2 March 2023

Priceless Yass archive collection saved from eviction - for now

| Sally Hopman
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Woman looking at documents

Vice president of the Yass and District Historical Society Judith Davidson examines some of the documents which mark this weekend’s 100th anniversary of the Memorial Hall. The group was evicted from the hall so urgent roof repair could be carried out. Photo: Cheryl Mongan.

The Yass and District Historical Society (YDHS) has been given a last-minute reprieve from eviction of its home of 40 years – but the future of its priceless history collection is still not secure.

When the Yass Valley Council (YVC) issued the YDHS with an eviction notice on 31 January to be out of its home in the Soldiers Memorial Hall by 20 February, it was criticised for the lack of notice and failure to provide another location for the priceless collection of district history.

The YDHS archive is used by people from the local council, builders and architects, through to researchers and historians across the world. The collection, more than 100 years of photographs, documents, rare records and ephemera, needed a secure home and as importantly, the society needed time to pack and transport the collection carefully to wherever its new home was deemed to be. The YVC issued the eviction notice because urgent roof repairs had been scheduled for the hall. The YDHS had been using the upstairs rooms for both housing the collection and as an area for volunteers to work.

It has now been given permission to house the historic archive in the town’s former ambulance station – at least until June 2024, president Cheryl Mongan told Region.

READ ALSO Priceless Yass history under threat after council evicts volunteer group

She said it was a great relief to all the members, and to the local community at large to know that the collection was safe, for the moment.

“This last-minute rescue would not have been possible without the support and hard work by the State Government representative and Minister for Local Government, Wendy Tuckerman,” Ms Mongan said. “She was the only person who could make it happen – and she did.”

Mrs Tuckerman said she had been contacted by many community members about the eviction – “unfortunately I was only made aware of the problem after the notice was issued to the YDHS”.

“Since being made aware of the method of notice, the unreasonable and unsafe expectations for removal of the precious materials – and the overall flawed process undertaken by Yass Valley Council which has caused considerable distress for volunteers and wider Yass community, I have been advocating for a solution,” she said.

“I am delighted to welcome the YDHS into the old ambulance station, and while it is only a temporary solution, I am pleased that the State Government can provide some assurance to the Yass community that their history is being protected.”

Artist's drawing of Yass hall

The Yass and District Historical Society collection includes this rare rendering of the Soldiers Memorial Hall which turns 100 on 5 March. Photo: Cheryl Mongan.

Mrs Tuckerman said she would continue to help the volunteers and the YVC for a permanent solution.

Options for a permanent home for the collection range from the old town libary – when a new one is built, to the historic court house. The town’s museum has been deemed too small to house such a vast collection.

Ms Mongan said the issue was not just finding a new home for the collection, but ensuring that packing it up and moving it to the new site was done properly, as befitting a rare historic collection.

READ ALSO Labor pledge to save Yass history archive after council threat to evict volunteers

Working with YDHS treasurer, Tanya Cullen, Ms Mongan looked at the logistics of the move and hired Canberra company Leader, known to be experienced in such fragile removal jobs. “The removalist crew couldn’t have been more helpful,” Ms Mongan said, adding that the whole job took three days.

The YVC agreed to pay the removalists’ fees.

Ms Mongan said people were gobsmacked when they saw the actual size of the collection all together when it was packed up and ready for removal to the old ambulance station. She said they packed up more than 350 archive-size boxes and another 200 various sized boxes.

“It was a major exercise,” she said. “We had to dismantle cabinets and shelving to get it all out.”

Ms Mongan said she was very grateful to YDHS members and those of the Yass Men’s Shed who helped clear three years of dust and dirt from the old ambulance station before the collection could be moved. She said they were especially grateful to Barry O’Mara for providing pallets which allowed them to keep the collection off the floor.

Man putting up shelves

Member of the Yass and District Historical Society Peter Davidson puts up some shelves in the new temporary home. Photo: Cheryl Mongan.

“Now at least the collection is safe and secure,” Ms Mongan said. “Many thanks to the supporters and wonderful people who came to help.”

The Soldiers Memorial Hall, which has been earmarked for restoration work for some time, celebrates its 100th birthday on 5 March.

Although Ms Mongan said the YDHS had been “pretty busy” with the move, it planned to mark the centenary “in some way”.

“We have all the original plans for the Memorial Hall, the architect’s records … everything in our collection. That’s why it’s so special to keep it all together and safe.”

The YDHS also has about 400 rare glass negatives relating to the records of local soldiers who fought for their country.

“It is a remarkable collection,” she said. “This is why it is so important to us.”

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