Arts & Culture

Yass Valley’s Movers and Shakers, from Banjo Patterson to Hamilton Hume

Judith Davidson24 March 2022
Yass & District Museum

Yass District Museum reopened in mid-March. Photo: File.

After several disrupted seasons, the Yass and District Museum once again opened to the public on Sunday 13 March, showcasing the new Movers and Shakers exhibition.

The air of excitement was only slightly dampened by the enormous amount of hard work for volunteers in hanging the new show and removing the dust and cobwebs accumulated through the enforced COVID-19 closure.

Movers and Shakers features 27 carefully chosen personalities from the Yass Valley districts who contributed to the community during the 19th and 20th centuries.

Exhibition curator, volunteer and published author Cheryl Mongan explained the show explores its chosen personalities over the period of 1780 to 2015.

“That’s more than two centuries of history. Among the showcased personalities are people who have made an impact locally, nationally and even internationally, but have still called Yass Valley home. We can be proud of them all,” she says.

Where possible each personality has a photograph and an interesting object or artefact owned by them or used by them from the extensive Yass and District Museum and archives collections on display.

woman in museum

Dr Ann Holmes, wife of Dr R.A.G Holmes. Photo: Judith Davidson.

Movers and Shakers is already stirring interest with locals and former locals from as far afield as Queensland, wondering whether their relative is featured. The personalities selected remained a well-kept secret until all was revealed to invited guests and Yass and District Historical Society (YDHS) members at the official opening on Friday 11 March by Yass Valley Mayor Allan McGrath.

A highlight of the official opening was having relatives and descendants of featured personalities – artist Kim Nelson, entrepreneur T.J. Williamson and Dr R.A.G. Holmes.

Diana MacQuillan was also proud to stand next to her grandfather Sir Walter Merriman. Banjo Paterson, Eric Bell and of course Hamilton Hume are also some of the notable people included in the exhibition.


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Without giving too much away, the exhibition features an eclectic range of people from the arts, education, Ngunnawal mob, religion, military, nursing, politics, business and pioneers.

As one guest commented, “I haven’t heard of some of these people and I should have. What a great way to learn about them and their contribution to our town”.

Drop into the museum any Sunday between 10 am and 4 pm to discover your own favourites. The museum is conveniently located one door down from the Visitors Information Centre in Cooma Street.

It is also open on public holidays from 10 am to 4 pm until closing for the winter break after the June long weekend.

women in museum

Therese Nelson with her daughter beside artist Kim Nelson’s display. Photo: Judith Davidson.

The motto for the Yass and District Museum is “Keeping our stories alive” and this new exhibition certainly seeks to do that.

This was the motivation for the energetic and inspired team who established the museum over a period of five years, culminating its opening in December 1988 in what had been a disused garage.

The museum and archives still rely entirely on volunteers, many of whom bring a diverse and appreciated range of skills and experience with them.

Yass and District Historical Society President Adrian Cameron who has also rolled up his sleeves to assist with the big job of getting ready for the opening said he was really looking forward to lots of people from the Yass Valley and surrounding districts taking the opportunity to learn about just some of the people who have contributed to the development of the district.

In the museum, the Hamilton Hume and Alfred Shearsby exhibitions also feature, along with other museum highlights. The delightfully detailed 1890s model Cooma streetscape allows visitors to place some of the gracious buildings that still line Yass’s main street and much more.

Visitors can also learn about the construction of Burrinjuck Dam or experience what it is like to be part of the famous Yass fine wool industry in the shearing shed display. The interactive miniature farm is sure to be a favourite with younger visitors.

The archives are also back in business for public enquiries into family or elements of Yass history by appointment, on Tuesdays between 2 pm and 5 pm and by email enquiries via the website. The YDHS enthusiastic team of researchers can’t resist an interesting challenge.

Judith Davidson is a local historian, uncovering the stories of the Yass Shire.

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