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Yass, NSW

Attractive rural service town in the heart of fine sheep grazing country

Historically Yass, an important rural service centre on the Yass River, a tributary of the Murrumbidgee, was a town in the heart of one of the country's prime sheep growing areas. It was noted for its high quality wool and merino studs. Over the past thirty years has become increasingly known for its vineyards and its classy produce. By passed in 1994 it is no longer a stop on the Hume Highway but rather a quiet town with a broad main street, a number of attractive parks, a collection of handsome historic buildings and a relaxed ambience.

Location

Yass is located 286 km south-west of Sydney and 61 km north of Canberra.  It is 505 m above sea level. 

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Origin of Name

Although there are endless jokes about the town being a variant of "Yes" it is more likely that it is a Ngunnawal word "Yhar" which reputedly meant "running water".

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Things to See and Do

Yass Valley Town Walk
There is a downloadable Yass Valley Town Walk (at https://www.yassvalley.com.au/wp-content/uploads/2016/12/YVC-Town-Walk-2016.pdf) with 35 places of interest most of which are in Comur Street with additional interesting buildings in Rossi Street, Meehan Street and Lead Street. There are detailed plaques outside most of the buildings.

1. Liberty Theatre (1939)
Located on the corner of Polding Street and Comur Street, the Liberty Theatre is a fine example of an art deco picture theatre. In its heyday it had seating for over 700 patrons and, given the local extremes of temperature, had both heating and cooling. The picture theatre closed in 1975 but still houses performances by the Yass Repertory Society. It is "the oldest, continually operating, amateur theatre in Australia. It began in 1946 with a one-act play that was produced by a talented cast from Bookham at the Yass Flower Show. The success of this production led to the formation of the society on Monday, November 10th 1947." For more information check out http://yassarts.org/theatre-performing-arts/yass-repertory-society.

2. The Mechanics’ Institute (1869)
Further down Comur Street is the impressive Mechanics’ Institute. Note the two kangaroos on the central pediment on the roof line. It is a two-storey stuccoed brick building with a hipped iron roof. It was designed by Thomas Rowe. The building has changed use over the years. As a Mechanic' Institute it was home to a large library, reading room and a place where meetings were held and lectures for teaching trades and crafts were held. Later it became a dance hall, the local council offices and for many years it was the town's main hall hosting weddings, birthdays and other social activities. For a time it was enclosed with a veranda but recently it has been returned to its original, elegant place.

3. The Bank of NSW (1884) 
Located further down in Comur Street, this handsome two-storey stuccoed building is characterised by an intricately patterned wrought iron upper veranda, a hipped roof and an iron pike front fence. It has a crest above the front door. It was designed by architect Mr. Smedley and built by R.M. Vaughn. The Bank of NSW sold it to the Rural Bank in 1934. It closed as the State Bank in 1988.

4. The Australian Joint Stock Bank (Westpac) (1886) 
Located next to the Bank of NSW, the Australian Joint Stock Bank is a two storey brick and stucco building which was designed by Blackman & Sulman with stone quoins and intricately patterned cast iron decorations. A five bay arcade supports an upstairs veranda. It was built in less than nine months. It became the Bank of NSW in 1931. Outside on the footpath are two original hitching posts.

5. Triggs Offices (1907) 
These single storey offices in Comur Street were built for businessman Arthur Bryant Triggs as the main offices for his pastoral empire. The building was purchased by the Union Bank (later the ANZ) in 1930 and has since had a variety of uses.

6. Hart’s Row (1859)
These shops on Comur Street were built for Henry Hart who owned and ran the Royal Hotel. The central premises, with its ornate ironwork, was used as the town's Post Office from 1874-1880.

7. The Royal Hotel (1849) 
Built for Henry Hart, the Royal Hotel is the town's oldest continually-licensed premises. Bushranger Frank Gardiner was arrested at the Royal in 1854 when it was known as Hart's Hotel. The first telegram received in Yass was received in an upstairs room in this building in 1858. It has an excellent historic display.

8. St Augustine’s Chapel (1842)
Located in Meehan Street (turn left off Comur Street) is St Augustine’s Chapel which was the original Catholic Church and was used for over 100 years until 1956. Additions of a tower and spire were added in 1857 and 1888.

9.  Catholic Presbytery (1839) 
Located behind St Augustine's Chapel this modest building has been the home of the local priests since 1839. It is the second oldest building in Yass.

10. Sisters of Mercy Convent and School (1878)
This huge complex in Meehan Street was built soon after the Sisters of Mercy arrived in Yass in 1876. The Mount Carmel College was a boarding school for girls until 1993. It has particularly impressive stained glass windows in the chapel.

