by Lyn Collingwood
from Bulletin 9 of 2020
Horse trainers Frank and Cyril Culbert lived in Santa Rosa (5 Victoria Rd) and Volta (1 Alexandra Lane) directly adjoining Jubilee Park during the golden age of trotting at Harold Park. After the brothers’ deaths, animals continued to be stabled at Santa Rosa and horse-breeding magazines were delivered there. The familiar sight and sound of trotters clip-clopping across the parkland towards the paceway disappeared with Harold Park’s closure in 2010. By that time the popularity of harness racing as an inner-city spectator sport had dwindled; Harold Park was farewelled with novelty camel races.
Despite opposition from the general public about electricity being used for sporting events at a time of frequent blackouts and power failures, night racing was introduced in 1949 and Frank Culbert moved to Santa Rosa. His application to build a brick shelter shed for horse vehicles was approved by Leichhardt Council the following year. In those days Harold Park’s thrills and spills attracted big crowds. The 1952 Inter-Dominion Championship was watched by 38,090 people, increasing to 50,346 in 1960.
Born at Camperdown, Frank in 1939 married Margaret Calderwood Picken at Annandale. Before her marriage typist Jean Margaret Culbert shared the Victoria Rd house. Frank died in March 1982 and his widow in October 1988. Both were buried in the Catholic section at Rookwood.
Cyril Culbert had moved into Volta by September 1960 when his application to extend a brick stable was approved by Leichhardt Council. He died in February 1966 and was buried in the Catholic section at Rookwood. Executrix of his will was Gwenneth Mary Miller.
Although their paternal grandfather John was a foundation member of the Camperdown Methodist Church, Cyril and Frank’s parents identified as staunch Catholics. A carpenter by trade, James Culbert (1865-1936) had a long association with harness racing at Sydney Showground and Harold Park, with steeds such as Tiny Tuxie, Beach, Matchlight, Hal Pronto and Royal’s Best. A member of the NSW Trotting Club, he was in a minority opposed to the introduction of greyhound coursing on a smaller track inside the trotting circuit at Harold Park.
A lifetime supporter of the ALP, James made an unsuccessful preselection bid as the Party’s candidate for Camperdown Ward in 1921 City elections. Labor politicians joined the crowd of racing identities and union officials at his Waverley Cemetery funeral. James Culbert was survived by his widow Annie Josephine née Farrelly (1868-1957), eight sons John (1888-1943), James (1889-1960), Leonard (1891-1957), Ernest Joseph (1893-1971), Cyril, Claude Joseph (1901-79), Cecil Joseph (1908-74) and Frank Joseph, and three daughters Annie Josephine (1896-1962), May Mary (1903-87) and Agnes (1906-57). Another son Reginald had died soon after his birth in 1911.
May and Claude joined the Postmaster General’s Dept as telephonist and telegraph messenger respectively, Leonard became a labourer and Ernest an inspector with the Dept of Road Transport and Tramways. Like Cyril and Frank, Cecil was involved in the trotting industry. He and his ‘square-gaiter’ gelding Direct Gem were disqualified for six months by Harold Park stewards in 1936.
As a 12-year-old, eldest child John was splashed in the eye with hot lead as he was moulding bullets. After leaving Christian Brothers Newtown, he worked as a messenger boy and timber mill sawyer. Secretary of the Australian Timber Workers’ Union from 1920 until his death, he was arrested during the 1929 timber workers’ strike. A director of Labor Motor Funerals and on the ALP central executive, he was a Member of the NSW Upper House 1926-34.
John Culbert inherited his father’s interest in horses as well as politics. He bought at least one champion. Hallou, a New England bred chestnut, won the 1936, 1937 and 1938 President’s Unhoppled Handicap (hopples are straps binding a horse’s front and back legs so that they move together on the same side). During the running of the 1939 handicap the trotter was killed when it, the sulky and rider were thrown through a Harold Park fence. Frank Culbert was the driver; he had already escaped injury in an earlier smash the same day.
In the 1940s-50s an estimated 500 horses trained at Harold Park. There were many local stables apart from 5 Victoria Rd including a number in Hereford St used by trainers Sam Aggett, Sutton McMillan and Herb Chant and his son Les.
5 Victoria Rd
Irish-born Eugene Augustus Boyle (1859-1932) bought the house in April 1910, named it Santa Rosa and lived there before relocating to Bellevue Hill in 1925 following his wife’s death and his retirement from the Lands Dept after 40 years (his farewell gifts a wallet of notes and a pair of Zeiss glasses) and his only surviving son’s admission as a solicitor.
