8 February 2023

Priceless Yass history under threat after council evicts volunteer group

| Sally Hopman
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Library archives

The home of the Yass and District Historical Society Archives is upstairs at the Soldiers Memorial Hall in the main street. Photo: Sally Hopman.

The Yass and District Historical Society (YDHS), caretaker of priceless archives from days gone by, will find itself out in the cold after the Yass Valley Council gave it 19 days’ notice to leave the place it has called home for 40 years.

In an email on 31 January and followed up with a hard copy letter, the YDHS was told to vacate the premises, the upstairs rooms of the Soldiers Memorial Hall by 20 February because work was scheduled to start on roof repairs.

YDHS president Cheryl Mongan said the society had been in discussion with the council “for years” about the need for new premises because the building was “in such a state of disrepair”.

“We have been suggesting places for years, but they have always been rejected for some reason or other,” she said. “Now, all of a sudden, this happens.

“This is not like moving house. We have 160 shelf metres of records. We have fragile maps in mylar … what about the 400 glass negatives of World War I negatives?”

Ms Mongan said people had been very supportive on social media about the current plight of the YDHS, but said although they meant well, not everyone realised that priceless items like those held by the YDHS should not be moved at all, let alone more than once.

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So suggestions of locals joining working bees to carry boxes out to someone’s shed or vacant building, were well intentioned, but impossible. Also unacceptable, she said, was one suggestion that a tarpaulin be placed over the collection while the roof repairs were carried out.

Ms Mongan said, in its 40-year history, everything in the collection had been painstakingly catalogued. “You can’t just pick up boxes and put them anywhere, if they have to be moved it must be in particular order – moving this is not a five-minute job.

“We need a permanent site for this collection,” Ms Mongan said. “The idea of moving it somewhere, in 19 days, is simply not possible.

“What are we supposed to do? Put this valuable collection out in the street?

“The problem is it has been out on the backburner for too long.”

Ms Mongan said YDHS members were grateful that council had provided the site at no rent for as long as it had, but said as a not-for-profit, it couldn’t afford to pay rent at today’s prices.

The money it made, from minimal charges to people for research, barely covered its costs.

Old items

Some of the treasures held by the Yass and District Historical Society which has been given 19 days’ notice to move out of its home of the past 40 years. Photo: Supplied.

Much of the collection, which dates back 200 years, is irreplaceable, with thousands of historical records donated to the society over the years by members of original Yass families and their descendants. While some can be stored in archival boxes, other material needs to be kept in a temperature-controlled setting to ensure it lasts for future generations to access as research material.

Some of the treasures include: burial and monument inscriptions, rare ephemera – including early maps, newspaper clippings, rates and valuations, early photographic collections, church registers, pastoral directories, historic buildings register and records of community organisations.

Yass songwriter Daniel Kelly has even penned a tune in support of the collection – No Place for History, which is now playing on YouTube.

Ms Mongan said one of the suggestions had been for the collection to be housed in the new Yass Library – which hasn’t been built yet.

“I don’t think they’ve even done a DA [development application] for it.”

Ms Mongan, who has been involved with the YDHS since she moved to the town in 1988, said the current situtation “breaks my heart” and had seriously upset society members.

“So little respect has been shown for this community archive. It’s not just a historical colletion, it belongs to the community. Our members have put thousands of hours of work into it, including many helping the council with research.”

Member for Goulburn, Wendy Tuckerman, who has been in talks with the council and YDHS about the issue this week, said she was disappointed the situation had come to this and that it would have been helpful to know about it earlier so a permanent solution could have been found.

She said she was also examining options for a new home for the YDHS and hoped that a good outcome could be found.

General manager of the YVC, Chris Berry, said a meeting had been scheduled for this morning, Thursday 9 February, with the YDHS.

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