Yass Centenary, Sturdy Australian Pioneers
Cairns Post. Qld.
15 March 1921
Mr. Frank. Walker, F.R.A.H.S., writing in the Sydney "Daily Telegraph" of the 24th February, says:-
On Monday next, February 28, the town and district of Yass will celebrate its first centenary. This will make the third town in New South Wales to record its centenary within the past six years.
The opening of a passage across the Mountains in 1813, and the subsequent extention of territory westward, was the signal for great activity in the way of exploration.
In 1817-1819 Surveyor-General Oxley made some important discoveries in the west and south, included in which were the fertile Liverpool Plains, and the Castlereagh, Peel, the Apsley, and Hastings rivers. Exploration and discoveries in the Goulburn district followed, and in 1821 Hamilton Hume, who is to be the hero of the Yass celebrations, discovered the Yass Plains, and another stretch of imagination country was added to that already acquired.
It is interesting to observe the effects on the then colony of this wholesale extention of territory. Up to the date of the discovery of the great western plains the generally accepted idea of the settlement was that it was destined to be but a, convict colony, hemmed between the ocean and the mountains.
The moment it appeared that a vast continent lay beyond, suitable for occupation, and possessed of the natural materials for wealth and equal, if not superior, in climate and other physical advantages, to any other continent in the world, this idea was abandoned, and at once a new era of progress began.
The wonderful suitability of the colony for the growth of fine wool had been demonstrated by John Macarthur, the Rev. Samuel Marsden, William Cox, and others. With the discovery of new lands came the removal of the unpromising conditions of the first settlement. As far back as 1804, by means of an "Order" issued by Governor King, the system of leasing was introduced, and owners of stock were permitted, to run sheep on Crown lands.
These permits had, by 1812, taken up nearly all the available land known to the colonists. Then the settlers began to spread rapidly over the new country. In this way the boundaries of the older, settled districts were increased so as to comprise a tract about 200 miles, square.
A surveyed line defined these old settled districts, and beyond this boundary, colonists were forbidden to pass, and no land was allotted. It was imagined by the wiseacres in charge of the Government that, if the colonists were allowed to spread over, a large area it would be next to, impossible to govern them properly.
But by a common impulse the pioneers head for the boundary. In the course of a very few year's hundreds of adventurous young men crossed the boundary and commenced operations. The Governor could not have pre- vented this, because all the police and military in Australia could not have guarded an open frontier 500 miles in length.
The trespassers were called by the name of "squatters," from an American derivation of the term, and this apellation was used to distinguish them as unauthorised dwellers on the land. Later on, when respectable colonists took, up large portions of these waste lands for grazing purposes, the name became "whitewashed," as it were, and it was then used to designate all licensed occupants of Crown lands.
But the heroic age of Australian settlement began when men and women were found ready to leave civilisation and taking their lives in their hands, drive their flocks and herds before them to occupy the unknown wilds of the new land. Their dangers were many and great, and would have overcome all but the bravest Stories of wild dogs attacking the enclosure where the flocks were housed for the night; of fearful droughts, which starved the sheep; of terrific floods, which swept them away; of constant fear of attacks by treacherous savages; of supplies delayed so long on the road that famine was almost upon the people when the stores arrived, and lastly, of bushrangers, who stuck up the huts and looted them of food - all these were cheerfully and courageously borne by these bands of pioneers, planted in the wild bush and struggling desperately to win a living and raise up families, who would, in their, turn, carry on the good work.
'Thus, one of the great and most distinctive features of all Australian centenaries should be the honouring and grateful recognition of the explorers, discoverers, and pioneer settlers, who in the infant days of the settlement, performed yeoman service in furthering the progress and prosperity of their adopted country.
Hamilton Hume, the discoverer of the Goulburn and the Yass Plains, was born at Toongabbie, on June 18, 1797. He was a son of Andrew Hamilton Hume and grandson of a celebrated divine, Rev. James Hume, a Presbyterian minister. His father arrived in Sydney in 1790, and was an official of the Commissariat Department at Toongabbie, where the family lived. A brother, John Kennedy Hume, who was shot by bushrangers at Gunning in 1840, shared his brother's love for adventure, and exploration, and more than once accompanied him in his expeditions.
When Hamilton was only seventeen he set off on an exploring expedition and was the first white man to cross, the Razorback range, subsequently passing through the site of the present town of Picton. Several expeditions in this and the surrounding territory was conducted by Hume, resulting in the opening up of a large extent of valuable country. In 1821 he arrived in the district of Yass, and his glowing accounts of the fertile country in this neighbourhood soon resulted in its occupation.
The name of Hamilton Hume, however, will always be famous in connection with, his wonderful expedition into Port Phillip in 1824-5, and the sister state will no doubt see, when the time comes for the celebration of the centenary of this remarkable journey, that the real discoverer of Victoria is duly honoured.
In recognition of his enterprise and faithful work on this and other expeditions, a grant of 300 acres was bestowed upon him in the neighbourhood of Appin, and there he resided for some considerable time. The old homestead, about six miles from Campbelltown, may still be seen. For upwards of fifteen years he continued his work of exploration, and in 1828 he settled down to home life at his residence "Cooma Cottage," near Yass, where he eventually died on April 19, 1873, at the age of seventy-six leaving no direct descendants.
The map of Australia, unfortunately, does not bear his name affixed to any of its geographical features, but in the neighbourhood of Yass, his name is perpetuated, in the Hume Bridge, which spans the Yass River, Hume street, "Hume-wood" - a fine property some few miles from the town - and in the parish of Hume.
If he had had fair justice the great river which divides the two states of New South Wales and Victoria, now called the Murray, but to which the young explorer gave the name of Hume River, would still bear his name as the actual discoverer.