4 August 2017

A day out in the region: exploring Yass

| Maryann Mussared
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Court House, Comur Street, Yass, built in 1880.

If you haven’t ever been to Yass, or maybe not visited for a while, maybe you should consider a visit one weekend? There is lots to do, whether you are a day visitor, looking for a weekend away, and could very well interest e-changers and downsizers. Yass still has that nice country town feel, with parking on the main street right outside where you want to go. I observed many dusty utes, some pulling horse-floats, being driven by country cockies with Akubras stuck firmly on their heads. It is a well-laid out town that is easy to walk around and offers a tempting range of restaurants and cafes. There are twice-monthly farmers markets and a lot of friendly people to meet.

The colonial prosperity of Yass is evident; the Court House is substantial and prominently positioned on Comur Street near the river, and there are a number of other impressive late 19th century buildings that have blue heritage plaques.

Yass Post Office, Comur Street, Yass.

So what is different about Yass? With a population in excess of 6,000, the town is relatively unspoiled, but it is undergoing a renaissance. People speak of how inexpensive housing is, how industry is expanding, and how there are opportunities. I met people who, having sold up in Canberra because it is too expensive, have found somewhere with enough room to grow veggies and can work part time doing something they love.

My prediction is that Yass is definitely about to change. Residents mentioned ‘changing values’ and people in search of a quieter life as the driving force behind the expansion of Yass. Not forgetting the persistent rumours that Consolidated Land and Rail Australia (CLARA) have purchased land in the district as part of their drive for the very fast train, it is also easier for people to work remotely now they have access to NBN in Yass. I drove west along Rossi Street and found a substantial new development, elevated and with easy access to the centre of town.

New Yass development: Blackett on Rossi.

Continuing down to the river, I came across a small recreation area, part of the Yass Council’s Traditional Owner River Restoration Project that employs local Aboriginal people to rehabilitate sites. It was a tranquil spot with stunning views down over the Yass River.

Reserve at the end of Rossi Street overlooks the Yass River gorge.

I had planned my visit to coincide twice monthly Rotary Farmers Market in the St Augustine Church Hall, on Meehan Street.

The markets are still modest but authentic, with the produce from the nearby region. The fresh produce stalls outside had lots of leafy greens, cabbages, citrus, potatoes, and even a few pumpkins.

I quickly made friends with these two from Wagga Free Range Pork, enjoying a tasting of their pork and fig sausage, and crunchy crisp bacon. I left with a nice cut of Riverina Berkshire Gold pork and some smokey bacon bones for soup.

Inside St Augustine’s Hall, it was still relatively quiet as it was barely 10 am. There was an espresso machine with a barista working fast just at the entrance, providing a lovely aroma to the Hall, along with the smell of freshly baked bread and cakes.

Homeleigh Organic Olive Oil is a familiar sight at a number of markets around Canberra and is eagerly sought out by lovers of good quality EVOO, flavoured oils, and dressings.

I spent some time deliberating over alpaca wool socks and Carole Lutze’s locally produced “Care Bags”, recyclable shopping bags in beautiful brightly coloured cotton. I met the men from the Yass Valley Men’s Shed, admired their many beautifully tooled wooden objects for sale, and came away with a nifty set of wooden tongs that will allow me to safely extract toast from my toaster.

Unable to fit anything else into my shopping bags, I stowed my goodies in the car and headed to Clementine Restaurant, right across the road. Earlier, I had noticed someone from Clementine setting up their sandwich board down on Comur Street advertising their home-baked sourdough bread. By the time I arrived there was very little left of the selection of fruit, dark malt, and white sourdough bread. However, I did score one of the last loaves as well as a jar of Smoked Apple Sauce which I knew would go beautifully with the free-range pork I had just bought at the Farmers Market.

Clementine took the local region by storm when it recently scored a positive review by The Australian newspaper’s highly regarded food critic, John Lethlean. I strongly suspect this little gem would have become popular even without his approval. The small 1950s house has been turned into one large dining room. I have previously already written about Clementine’s handsome fireplace and it certainly throws out a lot of warmth.

