Yass Centenary, Hume's work for Australia

The Sydney Morning Herald

1 March 1921

Yass Plains. A district festival. (From our special representative)

Yass, Monday. One hundred years ago Hamilton Hume, then only 24 years of age, discovered the Yass Plains.

To-day the Yass district celebrated its centenary, and a remarkable tribute was paid to the founder and his three companions, John Kennedy Hume, his brother; George Barbour, his brother-in-law; and W. H. Broughton.

The main street of Yass to-day resembles nothing so much as Martin-place at carnival time. Enthusiastic citizens have transformed it into a blaze of colour. The whole town is beflagged, and along the centre of the principal street- a wide thoroughfare - are a succession of decorated stands.

The townspeople have been busily engaged for weeks in preparing for the celebration. At the time Hume set out on his journey the Nepean was regarded as the boundary of civilisation. The "new country" included Picton, Mittagong, Berrima, Bowral, and Bong Bong.

When Hume and his party, coming from the east, first saw the Yass Plains district from the summit of a high hill, it was unpeopled and unknown. To-day the descendants of the explorer saw the main street in carnival attire, thronged with people, merry go-rounds crowded with happy youngsters, and more important still the country occupied and used. The Yass Municipality has now a population of 2300, and the shire of about 4000.

To-day the Acting Premier, Mr. Dooley, arrived from Sydney, and there are visitors present from all parts of the district. The hotels are crowded, and so, too, are most of the private houses, which are accommodating many from outlying centres. The Royal Australian Historical Society is represented by Captain J. H. Watson.

Yesterday there was a pilgrimage to the grave of Hamilton Hume, who was born at Parramatta on June 19, 1797, and died at Cooma Cottage, three miles from Yass, on April 19, 1873. He was buried in the Church of England Cemetery. His wife, who was a Miss Dight, died 13 years after, and was buried beside him.

Wreaths were laid on the grave from the Barbour family, descendants of Alexander Hume, the Centenary Committee, the Royal Australian Historical Society, the children of St. Clement's Sunday School, the Presbyterian community, and "One who knew him." Prayers were read by the Rev. W. M. Holliday.

In an address at the graveside, Mr. E. Howard (president of the Centenary Celebrations Committee) referred to Hamilton Hume as one who had dared everything. "In order to open up the country for his follow men," said Mr. Howard, "Hamilton Hume set out from the then only partially known lands at Appin into the unknown lands to the south, over hill and dale, across rivers, and through rough bush. Hume had the advantage of a good Australian, as well as a bush life, experience, and an intimate knowledge of the language and customs of the aborigines.

"Let us uncover our heads," concluded Mr. Howard, "and for one solemn moment bow in silent reverence to do honour to the name and memory of Hamilton Hume."

Captain Watson said that by permission of the Yass Centenary Committee and by the authority of the Royal Australian Historical Society he laid on the grave of Hamilton Hume a wreath- the emblem of victory and immortality- as a token of the society's respect and regard of him as a man and explorer.

If, said Captain Watson, any man in the small community of his time had left his footprints on the sands of time it was Hamilton Hume, who was the first native born Australian to become an explorer. Hume gave 16 years of his life to open up and develop his native land without thought of gain or reward.

In 1817 he discovered Goulburn Plains and Lake Bathurst. All sorts of stories were in existence as to how the district derived its name, but the one that seemed to him the most probable was what was told him by Mr. James Waddell (manager of the A.B.C. Bank at Yass), who heard the story when a boy in the neighbourhood of Collector.

It was said that the explorers, coming from the east, approached a high hill, which they ascended with the hope of getting a good view of the country beyond. When the summit was reached Hume sent one of the men to the top of a tree to see what kind of country was ahead, and, not getting word as soon as he expected, called out, "Well, do you see anything?" The reply came back with a provincial drawl, "Yas-plains," and Yass Plains it has been ever since.

In 1824 Governor Brisbane selected Hume to lead an expedition to Westernport, Bass Strait. Hume had not been treated well by the Government, the assistance given to the expedition being so meagre as to cause him to sacrifice his property to find necessaries for the journey, and, although he went with Captain Stuart to trace the Macquarie and Darling rivers in 1828-9, he was unable to continue the work. Hume's presence on the farm was absolutely necessary, as he had too long neglected his own affairs in the public interest.