Old Ted: The ghost of Bulli pub

Bulli Family Hotel, Bulli, May 1925, about the time Ted Cullen took over the license. Picture: Noel Butlin Archives, Australian National University. Inset: Ted and Lavina Cullen. Pictures: Mick Roberts Collection.
Heritage Hotel, formerly known as the Bulli Family Hotel. Picture: Mick Roberts Collection.

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 throughout the middle of the night, are nothing out of the ordinary at Bulli’s Heritage Hotel.

There are plenty of spine-chilling pub ghost stories doing the rounds; Bulli’s though is a sad, but colourful tale of a publican, who was led to suicide through the Great Depression.

For years customers, staff and licensees of the pub, located south of Sydney, have had a yarn to tell about a resident ghost, who has been keeping a watchful eye on the day to day operations of the historic hotel he operated more than 80 years ago.

This is the story of Edward Cullen, affectionately known as ‘Old Ted’, the one time licensee of the Bulli Family Hotel – now known as the Heritage Hotel – who tragically ended his life by suicide at the age of 51 in the upstairs bathroom of the pub in 1930.

Born in 1879, Ted and his wife Lavina were in the hospitality trade. The couple ran a boarding houses for labourers at 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 jumping back on the wagon again.

He was said to have had an excellent memory for people’s names and could call all his customers by name, his daughter, 90 year-old Lousa May Ponza told me in 1999.

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, south of Wollongong, 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 latest venture.

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, located 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 his wife Lavina were said to be: “Don’t forget to put out the lights”, before he went up stairs and hung himself.

After closing the bar, Lavina 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. Through the small opening she saw her husband hanging by the neck from the shower.

His son, Ted Jnr, had to climb through the bathroom window to cut him down. Old Ted seems to have decided to continue to keep a watchful eye on Bulli pub after his death, and takes great pleasure in putting the jitters into new publicans.

The upstairs hall of the Heritage Hotel Bulli is said to be haunted by ‘Old Ted’. Picture: Digitally altered. Mick Roberts Collection.

The late Eric Blain, who bought and restored the hotel in the late 1970s, often told the tale of continually finding the locked door to the bathroom, where Ted ended his life, wide open, and publicans who followed swear that his spirit still haunts the corridors of the old watering hole.

First published 2013. Updated 2021

© Copyright Mick Roberts 2021

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Categories: Illawarra Hotels, NSW hotels, Publicans

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