved a bed into my room for her and attended to her meals. It was wonderful attention and service. I halucinated for a week and at the end, when the time came to get out, I looked like I had been in a gunfight with wounds around my abdomen where they had removed the appendix, put in a drip, tried keyhole surgery with a camera through my navel and another puncture wound for the slim tube carrying the tools for keyhole surgery.

I was in pain and I couldn't put my pants on. Prof Azman raced home and returned to present me with a lavishly enbroided souvenir Islamic tunic which I wore like a dress. He had bought it during his visit to Mecca for the Haj. It was light blue, and embroidered with Saudi Arabia on the chest.

Here's what I looked like on release from hospital - click on the images to enlarge them.

I accepted it with gratitude, and and Bron and I headed for Changi with Azman's driver and once there, was transferred to a waiting wheelchair because we had to declare to Qantas the condition I was in.

In the chock-a-block British Airways flight home to Brisbane I was in the middle of the rear of the jumbo jet, with the UK basketball team, full of booze and good cheer. They gave me heaps of good natured lip, but realised that I was recoving from some kind of illness.

The moment we left Brisbane airport, Bron arranged for me to be looked over by my local doctor. He declared it a great job and I then began several months of recovery, dominated by nerve damage which occurred in the longer than expected surgery in Johor. I survived, but the nerve condition they left me in resulted in huge claims against my Keyman insurance because I had considerable difficult concentrating on work. The pain in my arms was so intense the only relief I could get was to immerse myself in a hot bath and this I did regularly, late at night and usually in tears from the pain.




Copyright 2000 (c) Newtons Pty Ltd