Yass, a town and a shire, is 294 km. south-west of Sydney and 75 km. west of Goulburn. It is on the Yass River, a tributary of the Murrumbidgee.

The Yass Plains were discovered in 1821 by a party which included Hamilton Hume. The name is thought to be derived from an Aboriginal word, yahr, meaning running water. Hume is buried in the Yass cemetery.

The plains were an attraction to settlers in the 1820s. Settlement of the Yass area was sufficient to warrant the establishment of a post office at Yass in 1835. A court of petty sessions was established there the following year and in 1837 the site for the Yass township was gazetted. The Yass district council was proclaimed on 14 August, 1843, and in 1848 the township had 55 houses and 274 people.

The district council was ineffectual, and the Yass municipality was proclaimed on 12 March, 1873. (Its boundaries extended some way into the surrounding farmlands, and in 1935 they were reduced to the township area.)

Sheep grazing and stud breeding provided the economic mainstay for Yass. The Ravensworth stud was founded in 1865, and was one of several which became famous for fine merino wool. The railway to Yass Junction, 5 km. out of Yass, was opened in 1877. It was a railhead for wheat and soft fruits aswell as wool by the 1880s. In 1878 the foundation stone for the Yass PublicSchool was laid and two years later a new court house was opened. It ison the Register of the National Estate. Several other grand government andbank buildings were built in the 1880s. A tramway connected Yass to YassJunction in 1892, the same time that the municipal gas supply was turnedon (The tramway closed in 1958.) In 1904 The Australian Handbook describedYass as –


Shortly before the first world war the Burrinjuck Dam was constructedon the headwaters of the Murrumbidgee, about 30 km. south-west of Yass.It provided electric power to Yass. Like most rural towns the depressionand the second world war slowed development, but Yass was well positionedin the post war period to take advantage of the strong market for wool. In 1949 The Australian Blue Book commented that –


Between 1946 and 1949 the Yass Council was in dispute with its itself and its town clerk but the local economy prospered with the sale of fine wool. Tourism was promoted with tourist roads, and the town underwent tree planting. The 1950s saw the construction of an Olympic swimming pool and a new high school. In 1966 the prime tourist attraction of Yass, Cooma Cottage,was purchased by the National Trust. The “cottage”, of 22 rooms,had been built in 1831 and lived in by Hamilton Hume for 33 years until1873. Tourism was augmented by recreational facilities on the Burrinjuck Dam.

On 1 January, 1980, the Yass municipality of 29 sq. km. was united withthe Goodradigbee shire and the new unit named Yass shire. Its area is 2987sq. km. The town has few manufacturing establishments, but accommodationestablishments had 700 beds in 1994. The pastoral hinterland of the shiregrazed 873,000 sheep and lambs, and 41,000 cattle.

Census populations have been 2,136 (1911), 3,662 (1954) and 8,780 (1991- enlarged municipality).


Postcard undated, c. 1910.

Further Reading:

  • Bayley, William A., Yass Municipal Centenary History, Yass MunicipalCouncil, 1973.

2 thoughts on “Yass”

  1. I’m trying to find a property near Yass where I stayed in the late 1960’s. It was a sheep station called Esdale close to the Murrumbidgee River. Can you help? Is it still there? Thank you.

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