26 May 2023

She's had her day, let's call time on the old girl of Yass

| Sally Hopman
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Old hotel alight

The old Commercial Hotel at the height of Monday’s fire. She’s been drunk dry, vandalised, demonised and now burned to a near crisp. It’s time to lay this old girl to rest. Photo: NSW Fire and Rescue.

No-one does gossip like a country town. Anyone, with the most tenuous of connections to something that has/will/may happen, is lauded as an authority, especially if they’re holding court at the pub – and have been for quite some time, regularly inspired by yet more money on the bar.

It’s been like that in Yass this week. When what was left of the old Commercial Hotel burned down early on Monday, it was like nothing had ever happened or would happen in the town again.

Everyone was talking about it, standing across the road looking at it – you couldn’t get closer because of an abundance of Fire and Rescue ribbon warning of restricted access.

Everyone had theories, even more were convinced they knew whodunnit but refused to tell. Maybe because they knew they didn’t know.

When you live in a country town, having your say is included in the rent. Yes, it happens in town, but there’s something about living out of one that makes you feel your opinion is more worthy or your stories should be told louder. I blame climate change.

Aftermath of fire

This was the sight facing workers, shoppers and visitors first thing on Monday morning in the main street of Yass. Photo: Sally Hopman.

Most people guessed why the place had burned down, they just wanted to know by whom?

Why, because it had been an eyesore in the main street for so long, few could remember when it wasn’t – and because no one knew what to do with it. There was lots of talk about sympathetic development – sympathetic to what? Smashed windows, flattened doors, collapsed verandahs and so much graffiti it could have illustrated its own book?

It had already survived a cyclone and another fire in its younger years, to say nothing of squatters who had reportedly set up home in there a while back.

The word in the main street – and most of the other streets: remember that bloke who was cruising up and down Comur (the main street) last week, the one in the white ute? I reckon his brother-in-law, who has never been to Yass, did it.

READ ALSO Photographer captures memories of last drinks at Yass’s old Commercial pub

No, it was his cousin, the other bloke said. He’s never been here either, but I’m sure he did it.

If I get my hands on who did it, another said, I’ll shake their hand.

Its eyesore-ness was everyone’s problem, but no one took responsibility. No one wanted to know, they just wanted it fixed, for the complaints to stop, for the top of the main street to look better than a bomb site. And just as many people had theories about what/who was behind it. (I can tell you, lots more burned out bits and rubble. And even more graffiti.)

Seems one of the problems was that although it was located in a heritage conservation zone, it was not itself heritage listed. Yep, that could be tricky.

Commercial Hotel sign

Here’s hoping at least the iconic pub sign will be saved, unlike what held it up. Photo: Sally Hopman.

The latest word is that structural engineers will have the final say about whether the remaining upstanding bits will, well, remain or whether it is too dodgy as is and what is left will have to come down.

From our extensive straw poll – seven-and-a-half-people (half because she didn’t know it had burned down) – everyone reckoned it was well over time to call time for the old Commercial. There’s barely a facade left to mask the townhouses/retail centre/amusement park – OK maybe not an amusement park – that someone will probably want to build there. There’s nothing left. Let it go, folks.

I just hope someone thinks to save that gracious old neon sign advertising the place – not just because of its fabulous champagne glass floating above, but because it actually spells the word “accommodation” with the right number of “m”s.

I’ll drink to that.

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