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The land that would become the town of Yass was first inhabited by the Ngunnawal Aboriginal people, and Yass derives its named from the Ngunnawal word 'Yahrs', meaning 'running water'. Located south west of Sydney, the Yass plains were discovered by explorer Hamilton Hume during one of his expeditions south of the colony in 1821, and formed part of the second expedition through the region undertaken with William Hovell in 1824 which opened up the regions between Sydney and Port Phillip Bay in what would become Melbourne. So impressed was Hume with the land he found at Yass, he settled in the region with his wife in a house they named Cooma Cottage and remained there until his death in 1873.
With a track soon established to link Goulburn with Yass, word of the fertile grazing land quickly spread through the colony attracting a number of sheep farmers to the region. Well positioned at an important trade junction that linked Sydney with Melbourne and Canberra, Yass quickly became a favoured stop for travellers and, following the area being surveyed for a town in 1836, was declared a town a year later. With travel through the region increasing, a bridge would be built across the Yass River in 1854 which was named the Hume Bridge in honour of Hume's contributions to the town’s successes. As traffic through Yass became heavier in the 1900s, the Hume Bridge would be replaced with another modern bridge in 1970, better equipped to deal with the daily load of vehicles and freight trucks.
When the Hume Highway linking Sydney and Melbourne underwent significant upgrades in 1994, the highway which once passed through the main street of Yass, would bypass the town altogether, allowing Yass to restore the heritage architecture of its main street, which includes several well preserved Victorian era pubs with their distinctive wide iron lacework verandahs.
Although the town’s history in sheep farming has had the local wool industries enjoy significant successes, the farmland of Yass also boasts success with olive and berry farms, alpaca studs and local vineyards that are garnering a reputation for their cold-climate wines. Yass remains the primary service centre for the surrounding rural districts and has also become a favoured stop for tourists.