I was travelling solo and I always find early starts quite hungry work. Despite an expected full-house for lunch, I was offered a table on the sunny terrace just prior to the crowds arriving. The brunch menu had a number of really tempting choices. The freshly prepared crepe I selected was filled with Serrano ham and gruyere cheese that had melted and was creamy, topped with pungent lemon thyme and burnt butter. Accompanied by a generous chunk of bread, butter and olive oil, this made a delicious and satisfying meal. The coffee was excellent, and there was a constant traffic of locals calling in for their morning takeaway caffeine hit. I dare you to tempt yourself by looking at Clementine’s current brunch menu but beware, they have just closed for a short winter break, and re-opens August 10 with a self-proclaimed “zest of a thousand lemons”

When I asked the staff at Clementine where people who came for a special dinner from Canberra could stay, they didn’t hesitate to point me in the direction of the nearby Globe Inn. I took off on foot to investigate, discovering the old railway track still running down Dutton Street just around the corner. I admired the former railway station which is now a private home, and passed a number of pretty heritage cottages on my walk.

The National Trust classified Globe Inn, dating from 1847, is certainly a romantic overnight stop for people. I was very warmly welcomed and invited in by David Miller, one of the current custodians. I had a chance to have a look at one of the tastefully decorated, well-appointed bedrooms and was very keen to see the ballroom on the first floor.

The ballroom is a large and well-proportioned room and gives guests access to the deep verandah where they can relax in the afternoon or have a drink before venturing out for dinner. Downstairs there is a lovely drawing room with a fireplace that was just waiting to be lit.

Back on Comur Street, I came across more interesting old buildings, many repurposed. The popular Roses Cafe was buzzing, and I paused to eye off their famous muffins and pies. As a bit of a collector, I couldn’t believe my luck when I found Ross’s Relics. This huge emporium is choc-a-block full of collectibles – a veritable Aladdin’s Cave – and I had to drag myself away.

Yass has a number of other good cafes but it just wasn’t possible to visit them all. Please recommend your favourite in the “Comments” section below. Kaffeine 2582 cafe which came highly recommended, had an impressive range of cakes and snacks, comfortable seating with colourful cushions and a lovely sunny outside terrace.

Serving Fairtrade coffee provided by The Art of Coffee, Kaffeine is a good spot for a stop-off on the way through or as part of your visit to Yass.

My last stop on the way out of Yass was Tootsie Fine Art and Design. This completely original enterprise is another good indicator that Yass is changing. Presenting the artworks of local artists, Tootsie is a quirky restoration (with a nice touch of hipster) of a very striking Art Deco building. Originally built as a petrol station in 1937, it is reputedly the first Caltex station in Australia.

Operating until the 1970s, this petrol stop was all important to people on the long drive from Sydney to Melbourne. These days it is a popular spot for coffee and light snacks. The outdoor eating area, full of colourful mosaics donated from all over the world, is not to be missed.

Out the front of the verge, I enjoyed Roger Buckman’s art installation “Sheep May Safely Graze”. These sheep seem to be still recovering from Tootsie’s 80th birthday held recently!

I detected a real sense of local pride in the Yassites/Yassonians (is there a demonym for Yass?) I spoke to. Not exactly the sort of civic pride that urges people to trim the edges of their lawn with nail scissors and put bunches of flowers in the local phone box (which is indeed what used to happen in a village I once lived in), but pride in the history of Yass and the friendliness of the place. Claiming somewhere is unique is a big call, but Yass can claim at least a bit. Barely 50 minutes from the centre of what can now be called cosmopolitan Canberra, Yass is also a major stopover for the constant traffic from Sydney or Melbourne. Like Goulburn, Yass survived and thrived after the by-pass!

The National Trust’s historic Cooma Cottage is closed over winter but re-opens in September.

Yass is an easy drive north of Canberra on the Barton Highway. It takes less than an hour each way.

There is more information about Yass and the surrounding region at Yass Valley Tourism.

All photos were taken by Maryann Mussared

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