An Elephant Grows
An elephant race down Foster St 40 years ago, but what has that to do with topiary you might ask?
The story of the elephant race is not widely known, but eyewitness Ted Field is keen to tell the tale behind the topiary.
Mr Field was nine years old when Bullen’s Circus set up its big top on the school oval in 1961, accompanied by lions, tigers, monkeys — and elephants.
One day the attention of Mr Field and his classmates was captured by the sight of an elephant that had escaped and fled, only to be caught by its trainers.
“It just headed off to the bush for a bit, over the paddocks,” Mr Field recalled.
The elephant race was organised by the trainers as a way to publicize the circus and attracted a large crowd.
Two local identities — shopkeeper Len Field (Ted’s uncle) and butcher Freddie Sipman — were attired in Indian costumes and seated on the elephants.
“They sat on the neck of the elephant with no reins and no saddle,” Mr Field said.
“I remember watching my uncle . . . he looked terrified. It was very entertaining as a Grade 4 boy.”
The elephants raced at a canter from the recreation ground to the shopping centre and the finish was close, although Mr Field can’t remember who won.
The Elephant Race took place in 1958 (we found this out after the mural was painted) and apparently these elephants from this circus were famous for escaping.
As a tribute to the race, Wendy McCarthy decided to adorn her new cafe with two topiary elephants.
The Town of Topiary Tearoom is in the same building as Mr Sipman’s shop and Mrs McCarthy thought it would be appropriate to sculpt her garden in honour of his racing career.
She said she was interested in Railton exploring its elephant past and perhaps reviving the race in some form to attract tourists.