Local history orientated groups were well represented at a gathering to commemorate Hamilton Hume’s sighting of the Yass Plains in February 1821. Members of the Yass and District Historical Society, the Antique Farm Machinery Club, Railway Museum and Cooma Cottage volunteers met at the Yass cemetery, as had been done in 1921, to lay a wreath on the impressive headstone to the famous explorer and citizen of Yass. The beautiful native flowers were very appropriate for our native-born pioneering son. Geoff Frost spoke reminding people Hume had paved the way for the settlement of the Yass district.

Afterwards, the group enjoyed a pleasant evening at Riverbank Park, perhaps a lot more comfortably than Hume camping on his way to Port Phillip (Melbourne district) in 1824. A box of fresh produce generously donated from the garden of Neville Bugden was raffled and won by Peter Bindon.

Celebrating Hamilton Hume – ‘Discovering Yass’ 200 years ago… 

Explorer Hamilton Hume has a special connection to Yass. He is accredited with being the first colonialist to sight the Yass Plains in February 1821 along with three companions, his brother John Kennedy Hume, George Barber his brother-in-law, and friend William Henry Broughton.

Hume’s famous expedition overland with Captain William Hovell in 1824 which linked Sydney to the future Melbourne region has since been commemorated in the naming of the Hume highway. On that journey, the party camped a night near Yass. From seventeen years of age, Hume’s bush skills learnt from his Aboriginal companions along with an intimate knowledge of the language and customs of the Aborigines, made him a valuable asset on several expeditions. These include those to the Berrima and Gunning districts, south coast expeditions with James Meehan and John Oxley, and as part of the Charles Sturt expedition that discovered the Darling River in 1828.

Hume took up large tracks of land in the Yass district, including Euralie, Humewood and Marchmont, buying and extending Cooma Cottage on the outskirts of Yass from Rebecca, wife of Cornelius O’Brien to make it his home from 1839 until his death on 19th April, 1873, aged 73. A generous and respected citizen of Yass, his grave is a noteworthy inclusion in the Yass Cemetery.

In Yass in February 1921 – just 100 years after that first sighting of the Yass plains

– were people who had known Hume in his later years. Many of his extended family and relatives, including Barbour (previously known as Barber) and Broughton descendants, lived in the district. To recognise Hume’s contribution to “discovering” Yass and opening the region as a pastoralist centre the town decided a centenary celebration was in order.  And what a celebration it was!

It began on Sunday 27th February, at 4.30, after a short delay caused by rain. A procession formed from the cemetery gates and, led by the Yass Band in uniform and the choir of St Clements in robes, proceeded to the Hume monument where wreaths were laid, and speeches made.

Monday 28th was Children’s Day with sports in Victoria Park from 2.00 to 5.00pm, a Civic reception at 3.00pm, a Grand Historical procession at 6.00pm and official opening of the Centenary Celebrations at 7.00pm followed by an “At Home to Visitors” hosted by President and Mrs Howard at 8.00pm.

The celebrations were combined with the annual two day show and a carnival atmosphere gripped the town for a week. Each evening for the rest of the week there were revels and side shows and fireworks and children’s fancy dress events.  Dances were held on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday evenings each in aid of one of the three Centenary Queen candidates. Thursday saw a special motor trip to places of historic interest and a Grand Historic Procession, followed on Friday by special motor trips to local Beauty Spots.

The Sydney Morning Herald reported “At night there was a procession through the town. It was a very creditable display and embodied many novel and humorous features. Headed by the police, the pageant made its way through the brilliantly illuminated and gaily decorated streets.” The brilliant illuminations had been specially installed for the occasion.

On Saturday the week culminated in a gigantic sports program at Victoria Park from 2.00 to 6.00pm, more revels, sideshows and dancing; at 11pm the crowning of the winning Centenary Queen, more fireworks and, for anyone left standing, a rendering of Auld Lang Syne!

As hard working organising secretary A J Shearsby wrote “Between ourselves, we have been rather sleepy of late years, haven’t we? This week let us rise to the occasion, put on Holiday Garb, drop all petty little differences, and help one another to be happy.”

Celebrating Hamilton Hume – Car decorated for the procession

In this spirit, confetti battles seem to have been one of the most popular entertainments introduced by Levenson’s New Amusements especially brought from Sydney which required the main street to be closed so stalls could be placed down the middle.

Mr Levenson undoubtedly did well having struck a deal with the organising committee for 25% of takings to go to local charities and the rest to Mr Levenson.

As much as anything the week was a 100th birthday celebration for this thriving inland town and a time to throw off the sorrows of war and a flu pandemic.

The complexity of the organisation was astounding even to ensuring cheap fares on a specially provided train leaving Yass each evening at 10.00pm, Yass to Harden, all stations.

February 2021 is the two hundredth anniversary of that famous sighting of the Yass plains. Are we getting too old for birthdays?  Certainly, the achievements of Hamilton Hume need not be forgotten.

The Yass Museum is once again open to visitors who may enjoy investigating the diverse achievements of AJ Shearsby, that amazing 100th birthday organising secretary and, after the winter break, the existing informative Hamilton Hume display, will become a new feature exhibition celebrating the life and achievements of this Yass identity.

Judith Davidson for Yass and District Historical Society

Images courtesy of YDHS Archives and State Library, NSW.