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Wolfe, Herbert Austin (1897–1968)

by Peter Pierce

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 12, (MUP), 1990

Herbert Austin Wolfe (1897-1968), turf journalist, was born on 19 July 1897 at Maitland, New South Wales, son of Herbert Austin Wolfe, accountant, and his wife Rebecca Thwaites, née Mayo, both native-born. He was educated at Homeville Public School, at Winchester, England, and at Fort Street Model School, Sydney, but, according to Harry Gordon, he was 'reared among horses'. Wolfe took his famous by-line, 'Cardigan', from the 1903 Melbourne Cup winner Lord Cardigan which his grandfather John Mayo bred at Heatherbrae, north of Maitland; Wolfe was present at the foaling of Lord Nolan, another of his grandfather's horses, which won the cup in 1908.

Enlisting in the Australian Imperial Force in September 1916, Wolfe served with the 6th Field Artillery Brigade in France in 1917-18. After the war he commenced veterinary studies, but abandoned them when his grandfather persuaded the sporting editor of the Sydney Daily Telegraph to take him on as a racing assistant. By 1923 Wolfe was racing editor of the Sydney Referee; he spent the next four years as sports editor of the Melbourne Argus. In 1927 he left journalism to become chairman of the stipendiary stewards of the Queensland Turf Club. Three years later he resumed his career as a journalist, writing for several Sydney newspapers until Sir Keith Murdoch, owner of the Melbourne Herald, told him that he wanted 'the best racing writer in Australia'. 'You're looking at him', was the reply. As turf editor from 1933, Wolfe covered twenty-one Melbourne Cups for the Herald. At the end of each cup he secured a phone and, within an hour, dictated 4000 words of copy from a few shorthand jottings in his racebook.

In 1932 he had accompanied Phar Lap to Mexico where the horse won the Agua Caliente Handicap. Wolfe obtained permission to land an aeroplane at the course so that he could fly to San Diego, California, to cable the story home. A fortnight later he was present when the gelding died; he attended the post-mortem and resolutely believed thereafter that Phar Lap had been poisoned. In 1934 Wolfe exposed a notorious fraud. Racing under different names in three States, the Sydney horse Erbie (as Redlock) landed heavy betting plunges. Wolfe travelled to Kadina, South Australia, saw the horse win and announced in the Herald that 'Redlock is a ring-in'.

'Cardigan' was recognized as Australia's leading turf writer. His renowned instincts for horses of quality led to a commission to buy brood-mares for Sol Green in England in 1938. Stoutly built, Wolfe was described as 'an amiable, double-breasted kind of man who looked like a tidier, sleeker W. C. Fields'. Sir Ross Grey-Smith, chairman of the Victoria Racing Club, occasionally clashed with him, but praised his 'fearless and sometimes ruthless criticism'. Wolfe was 'much more than a wonderfully skilled reporter … He had a detective instinct'.

After a nine-month absence due to ill health in 1955, Wolfe returned to the Herald and continued to write for it until 1963. On 1 November 1962 at Wesley Church, Melbourne, he had married a divorcee Elsie Ross Robertson, née Weekes. He died at their Woollahra home, Sydney, on 6 April 1968 and was cremated. His wife survived him, as did the son of his first wife Winifred Annie Lyons.

Select Bibliography

  • H. Gordon, An Eyewitness History of Australia (Melb, 1976)
  • People (Sydney), 23 Feb 1955
  • Sun News-Pictorial (Melbourne), 8 Apr 1968
  • Herald (Melbourne), 8, 9 Apr 1968
  • Sporting Globe, 10 Apr 1968
  • unpublished obituary (files, Herald-Sun Library, Melbourne).

Citation details

Peter Pierce, 'Wolfe, Herbert Austin (1897–1968)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/wolfe-herbert-austin-9167/text16187, published first in hardcopy 1990, accessed online 20 October 2018.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 12, (MUP), 1990

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