11. The Yass Tram Line (1892)
This is a bizarre sight. On Dutton Street, one block up from Comur Street, the tracks for the town's light railway can still be seen running down the centre of the street. Passenger services ceased in 1958 and the line was closed to all traffic in 1988.

12. The Goodradigbee Centre (1910)
Located on the corner of Dutton Street and Rossi Street, the Goodradigbee Shire Council dates from 1906. This building, now known as the Goodradigbee Centre, was used until 1965. The council amalgamated with the Yass Municipal Council in 1980 to form the Yass Shire Council.

13. The Globe Inn (1847), Yass Courier (1860) and Bootmaker (1839)
Located in Rossi Street, and with a charming cast iron balcony, is The Globe Inn. It was once used as the venue for meetings, balls and it was also the booking offices for the Telegraph Line of American Covered Coaches. Prior to 1880 it was one of the largest hotels in Yass. Today it is an historic B&B (check out http://www.theglobeinn.com.au). The two buildings next door are of historic interest. The white building with the cast iron veranda was built in 1860 as the office and printing works for the Yass Courier. The smaller building next to it was built around 1839 as a bootmaker’s shop and used briefly as a post office.

14. The Police Station (1879) 
Located opposite the Globe Inn, in Rossi Street, the Police Station was designed by Alexander Dawson in the office of the Colonial Architect. The area in front of the building is a pleasant garden planted with two tall pine trees. It was originally used as the gaoler’s residence for the prison which stood at the rear. The building is a rare example of a particular kind of police station and was probably part of the policing of the gold mining town of Lambing Flat (now Young). This was the nearest large police station. 

16. Yass Courthouse (1880)
Located in Comur Street, and dominating the town's main street, the Court House, which includes two hitching posts on the roadway, has been described by The Heritage of Australia, as "An imposing Classical Revival court house set in landscaped gardens, built in 1879 to a design from the office of the Colonial Architect, James Barnet. [It cost £15,000]. A broad staircase leads to the brick and stuccoed facades which have arched openings and colonnades in the grand manner. The central pediment contains a coat of arms flanked by Classical balustraded parapets. Foundations, stair landings and colonnade paving are freestone, the joinery cedar. A well-designed Victorian court house which makes an invaluable contribution to the historic urban environment of Yass."

18. Cobblestone Cottage (1836)
Located beyond the Court House, the Cobblestone Cottage was built as a store and Post Office for a storekeeper named Mr Harrison. An addition to the building in 1858 housed the Commercial Bank. The park between the cottage and the Yass River was the town's original business district but, after the devastating flood of 1870, the business district moved to higher ground in Comur Street.

20. Hume Bridge & Aboriginal Art Works
Keep walking down Comur Street and the road passes under the Hume Bridge (2011). The impressive murals on the pylons and the wall were painted by local indigenous youth in 1999 and 2004. 

21. St Clement’s Anglican Church (1850)
Located on the corner of Rossi Street and Church Street, St Clements is a Gothic Revival design by noted colonial architect Edmund Blacket which was built of stone rubble (later cement-rendered) between 1847 and 1850. The tower and spire date from 1857, the bells from 1868 and the north aisle from 1877-79. The historic graveyard was consecrated around 1845 and closed in 1869.

22.  The Rectory Built (c.1842) 
Located opposite the church, the rectory is unusual in that it actually backs onto Church Street and faces Comur Street. It has been used by Anglican ministers since it was first built.

24. Oddfellows Hall (1887) 
Located in Comur Street between Rossi and Meehan Streets, this building, with its handsome ironwork on the upper veranda, was the headquarters for the Manchester Unity Independent Order of Oddfellows Lodge. 

26. Yass Post Office (1884)
The Classical Revival post office (c.1880-84) is a handsome and imposing building designed by James Barnet with three-storey clock tower (dating from 1888) and cast-iron hitching posts. Postal services had began in Yass as early as 1835 but this was the first structure built specifically as a Post Office. The hitching posts at the front of the building are modelled on cannons and shot.

28. National Australia Bank (1872) 
Built on the corner of Comur and Meehan Streets, by the Commercial Banking Company of Sydney, this building was designed to replace their original premises near the Yass River. This was the first of the major bank buildings in Yass and boasted a slate roof as well as stables at the rear  and horse hitching posts facing the street.