Hughie Boyle was a member of the Glebe Rowing Club, a billiard champion who played exhibition games at the Glebe Working Men’s Institute, and an entertainer as a ventriloquist, conjuror, singer and mouth organist. He performed with the Government Printing Office Dramatic and Musical Society at the Gaiety Theatre, and sang in concerts in Glebe Town Hall. In Exhibition Year 1888 he accompanied the Lands Department cricket team to Melbourne.
In 1886 Boyle married Elizabeth Mozelle. Rosina Winifred was born in Glebe the following year. In 1890 Eugene Ernest died aged 10 months when the family were living at Edith Cottage Darling St. By the time of Rosina’s death in 1897 they had moved to Minnesota Boyce St, and to Santa Rosa when Clement Lancelot died aged 5½ in 1912. Servants were hard to find when the Boyles advertised for one in 1913, an attraction a gas stove and a small family of four. The surviving children were Hilda Estelle (1896-1958) and Archibald Courtney (1899-1984).
Hilda, a lyric soprano who studied at the Conservatorium and sang in London with the British National Opera Company, married Gustaf Desiderius Englund at St Marks Darling Point in 1926. Her Swedish husband accompanied her on singing tours to Tasmania and Canberra before his untimely death at age 34 a year later. In Los Angeles in 1931 Hilda married Swiss engineer Hans von Escher and travelled with him through America, Europe and Asia inspecting steel and cement works and power stations before he took a job with the Wollongong steelworks.
Archie Boyle served articles with Harry Lewis Brown and was admitted as a solicitor in 1924. In 1932 at St John’s Darlinghurst he married Olga, the daughter of Dr Rudolph Bohrsmann whose former practice was next to Glebe Public School and who had lived at Arden, Forsyth St.
The next occupants of Santa Rosa were labourer Peter Bulger and his wife Geraldine (‘Dell’) née Rourke, one of 13 children. Devout Catholics, they sent their daughters Mary Ellen, Beryl Emma Josephine and Geraldine Jean to St Scholastica’s. Peter Bulger died in 1948 at Annandale. The death of his widow was registered at Newtown in 1971.
1 Alexandra Lane
The first owner was salesman George Roberts of Annandale who bought the property in April 1906. Four years later he sold it to stove manufacturer William Stone who named it Volta. For decades its address was simply ‘Jubilee Park’ or ‘Federal Park’. Billy’s older brother Benjamin lived at 294 Glebe Point Rd, named Waratah for the family firm’s popular cooker. Both men made Glebe their permanent home.
William Stretton Stone (1884-1958) married Eliza Ryman Shepherd (1882-1951) in 1906. They brought up their seven children at Volta: William Benjamin (1907-85), Doris Ethel May (1908-2005), Francis Victor (1910-82), Sydney Arthur (1912-2007), Joyce Irene (1918-94), Nancy Clara (1920-2017) and John Albert, born in 1924. One addition to the family born at Volta was Elaine Dorothy, to Nancy and ex Changi prisoner of war Walter Bock, in 1946.
Eliza Ryman Stone died at Volta in 1951. On William’s death in August 1958 ownership of the property passed to their sons Francis, an accountant, and Sydney, a welder who had worked as a railway fitter at Lithgow.
By 1968 Fine Arts lecturer and Sydney Morning Herald art critic Dr Donald Brook and his wife Phyllis were living in Volta. Tragedy struck when their only child, three-year-old Simon, was abducted and brutally murdered not far from the house. Despite a reward, no one was ever convicted.
During the State premiership of Robin Askin, when many of Glebe’s old houses were replaced by featureless flats, a development application was lodged with Leichhardt Council to replace Santa Rosa with five two-storey dwellings.
By the mid-1980s both properties were owned by marine biologist Valerie Morris, an author and Sydney University academic. She lived in Volta and had separate tenancies for the house and stables at 5 Victoria Rd. A number of artists lived there, including sculptor Dominique Sutton who used the rear basement as a welding studio. Sutton’s Sydney works include giant metal athletes topping Centrepoint Tower to celebrate the Olympics, and the Australian Railway Memorial at Werris Creek.
Following the death of Valerie Morris, Volta and Santa Rosa were vacated. Both were sold at auction to separate buyers on 26 September 2020.
Sources: Australian Harness Racing website; Harold Park: A History Susan Marsden & Max Solling 2016; National Trotguide 16.12. 2010; NSW births, deaths, marriages registry; NSW cemetery records; NSW electoral rolls; NSW State Records; private information; Sands Directories; Trove website.