Home » Towns » New South Wales » Riverina » Culcairn, NSW

Culcairn, NSW

Quiet wheatbelt service centre in the Riverina

Culcairn is a small rural service centre with some beautiful tree-lined streets. It is ideally located between the major cities of Albury and Wagga Wagga - both are within easy reach. It is the centre of an agricultural district famed for its wheat, wool and fat lambs. Water is reticulated to the town from Australia's largest open artesian domestic water supply which was discovered in 1926. A 37 metre shaft taps 800 000 litres a day from the massive basin which has earned the town the title of 'Oasis of the Riverina'. The town's primary appeal lies in its interesting and impressive historic buildings and its connections with the bushranger Daniel 'Mad Dog' Morgan.


Culcairn is located 523 km south-west of Sydney via the Hume Highway to Holbrook and the Culcairn-Holbrook Road. It is 215 metres above sea level.


Origin of Name

Culcairn is named after a property in the parish of Kiltearn, Scotland. In 1880 the town was laid out by a Scottish-born local landowner, James Balfour, who donated land for a school and Presbyterian church. It is accepted that he named the village after the place where his mother had been born.


Things to See and Do

The Buildings of Historic Culcairn
Culcairn has a number of significant buildings which have been heritage listed and classified by the National Trust. The most notable are the Culcairn Hotel, the Memorial Hall, the Court House, the Railway Station and the Station Master's Residence.

Culcairn Hotel
The Culcairn Hotel in Railway Parade was built in 1891. At the time it was the largest hotel on the Sydney to Melbourne railway line. With an elegant restaurant and impressive leadlight windows this Germanic structure was extended in 1910 with the addition of an accommodation wing of over 70 rooms, stables, a coach house and extensive gardens. Part of the appeal of the hotel was that patrons from outlying properties could drive their coach or ride their horse to Culcairn, stable it and catch the train to Sydney or Melbourne. The hotel boasted the town’s first power supply in 1909. For more information check out http://culcairnhotel.com.au.

Station Master's Residence
On the eastern side of the railway line is the Station Master's Residence (1883), a handsome building has been restored by the Culcairn Museum Committee. It was the home of 17 station masters between 1883-1979. Today it is furnished in traditional style with furniture from 1880-1890. It has original floors and ceilings. There's an old railway carriage in the attractive garden out the back of the residence. It is open on Saturdays from 10.00 am - 4.00 pm. For openings at other times tel: (02) 6029 8486. For more information check out http://www.culcairn.nsw.au/LinkClick.aspx?fileticket=6DkAYiUTKBQ%3d&tabid=516.


Other Attractions in the Area

Searching for Mad Dog Morgan
Culcairn is central to the infamous career of bushranger Dan 'Mad Dog' Morgan who terrorised the district from 1862-65. The son of convict parents Morgan was probably a man named Jack Fuller who had been born in Appin around 1830. He was sentenced to twelve years hard labour for highway robbery in 1854. At the time he called himself John Smith, gave his occupation as jockey, and served six years before being released on a ticket-of-leave. It is claimed that he emerged from gaol a bitter, resentful, brooding and vengeful man. A skilled horse thief he moved on to highway robbery and acts of violence, committing the first of four murders in 1863. At the time he went by the name of "Billy the Native". Morgan earned some sympathy from the poor for his attention to their welfare and his focus on the property of the landed gentry.
A description of his physical appearance has been left by one of his pursuers, a Detective Manwaring: "He was distinguished by his immense black beard flowing to his breast. His hair hung over his shoulders in gipsy ringlets. His height was nearly six feet. He was stout and muscular but weak in the knees and walked awkwardly. When mounted on horseback he was unsurpassed as a rider. His head had no crown. The forehead was small and angular. The nose was ... massive and straight but terminating in a peculiar hook which curved over the upper lip. This, with small clear blue eyes gave him the appearance of a ferocious bird of prey."
In June, 1864 newspapers around the country publicised Morgan's violent behaviour at Round Hill station near Culcairn. Morgan rounded everybody at the station up, forced them to drink alcohol, was about to depart and, according to one account, fell into a rage when the manager, Sam Watson, claimed that his (Morgan's) stirrups were stolen. Another version suggests that Morgan, when his own gun accidentally went off, thought he'd been fired upon. He fired and shot and wounded Watson. Morgan then ran around firing indiscriminately, shot John Heriott, the son of a neighbouring grazier, chased another individual and then returned to Heriott, placing a gun to his temple. When Watson said "For God's sake, Morgan, don't kill anyone", he became compassionate, swore he would kill everyone who did not come to Heriott's assistance, carried him to a bed and agreed that overseer John McLean should go to Walla Walla to fetch a doctor. He insisted that McLean could go if he promised not to head in the opposite direction towards Ten Mile Creek and the police. When Heriott's condition improved Morgan headed for Ten Mile Creek, found McLean and shot him and then returned him to Round Hill. He left just before the police arrived. McLean died three days later. The reward money for Morgan quickly escalated. When he bailed up Henry Baylis near Urana in 1862 the money was £200. After killing McLean and Sergeant David Maginnity near Tumbarumba it rose to £1000. By September, 1863 he had also killed a Sergeant Smyth. The Australian Dictionary of Biography points out that "Between January and March 1865 Morgan seemed ubiquitous. He was credited with no less than six major robberies of coaches and pastoral stations and the attempted murder of a stock-keeper at Wallandbool. In March the government of New South Wales introduced the Felons Apprehension Act, which made him an outlaw. Next month Morgan crossed the Murray to settle his old score with Evans and Bond. Reaching Whitfield on 7 April, he bailed up the head station. Evan Evans was not there. Morgan headed north and held up traffic on the Sydney Road between Benalla and Glenrowan. On the evening of 8 April he bailed up the Macpherson homestead at Peechelba, north of Wangaratta, unaware that the station's co-owner George Rutherford lived less than a quarter of a mile (0.4 km) away. Alice Keenan, the Macphersons' nurse, carried news to Rutherford, who rounded up his workforce, selected and armed five trustworthy men and sent them to watch at Peechelba homestead. Police and armed vigilantes augmented the party. Next morning, as the bushranger walked towards the stockyards to select a horse to continue his flight, he was shot from behind by John Wendlan. Morgan died at about 1.45 p.m. on 9 April 1865. Locks were cut from his hair, his body was publicly displayed at Wangaratta, his beard was flayed from his face as a souvenir and his head severed, to be forwarded to the professor of anatomy at the University of Melbourne. He was buried on 14 April in Wangaratta cemetery."

