Friday, August 6, 2010

Gundagai and a dog sitting on a tuckerbox



This is a lengthy article but I believe it is of interest...

The Dog on the Tuckerbox

When my brothers and I were young, our parents took us to Gundagai for a tourist trip. It was then that I first came across the famed dog on the tuckerbox. I still remember wondering why a dog sitting on a food box waiting for his master to return was considered so special. The dog had to wait somewhere and the fact of the waiting was a natural response to its master having gone away. In my youthful innocence I mentally filed it under “Things that Don’t Make Sense but that I Can’t Explain”.

Some years later I came across a poem that made the whole thing understandable: the dog hadn’t sat on the tuckerbox 9 miles from Gundagai, it had shat in the tuckerbox 9 miles from Gundagai.

I was reminded of this recently when I saw a reference to the dog on the tuckerbox monument.

The Monument

Gundagai is a town about 400k south-west of Sydney.

The official websites and the tourist information for the Dog on the Tuckerbox state that the monument, a statue of a dog sitting on a box marked “Tuckerbox”, is based on an 1857 poem by Bowyang Yorke. A later poem by Jack Moses, published in 1938, drew on the Bowyang Yorke poem for inspiration in retelling the story. Both mention the dog waiting on the tuckerbox for his master’s return.

A monument to the faithful hound had first been erected in 1926 (below).


 This was replaced in 1932 by the present statue, unveiled by the then Australian Prime Minister Joe Lyons:


The statue was sited at a point 5 miles from town in an area which later became known as Snake Gully after the fictional country settlement of the characters Dad ‘n’ Dave, and of the area of the family homestead in the “On Our Selection” novels created by Steele Rudd. Snake Gully at Gundagai also has a tribute and sculpture for Dad ‘n’ Dave.

For anyone interested, the Snake Gully Cup Carnival at Gundagai will be held 12-13 November 2010.

Trivia and background

- The first white settlement in the Gundagai area was in the 1820’s, with the town being gazetted in 1838.

- In the early days, the area was serviced by bullock teams. With rough tracks, water to cross, floods and inclement weather on occasion, many a bullocky was forced to either wait or to seek help when teams became stranded or bogged. The poems are ostensibly dedicated to the bullocky’s dog waiting on the tuckerbox on such an occasion. The story was further embellished in later versions by the bullocky having died and that the dog waited on the tuckerbox for the rest of its life for its master to return. Not a very bright dog.

- There was a bullocky’s camp site near Gundagai.

- An early Australian folk song, Lazy Harry’s, tells of some shearers heading for Sydney with their pay but getting no further than Lazy Harry’s on the road to Gundagai, where they spend it all on grog and women. When the money runs out they again tramp, this time from Lazy Harry’s on the road to Gundagai, back in the direction they had come.

- Other folk songs also make mention of Gundagai, such as Flash Jack from Gundagai.

- Bullockies meeting at camp sites often sat around the fire passing on (and writing) poems and songs. Whether the dog on the tuckerbox originated as a poem or as a song is no longer known. It is generally conceded, however, that the story of the dog on the tuckerbox originated as a bullocky complaining about his dog that shat in his tuckerbox, that it was or became a song and that it was passed by word of mouth.

- Bowyang Yorke and Jack Moses are regarded as having taken the story and cleaned it up before publishing it as poems. (Bowyang Yorke’s works were on the back of matchbook covers; Jack Moses had been a whisky salesman in the bush in the 1880’s). The original story of the dog that shat in the tuckerbox could not have been published in their correct format, hence the clean up and the resulting discordant words in the the Yorke and Moses poems. That bit just doesn’t logically fit with the earlier words. The poems, and the lyrics to the more correct folk, are as follows:

The Bowyang Yorke poem:
As I was coming down Conroy's Gap,
I heard a maiden cry;
'There goes Bill the Bullocky,
He's bound for Gundagai.
A better poor old beggar
Never earnt an honest crust,
A better poor old beggar
Never drug a whip through dust.'
His team got bogged at the nine mile creek,
Bill lashed and swore and cried;
'If Nobby don't get me out of this,
I'll tattoo his bloody hide.'
But Nobby strained and broke the yoke,
And poked out the leader's eye;
Then the dog sat on the Tucker Box
Nine miles from Gundagai.
Nine Miles from Gundagai - Jack Moses
I've done my share of shearing sheep,
Of droving and all that;
And bogged a bullock team as well,
On a Murrumbidgee flat.
I've seen the bullock stretch and strain
And blink his bleary eye,
And the dog sit on the tuckerbox
Nine miles from Gundagai.

I've been jilted, jarred and crossed in love,
And sand-bagged in the dark,
Till if a mountain fell on me,
I'd treat it as a lark.
It's when you've got your bullocks bogged,
That's the time you flog and cry,
And the dog sits on the tuckerbox
Nine miles from Gundagai.

