16 February 2023

Labor pledges to save Yass history archive after council threat to evict volunteers

| Sally Hopman
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The mayor of Yass Allan McGrath with Labor candidate for Goulburn Michael Pilbrow discuss the future of the historical archive in Yass on Wednesday. Photo: Supplied.

A Labor government would secure the future of the Yass and District Historical Society (YDHS) archive which faces eviction by the Yass Valley Council (YVC) from its current home in the town’s Soldiers Memorial Hall.

Speaking in Yass on Wednesday 15 February, NSW Labor candidate for Goulburn, Michael Pilbrow, said a Minns Labor government in NSW would commit $60,000 to help the YDHS set up a new home for the priceless archive which dates back 200 years.

In an email on 31 January, the YDHS was told to vacate the premises by 20 February, the upstairs rooms of the hall, because work was to start on roof repairs.

The YDHS, with its priceless collection of Yass Valley history, much of it fragile and irreplaceable, understood the need for the roof repairs but was shocked by the lack of notice given by the council.

READ ALSO Yass history under threat after council evicts volunteer group

YDHS president Cheryl Mongan told Region last week that moving the archive, which had been collated over the past 40 years, was not like “moving house”.

“You can’t just pick up boxes and put them anywhere, if they have to be moved it must be in a particular order – moving this is not a five-minute job,” Ms Mongan said.

Mr Pilbrow said the Labor funding pledge would support the YDHS to set up a new home for its priceless collection, including specialist relocation, new storage facilities – including shelving and compactus specifically designed for fragile records, relics and photos – and short-term rental assistance while a permanent new home was found.

Photo of office

Roof repairs are urgently needed where the Yass District Historical Society’s priceless collection is held. Photo: Judith Davidson.

NSW Opposition spokesman for Local Government, Greg Warren, said it was vital to preserve and protect local history.

“And that’s exactly what these incredible volunteers have been doing for 40 years,” he said. “These archives must be protected.”

A YVC spokesperson said on Wednesday council met with members of the YDHS to update them on the recent risk assessment carried out on the location of the archive – upstairs at the Memorial Hall.

“As a result of roof repairs commencing, council has conducted a risk assessment of the current location of the archive and has determined it is unsafe and non-compliant,” the spokesperson said.

“Therefore, the first floor is now closed to the wider public until further notice.

“YDHS members and council staff will continue to have limited access to pack and relocate archives.”

Yass Valley Mayor Allan McGrath has written to the NSW Government to ask if the old NSW ambulance station or court house could house the collection.

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The spokesperson said once a site had been secured, council staff would help YDHS volunteers by organising professional removalists to relocate the archives.

Yass historian Judith Davidson said the YDHS committee had been overwhelmed by the community support shown but while many avenues were being explored, many questions remained, particularly how such an expensive move of the priceless collection could be financed.

She said the YDHS was grateful to the Member for Goulburn, Wendy Tuckerman and Federal Member Kirsty McBain for their support, adding that the deputy mayor of Yass, Jasmine Jones, had drafted a motion to put before the 23 February YVC meeting, calling for a commitment to the viable future of the archives.

“It has taken a full-scale emergency situation to focus efforts upon a solution to a problem that has for too long been ‘left till later’,” Ms Davidson said.

“What is needed is a secure, safe, long-term home for this very valuable community asset.

“As YDHS member, Dr Aedeen Cremin reminded the last society meeting: ‘This archive is vital to preserving the story of not just Yass but of Australia’.

“Hopefully, the society will soon be able to announce a solution but at the moment the only things that they feel secure about are deaths, taxes and tarpaulins [to protect the collection from the roof repair work].”

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