Australian Dictionary of Biography

  • Tip: searches only the name field
  • Tip: Use double quotes to search for a phrase

Cultural Advice

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people should be aware that this website contains names, images, and voices of deceased persons.

In addition, some articles contain terms or views that were acceptable within mainstream Australian culture in the period in which they were written, but may no longer be considered appropriate.

These articles do not necessarily reflect the views of The Australian National University.

Older articles are being reviewed with a view to bringing them into line with contemporary values but the original text will remain available for historical context.

Rupert Theodore (Rufus) Naylor (1882–1939)

by John O'Hara

This article was published:

Rupert Theodore (Rufus) Naylor (1882-1939), sporting entrepreneur and gambler, was born on 14 August 1882 at Chippendale, Sydney, third son of Henry John Naylor, native-born labourer, and his South Australian wife Susannah, née Phillips. After basic education at West Wyalong, from 12 he worked as a miner and at 17 was a licensed bookmaker. He promoted sporting contests in Queensland, and on the Western Australian goldfields in 1906.

In 1908 Naylor took a stable of athletes to South Africa and next year staged match races in Johannesburg between Jack Donaldson, Arthur Postle and the American Charles Holway. He quickly established business interests including a sports stadium and a chain of picture theatres. He spent 1913-17 based in London as overseas manager of African Theatres Trust Ltd. Returning to Johannesburg he founded a weekly newspaper, L.S.D., Life, Sport and Drama and extended his gambling interests with casinos and a lottery in Lourenço Marques, Portuguese East Africa (Mozambique), running a special Friday night train, 'the Rufe Naylor Express' for his Johannesburg patrons. He also kept a string of racehorses, and opened several proprietary racecourses after a bitter fight with the Jockey Club of South Africa. In 1919 he was elected to the Johannesburg Municipal Council and that year was acquitted of charges of bribery.

After some years in India, Naylor had returned to Sydney by 1925 and set up as a bookmaker on Associated Racing Clubs' courses and was then licensed by the Australian Jockey Club. His activities over the next decade were colourful. He was managing director of Empire Theatres Ltd which built the vast Empire Theatre in Sydney, and promoted mechanical-hare greyhound racing, boxing and cycling. Giving up bookmaking in 1930 after being questioned by A.J.C. stewards about his alleged ownership of racehorses with Fred Angles, a big punter, he devised a profitable scheme for selling 'shares' in lottery tickets, but was prosecuted next year. He was separately charged with keeping 'a common gaming house'. Turned punter, he founded the weekly Racing Reflections and became known for the radio programme, 'Racing Revelations', which he broadcast over 2KY; he was warned not to transmit betting information in codes in 1931. He befriended Cyril Angles and arranged for him to call races for 2KY. In 1933 he managed the racehorse Winooka on an expedition to the United States of America. Next year he was defeated as an Independent for the Federal seat of Lang.

That year Naylor was warned off registered racecourses by the A.J.C. for allegedly giving misleading false information to the committee. His injunction against disqualification was upheld by the Supreme Court, but in 1937 he lost when the A.J.C. chairman Sir Colin Stephen appealed to the Privy Council, and was formally disqualified at 'the committee's pleasure'. In his long legal battle Naylor symbolized the 'little man's' fight against bureaucratic authority and class legislation, which was seen as protecting the gambling interests of the wealthy while attempting to destroy those of the working classes, and so he became a minor folk-hero in the 1930s.

Naylor died of heart disease at his Centennial Park home on 25 September 1939. He was survived by his wives Catherine, née Hammersley, and Phyllis, née Penberthy, and by a son of his first marriage. He bequeathed his body to Sydney Hospital for research and the ashes to Catherine in London.

Select Bibliography

  • E. Rosenthal (compiler), Southern African Dictionary of National Biography (Lond, 1966)
  • Worker (Sydney), 23 Jan 1909
  • Smith's Weekly (Sydney), 30 May 1925
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 22 Oct, 6 Nov 1931, 4 Dec 1933, 30 Mar, 14, 18 Apr, 8 May 1934, 8 Apr 1935, 21 Jan 1936, 4, 7 May 1937, 26 Sept 1939
  • State Broadcasting Advisory Committee papers MP544/1 (National Archives of Australia)
  • information from editor-in-chief, Dictionary of South African Biography.

Citation details

John O'Hara, 'Naylor, Rupert Theodore (Rufus) (1882–1939)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1986, accessed online 23 May 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 10, (Melbourne University Press), 1986

View the front pages for Volume 10

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024