The ghost of Bulli pub: The tragic story of Ted Cullen

The Bulli Family Hotel when the Cullens were hosts. Inset: Lavinia and Ted Cullen. Pictures: Mick Roberts Collection and Wollongong City Libraries.

By MICK ROBERTS ©

MISSING trays of glassware and boxes of spirits – mysteriously turning-up later – cutlery re-arranged in the dining room, locked doors found wide open, eerie taps on the shoulder, and weird sounds through the middle of the night are nothing unusual at the Bulli Heritage Hotel.

For years customers, staff and licensees have had a yarn to tell about ‘Old Ted’, the resident ghost, who has been keeping a watchful eye on operations at the historic pub for over 90 years.

A past publican of the former Bulli Family Hotel, Edward Cullen, or Old Ted as he has affectionately become known, is said to haunt the halls of the historic hotel.

This is the story of Edward Cullen, who tragically ended his life by suicide in the upstairs bathroom in 1930.

Born in 1879, Ted and his wife Lavinia were in the hospitality trade, running boarding houses for labourers at places such as Stanwell Park during the railway duplication works.

Ted was a professional gambler, sailing to New Zealand, Tasmania and California, plying his trade as he went. He was a card sharp, and according to his grandson, Ted Cullen Jnr., could deal a predetermined hand of poker.

His skills extended to making double headed pennies and ‘split kips’, he had loaded dice, always carried 200 gold sovereigns in a money belt and a pistol loaded with paper filled blanks.

Ted’s problems with the grog began when he entered the hotel trade as host of the Star Hotel at Albury in the early 1920s. His bouts of binge drinking went on for weeks, sobering up for a time, and hitting it again. He acquired an excellent memory for people’s names and could call all his customers by name according to his daughter, 90 year-old Lousa May Ponza.

While on one of his drinking sprees, his wife Lavina decided to sell the Star Hotel, and when Ted found out, he quickly sobered-up and put the business back into order so they could get a good price.

The Cullens later went on to operate the Railway Hotel at Wagga Wagga, the Figtree Hotel and later a boarding house catering for workers building the Unanderra/Moss Vale Railway.

Edward Cullen was granted the license of the Bulli Family Hotel at an unfortunate time. It was 1929, the Great Depression was about to hit the world with a magnificent thump and the economic decline had a dramatic effect on trade at Ted’s pub. Customers stayed away in droves and sales at the pub hit an all time low.

The day he ended his life, Ted went to his bank, situated where the Bulli Chemist trades across the road, to unsuccessfully try for an over draft. He had been hitting the grog pretty hard and was extremely depressed. His last words to wife were “Don’t forget to put out the lights” before he went up stairs and hung himself.

After closing the bar, Lavinia went upstairs to the first floor to find the bathroom lights burning. She knocked on the door with no answer.

Going out onto the balcony, she peered through a scratch that had been made in the whited-out window of the bathroom and through the small opening saw her husband hanging by the neck from the shower. His son, also called Ted, had to climb through the bathroom window to cut him down.

Old Ted seems to have decided to continue to hang around the Bulli pub after his death and takes great pleasure in putting the wind up new licensees at the Bulli Heritage Hotel. Eric Blain, who restored the hotel in the late 1970s, tells the tale of finding the door to the bathroom where Ted ended his life continually wide open, despite locking it every night. True, or not, the legend of Edward Cullen continues to haunt the historic corridors of Bulli’s old pub.

First published in 2014

© Copyright Mick Roberts 2020


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