29. Banjo Paterson Park 
Located in Meehan Street and honouring the poet, Andrew Barton (Banjo) Paterson. It has a bust of Paterson who spent his childhood at Illalong near Binalong and later returned to the district for some years when he purchased “Coodravale” at Wee Jasper. Explore the poetry trail in the park. It is an ideal place to have a picnic.

33. Yass Town Railway Station Museum (1892) 
Located in Crago Street, the old railway station was built when a tramway was opened in 1892. It became a railway line in 1917 and closed in 1988. The station has the shortest platform in Australia. It now houses a railway museum which is open on Sundays from 10.00 am to 4.00 pm, tel: (02) 6226 2557. Check out http://railway.yass.com.au for more detailed information.

35. Yass & District Museum
Located at 247a Comur Street and open on weekends from 10.00 am - 4.00 pm, the Yass & District Museum has displays relating to the history of Yass from the pre-colonial period, including a photographic collection and a display on the wool industry. The 'Parallels' exhibition looks at the correspondences between the Yass of the 1890s and that of the 1990s. Other exhibits include "Under the Sign" which looks at 22 known sites of pubs in the district; Barren Jack - a photographic history of the building of Burrinjuck Dam; a special exhibit about Hamilton Hume and, as the website explains, "everything from a Koertz wool press to a tiny trouser button stamped 'Bracken', used by a local tailor, who personalised his garments with custom-made buttons. Wedding finery, local cordial bottles and exercise equipment contrast with a coin and badge collection, a collection of trophies for champion merino sheep and a miniature farm." Check out http://www.yasshistory.org.au/museum.htm for more details. Tel: (02) 6226 4966. It is closed from June to October.

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Other Attractions in the Area

Cooma Cottage
Located 4 km from Yass at 756 Yass Valley Way, Cooma Cottage is a single-storey colonial house with gabled coach-house. The original section is an intact weatherboard bungalow, with veranda, dating from 1835 when it was erected for pastoralists, Henry and Cornelius O'Brien. From 1840 (he bought it and 100 acres for £601) until his death in 1873 it was the home of explorer Hamilton Hume who added numerous brick and stuccoed sections, a pavilioned wing and Classical Revival portico. Hume was the leader of the first European party to see the Yass Plains in 1821. He returned in 1824 on his exploration to Port Phillip Bay, modern day Melbourne. 
The cottage is now a museum with a display relating to the life of Hume. It is open Friday, Saturday and Sunday from 10.00 am to 4.00 pm. The cottage may be closed in winter (check with the visitors' centre). Tel: (02) 6226 1470 or check https://www.nationaltrust.org.au/places/cooma-cottage.

Hume and Hovell Walking Track
Cooma Cottage outside Yass is the official starting point for the 440-km Hume and Hovell Walking Track which retraces a portion of the explorers' steps during the 1824 expedition to Port Phillip. The track traverses country from Yass via Lake Burrinjuck to Wee Jasper, Blowering Dam, Tumbarumba and through to Albury. The first section is from Yass around the shore of Lake Burrinjuck to Wee Jasper. It is from Cooma Cottage (Yass) to Fitzpatrick Trackhead (Wee Jasper). There is a useful downloadable brochure available at http://www.lpma.nsw.gov.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0015/70602/Hume__and__hovell_DL.pdf and detailed information at http://www.lpma.nsw.gov.au/about_recreation/walking_tracks/hume_and_hovell_walking_track/track_and_walks. The route from Cooma Cottage to Fitzpatrick Trackhead is 75 km and is defined as moderate/hard. 

Bowning
Located 13 km north-west via the Hume Highway is Bowning, one of the earliest settlements in the district. Bowning Hill was a landmark noted in the journal of Hume and Hovell. The village emerged as a stopping place on the Port Phillip Road. It retains some historic buildings - the school, the trooper's cottage on the Binalong Road, and the Cobb & Co coaching station on Bogolong Road. Today travellers are attracted to the town by the Rollonin Cafe which is open from 8.30 am - 4.00 pm Thursday to Monday. Tel: (02) 6227 6507