We've all got our little troubles,
In life's hard, thorny way.
Some strike them in a motor car
And others in a dray.
But when your dog and bullocks strike,
It ain't no apple pie,
And the dog sat on the tuckerbox
Nine miles from Gundagai.
Lyrics
I'm used to punchin' bullock teams across the hills and plains.
I've teamed outback for forty years through bleedin' hail and rain.
I've lived a lot of troubles down, without a bloomin' lie,
But I can't forget what happened just five miles from Gundagai.

'Twas getting dark, the team got bogged, the axle snapped in two.
I lost me matches and me pipe, so what was I to do?
The rain it was a-coming on, and hungry too was I,
And me dog shat in me tucker-box five miles from Gundagai.

Some blokes I know have stacks of luck, no matter where they fall,
But there was I, Lord love a duck, no bloody luck at all.
I couldn't heat a pot of tea or keep me trousers dry,
And me dog shat in me tucker-box five miles from Gundagai.

Now, I can forgive the bleedin' team, I can forgive the rain.
I can forgive the damp and cold and go through it again.
I can forgive the rotten luck, but hang me till I die,
I can't forgive that bloody dog, five miles from Gundagai.
More trivia

- In 1922 Jack O’Hagan published “Along the Road to Gundagai” (“There's a track winding back to an old-fashioned shack, along the road to Gundagai..”). The song further highlighted Gundagai in the local psyche but O’Hagan admitted that it was originally to have been called “Along the Road to Bundaberg”. The name was changed when he saw a map with Gundagai on it and thought that that name would fit better.

- By 1932, with Australia hard hit by the Great Depression, Gundagai Hospital was in danger of closing, having debts of £2,000. (For the youngsters, that means two thousand pounds, which also meant a lot of money, in those days). Oscar Collins, a member of the hospital board, suggested the new statue for the dog as a means of attracting tourists and raising funds. This would be done in conjunction with a Back to Gundagai Week. The local council declined to become involved so Oscar and a committee followed it through on their own raising enough funds for a bronze casting. Local monumental mason, Frank Rusconi, took time off from making tombstones to create the statue.

- The unveiling of the monument in 1932, by the PM Joe Lyons, was the culmination of the 1932 Back to Gundagai Week. By the end of these festivities the hospital debt was more than cleared and the hospital was saved. The Dog continues to support the local hospital with the money placed in its wishing well and royalties from souvenirs.

- The first kiosk was opened by Annie Pyers around 1933. Mrs Pyers used to pose her dog Hoppy on a wooden box for visitors to be photographed with him, and also set up the wishing well in front of the Dog for the benefit of Gundagai Hospital. It was Annie who appropriated the name Snake Gully from Steele Rudd's popular On Our Selection radio serial, which began in 1937, and she and husband Andy told visitors they were 'Dad' and 'Mum'. Her contribution to the Dog’s history is commemorated in the recent naming of Annie Pyers Drive at the site.


- The Dog on the Tuckerbox Festival is celebrated each third week in November with the Snake Gully Cup Racing Festival taking place on the Friday and Saturday along with other activities in the town. The third Sunday morning is set aside for celebrating The Dog's Birthday and The Dog's Breakfast at The Five Mile, a highlight.

-  O’Hagan’s song “Where the Dog Sits on the Tuckerbox (5 Miles from Gundagai)” was published in 1937.

You can hear Slim Dusty singing it at

You can see the statue at
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oUNFf94a2tk

-  A food court style development opened nearby in 2006 with a KFC, Subway, McCafe, BP service station and Tuckerbox restaurant.



The following is from Trevor Lucas, discussing bullckies in Australian folk music:

The bullock-driver with his wagon piled high with wool-bales, his eight or ten yoke of oxen, his long whip and fluent oaths, was eminent among the oldtime bushman. We hear of Slabface Bill, whose bullock team was so long, he'd a telephone wire running along the tips of the bullocks, from the polers to the lead. He'd an Aborigine for a helper, and whenever Bill wanted to stop, he would just ring through; the blackfellow would halt the lead bullocks, and twenty minutes later the polers could stop. Bill got a wrong number one day, and the team didn't halt in time and half the Tabratong wool-clip tipped into the Bogan River. Bill wasted two hours trying to ring the exchange to make his complaint; finally his curses burnt the cable and started the big bush fires of 1908. 
 Picture taken not long after the 1932 monument was opened, monument on the right under the tree..

6 comments:

  1. excellent to read such good history keep up the good work. William Sutton

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  2. Great bit of history. Congratulations

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  3. ,y grandpa's 2nd cousin wrote the song 5 miles to Gaundigau

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  4. Great history. Thank you for posting and sharing the story with us.
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