Round Hill Homestead and the Grave of John McLean
Round Hill Homestead (1848) which "Mad Dog" Morgan held up still stands although it is a private residence not open to the general public. The gateway is 2.3 km east of Culcairn on the right-hand side of the road to Holbrook. The grave of the overseer John McLean, who was shot by Morgan, has been moved from its initial inaccessible site to the roadside and is clearly sign posted. It lies 800 metres east of the homestead on the same side of the road.

Morgan's Lookout
Located 18 km from Culcairn on the road to Walla Walla, and directly opposite the property now known as Walla Park, Morgan's Lookout is a striking and impressive rocky outcrop in what is otherwise very flat country. Daniel 'Mad Dog' Morgan reputedly used this granite rock formation as a vantage point to watch for approaching victims and police. There are metal steps which allow the visitor to get to the top of the rocks. The view of the rich surrounding countryside is worth the effort. There is a detailed sign at the top of the lookout which explains "Geologists have described this conglomerate white granite formation as being the centre core of an extinct volcano. When settlers first arrived in about 1842 the area was an Aboriginal camping site.

"During the early 1860s the bushranger Daniel Morgan used it as a refuge and lookout point for the traps (troopers) who pursued him. Morgan frequently visited Walla Walla station homestead for fresh supplies which were freely given for the good for their health. The rocky outcrop was named 'Morgan's Lookout' after the bushranger's death in 1865.

"During the 1890s the lookout was the local point of the national shearer's strike from which the A.W.U (Australian Workers Union) was founded. Hundreds of shearers congregated on the tanks of the Billabong Creek on Walla Walla station, striking against low wages and working conditions. After many months their cause seemed lost. Stations used their workers and family members to shear the sheep. The shearers vowed to burn the countryside out. Stations banded together and built Oregon timber ladders at this lookout. Several fires were lit but this early warning centre resulted in quick action to contain them." The rocky outcrop was re-established in 1971 by the Culcairn Jaycees and the Paech family whose property the lookout is situated on.



* Prior to the arrival of Europeans the area had been inhabited by Wiradjuri Aborigines for at least 20,000 years.

* The explorers Hume and Hovell passed through the area in 1824 on their journey to Port Phillip. They noted the extensive grass cover and the potential for grazing.

* The first settlers arrived in 1834 and by 1845 four stations, including Round Hill and Walla Walla, had been gazetted.

* In 1862 and 1863 the bushranger, "Mad Dog" Daniel Morgan terrorised the area.

* The township dates to 1880 when it was laid out by local landowner, James Balfour, who donated land for a school and Presbyterian church. It was at this time that the railway line from Sydney to Albury passed through the town.

* The Culcairn Post Office was opened in 1880.

* In 1882 the Station Master's House was built for the newly arrived railway service.

* The Sydney to Melbourne railway saw the town become a service centre for the surrounding grazing and stud stock including chaff mills, a cereal grain company and a quarry.

* The huge Culcairn Hotel was built in 1891 to cater for customers from the newly completed railway line.

* In 1909 the Culcairn Hotel was the first building in town to get electricity.

* Water is reticulated to the town from Australia's largest open artesian domestic water supply which was discovered in 1926. A 37-metre shaft taps 800 000 litres a day from the massive basin which has earned the town the title of 'Oasis of the Riverina'.


Visitor Information

Greater Hume Shire Council, 40 Balfour Street, Culcairn, tel: (02) 8029 8588.


Useful Websites

The local council website - http://culcairn.nsw.au - has useful information about the history of the town.

Got something to add?

Have we missed something or got a top tip for this town? Have your say below.

3 suggestions
  • Found this site by mistake. Wow what a read about Mad Dog. Thanks to however put this together. David J

    David John
  • A very informative post; thanks to the compilers. My family (Martin) lived in and near Culcairn for several generations.

  • I spent my first 14 years on a farm 2kms out of Cul on the back Henty Road. I still regard Cul as my home town. For some years i followed the ‘Old Culcairn ‘website which I was hoping that It can be revived somehow as it had many old and interesting photos included. It would be a pity if it was lost as it must have taken many hours and contributions to put together. i’m now 87 and because of age and health am unable to travel these days. I still of course have relatives thereabout. Over the Years I have returned for re-unions and various celebrations. Thank you for the opportunity to correspond .

    John Robert Hoffmann.