3 May 2023

Come and see what you helped us save, says Yass Historical Society

| Sally Hopman
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Three women

Yass District Historical Society’s Judith Robertson, Maureen Collins and Cheryl Mongan prepare for Saturday’s open day. Photos: Sally Hopman.

When the Yass District Historical Society (YDHS) – and its priceless collection of history – looked likely to be evicted from its longstanding home above the library earlier this year, the town rallied behind them.

Now it’s the YDHS and its volunteers’ turn to say thank you.

This Saturday, 15 April, everyone is welcome to visit its new, temporary premises in the former ambulance station in Meehan Street – a treasure trove of an archive of the old town’s history.

From original maps to the first depiction, via an oil painting, of how the land lay back in the 1800s, to letters from the front to family histories to a phrenology report (it tells you what the various bumps on your head mean), it will all be there.

“It is our way of saying thank you,” YDHS president Cheryl Mongan said. ” It has been what you could call a challenging year or so for us, but we have settled in here well – it’s a great space for us.”

Old bottle with certificate

Yass was famous for many things in its past, but who knew soft drinks were one of them? The Sheekey family was well known for its beverages, with a rare original bottle and trademark document held in the archive.

The YDHS moved into the old ambulance station back in February, after being told by Yass Valley Council that it had to move within weeks so work could start on repairing the 100-year-old building. The volunteers knew the library location was temporary, they just didn’t realise how short their departure notice would be.

The ambulance station had been empty for three years (it is now sited at the hospital) and needed a fair bit of work to clean it up satisfactorily enough for it to house priceless historic archives.

Much of the town helped with the move: from handymen installing shelving so the collection could be stored above ground to sorting through what went where. At all times, Cheryl said, they were only too aware that they were dealing with rare, mostly irreplaceable pieces of history.

READ ALSO Priceless Yass archive collection saved from eviction – for now

On Thursday, when Region visited, many of the YDHS’s 20 active volunteers were curating items for Saturday’s open day.

“We wanted to show people what we have in the collection,” Cheryl said. “When we moved out from the library and people saw how much material we had, they were really surprised.”

For the record, volunteers moved a total of 300 archive boxes and more than 200 other boxes of material, ranging from photographs to maps, ribboned documents to even a bag of pebbles and a water bottle, with an ominous looking hole on one side, brought back from Gallipoli.

The collection tells the national story, and how it affected the Yass Valley – like when the well known Sheekey family secured a trademark for their popular soft drinks back in 1914.

Woman with old water bottle

Cheryl Mongan from the Yass and District Historical Society shows off a water bottle brought back to Yass from Gallipoli.

“We’ll have lots of wonderful pieces on display,” Cheryl said. “Some quirky … like a dance program from the early days in Yass to a photograph of some of our early debutantes to plans of how the town was supposed to look, to old posters.”

Cheryl, an historian and author, said the YDHS was very grateful to the town for helping out when 200 years of its history, meticulously collected and curated, was under threat.

Although it would suit them as a permanent home, the YDHS only has the NSW State Government-owned building until June next year, so it still needs to nail down a permanent home.

Yass Mayor Allan McGrath has lobbied on behalf of the YDHS for it to permanently occupy a section of the historic Yass Court House in the main street as it is mostly only used for cases a few times each month.

Yass and District Historical Society Open Day, Saturday 15 April. Tours on the hour from 11 am with the last tour at 3 pm. 88 Meehan Street, Yass. Free, but donations to the YDHS welcome. www.yasshistory.org.au

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