Tan Sri Sulong Matjeraie: From rural Sarawak to Federal Court judge

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By Nancy Nais

KUCHING, Dec 12: Sheer determination to get out of poverty and the persistence to work hard are what made retired Federal Court judge Tan Sri Sulong Matjeraie who he is today.

Despite the challenging circumstances in his life, Sulong went on to excel, and became the first Sarawakian to serve as a Federal Court Judge from 2012 to 2013, before his retirement.

“I was born in Saratok. We were very poor then and I was one of nine siblings. When I was young, life was very difficult. In my primary school days, it was known that if we didn’t pass our Primary Six exams, we could not go further or enter secondary school.

“That was when I told myself, ‘I must study hard or else I will not succeed’. I pulled through primary school in Saratok, and then I went to the ‘famous’ Dragon secondary school (now renamed SMK Tun Abdul Razak) until I completed Form 5,” Sulong said, sharing some of his childhood memories after presenting his High Court, Court of Appeal and Federal Court judge gowns to the Sarawak Museum department today.

However, he was unable to continue his studies after Form 5 as his father asked him to work to help support the family.

“I had to help my father because I had many younger siblings. He could not do it alone,” he said.

In 1964, Sulong began his career as Sarawak State Administrative Officer (SAO) in Simunjan. He also served in other areas like Siburan, Kuching and Lundu.

A few years later, he decided to take his Form 6 examination as a private student before returning to work as the acting District Officer (DO) at another famous town called Binatang, later renamed as Bintangor.

In 1971, he received his promotion as DO for Bintulu.

It was at this time that Sulong was given the opportunity to further his studies in the United Kingdom to read law.

“This part, I owe it to my wife, for she was the one who supported my studies,” he added.

After completing his Masters, Sulong returned to Kuching and subsequently served as general manager for Sarawak Timber Industry Development Corporation and Bintulu Development Authority until 1983 before setting up his own law firm Messrs Sulong Matjeraie and Associates.

“Fifteen years later, I was appointed Judicial Commissioner in Johor Bahru and High Court judge in Kota Kinabalu. At that time, there were only two high court judges, including myself.

“Seven years later, I was sent to Kuala Lumpur after a ‘small promotion’ where I was elevated as Court of Appeal judge, followed by another promotion as Federal Court judge until my retirement,” he chuckled.

Sulong is currently the chairman of board of directors Universiti Malaysia Sarawak (UNIMAS).

His advice to all the Sarawakians: “Always remember, work hard, only then you can move up.” —DayakDaily