Burrinjuck Dam
Burrinjuck Dam is located 56 km south-west of Yass. It was the first major dam built for irrigation in NSW. It was constructed as part of the Murrumbidgee Irrigation Scheme and today has become a popular recreation destination with good camping facilities and a wide range of water-based activities. Lake Burrinjuck covers 5,500 hectares, has a shoreline of 645 kilometres and supplies 1.02 megalitres of water each year to the Murrumbidgee Irrigation Area. On average it attracts around 250,000 visitors each year.
The vital statistics of the dam: it is a concrete gravity dam with a wall which is 93 metres high and 233 metres long. The water depth is 61 metres and its capacity is 1,028,000 ML. The catchment area is 12,953 square kilometres. There is detailed information and a map at http://www.statewater.com.au/_Documents/Dam%20brochures/Burrinjuck%20Dam%20Brochure.pdf.
Burrinjuck Waters State Park: The shores of the lake are a popular camping destination offering cabins, powered and un-powered camping sites, a kiosk and an information office, tel: (02) 6227 8114. The lake is used for fishing, boating, water skiing and the shores are ideal for picnics. The area around the lake has attracted kangaroos and rosellas in significant numbers. For more information check out http://www.stateparks.nsw.gov.au/burrinjuck_waters.
The lake is known for its Murray cod, golden perch (yellow belly), trout, Atlantic salmon and redfin. There are a number of good boat ramps around the shores of the lake. For more information tel: (02) 6227 8114. The Facebook site - https://www.facebook.com/burrinjuckadmin - has weekly updates on the fishing conditions.

Wee Jasper and Carey's Cave
Wee Jasper is a tiny village in a pretty valley which is a geological wonderland. It is located at the foot of the Brindabella Ranges and edged by the backwaters of Burrinjuck Dam. The main attraction in the area is Carey's Cave which is located 6 km north-west of the village (it is clearly signposted at the end of the village). The cave, which was discovered in 1875 by John Carey, features some striking and very colourful limestone formations within seven chambers. There are stalagmites, stalactites, columns, flowstone and helictites. The limestone has been produced from ancient compacted corals which formed some 400 million years ago. Interest in the caves developed rapidly when the spine of a megafauna wombat was found in 1957. As a result the caves were explored and opened up by members of the Canberra Speleological Society. Official tours of the caves started in 1968. The area is also popular with caravanners and campers. There are a number of camping locations in the surrounding reserves.

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History

* Prior to European occupation there was a large Aboriginal population in the area, mostly Ngunnawal people from the Wiradjuri language group. 

* In 1821 an exploratory party led by Hamilton Hume became the first known group of Europeans on the Yass Plains. 

* Hume returned with William Hovell in 1824 during their expedition to Port Phillip Bay  (Melbourne).

* By the late 1820s settlers had arrived bringing flocks of sheep. This represented the start of the local wool industry. 

* A bush track joined the Goulburn and Yass Plains by 1825. 

* A village began to develop around 1830 when settlement began on the south bank of the river. An Inn, one of many on the Sydney-Port Phillip Bay Rd, was erected by a river crossing near where the railway bridge now stands. 

* A second crossing was established further upstream which led to the development of North Yass. 

* The settlement became an important stopping place on the road from Sydney to Melbourne. 

* The first survey was conducted in 1834.

* A local storekeeper became the first unofficial postmaster in 1835. That year saw the construction of Cooma Cottage.

* The township was officially gazetted in 1837. 

* The Rose Inn opened for business in 1837.

* A courthouse and gaol were built in 1837-38. 

* Anglican and Catholic churches had been erected by 1841. 

* In 1839 Hamilton Hume returned to Yass and purchased 'Cooma Cottage' where he lived with his wife until his death in 1873. 

* In 1840 the Whitton gang shot and killed Hamilton's brother John at Yass.

* By 1842 a steam flour mill was operating in the town.

* A district council was established in 1843.

* In 1848 the township had 274 inhabitants. 

* In 1850 the small town was devastated by floods. 

* The first bridge, designed by Edmund Blacket, was constructed between the two river crossings in 1854. 

* Ben Hall's bushranging gang operated in the district in 1863-64. 

* One of Hall's gang, Johnny Gilbert, was shot dead at Binalong in 1865.

* In 1865 the first government school opened. 

* There were also 27 inns at or near Yass by 1870. 

* The town became a municipality in 1873.

* The railway reached the town in 1876. 

* Around 1900 Yass was one of three sites considered for the national capital. 

* 'Merryville', one of the country's most famous sheep studs and arguably its leading fine-wool establishment, was set up in the district in 1903 by Sir Walter Merriman.

* In 1909 work began on Burrinjuck Dam.

* In 1928 Burrinjuck Dam was officially opened.

* In 1956 the town was the first in Australia to get fluoridated water.

* In 1995 Yass was bypassed by the Hume Highway.

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Visitor Information

Yass Valley Information Centre, 259 Comur Street, tel: 1300 886 014.

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Useful Websites

There is an excellent local website. Check out https://www.yassvalley.com.au for information about food and wine and accommodation. 

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