Five miles (8km) north of Gundagai, just off the Hume Highway which connects Sydney to Melbourne you will find this monument consisting of a small dog sitting on a box. ‘Tis this “Dog on the Tuckerbox” and its associated songs and poetry which catapulted Gundagai to fame not only in Australia but around the world.
Above all, the monument celebrates the great Australian concept of mateship – here mateship between a man and his dog.
Though the exact origins of the ‘Dog on the Tuckerbox’ are clouded in mystery and uncertainty they certainly lie in the Australian bush and date back to the early to mid 1800s when European pioneers first settled the region. These early pioneers who made their way inland into the vast unknown continent didn’t travel light – there were no hotels, restaurants, entertainment facilities, etc for them as they journeyed. Wagons full of supplies and stores accompanied the pioneers along makeshift tracks over rough and difficult terrain. These wagons were typically pulled by bullocks under the control of men who were referred to as bullockies. Invariably, a bullocky would bring his dog along to guard his possessions, one of which was his tuckerbox (or his lunchbox).
Ways to pass the time when not on the move and options for entertainment on these long and arduous trips into the interior were limited but one popular form was the writing and singing of songs and poetry and so it was that, amongst these songs and poetry, verses about a dog and a tuckerbox by unknown bush poets circulated.
Bawdy early 1850s poems and ditties relate the story of hapless Bullocky Bill and how his wagon got bogged at Five Mile Creek outside Gundagai and of how the wagon yoke then got broken causing Bill to give up and break for lunch only to find that his dog has shat in his tuckerbox.
‘As I was coming down Conroy’s Gap, I heard a maiden cry,
“There goes Bill the bullocky, he’s bound for Gundagai.”
No better poor old bugger ever earned an honest crust,
No better poor old bastard never drug a whip through dust.
His team got bogged at the Five Mile Creek,
Bill cursed 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,
Poked out the leader’s eye,
Then the dog shat in the tuckerbox, five miles from Gundagai.’
More refined versions of the earlier colourful ditties followed, the most famous of these being a version entitled ‘Nine Miles from Gundagai’ by Jack Moses which appeared in the 1920s. By this stage (in fact these changes can be seen in an 1880s version by an unknown poet with the pen name Bowyang Yorke ) we read that the dog ‘sat on’ the tuckerbox and the incident occurred nine mile from Gundagai and not five.
It was Moses’ version that put Gundagai on the world map and became the inspiration for the Dog on the Tuckerbox monument, now a true Australian icon.
The monument ‘a tribute to our pioneers’ was unveiled, on the 103rd anniversary of Australian explorer Charles Sturt’s 1829 crossing of the nearby Murrumbidgee River, in 1932, by the then Australian Prime Minister, Joe Lyons. The bronze dog was cast in Oliver’s Foundry in Sydney while the tuckerbox was crafted by Frank Rusconi who also designed the dog. Rusconi was a rather famous local stonemason/artist ( to whom I refer in a number of other Gundagai reviews) who first muted the idea of a monument back in 1928.
In front of the monument you will notice a small wishing well – funds collected here are donated to Gundagai Hospital, as they have been since 1932.
Even if you are not continuing on into Gundagai town, though you should, a stop at the ‘Dog on the Tuckerbox’ is an absolute must do if you are passing by and indeed your patriotic duty if you are a dinky di Aussie!
In terms of visitor facilities, there is a gift shop, eatery and toilets right by the monument and about 200 metres away is a modern highway service centre with fuel bowsers and numerous, mainly chain, eateries.
If you do go into town don’t forget to drop by the Gundagai Pharmacy, on the main street, for a look at a couple of interesting murals depicting the Dog on the Tuckerbox story.
Of course only Bullucky Bill has passed by or had lunch at Five Mile Creek. It has long been a rest stop for weary travellers and continues to be so today. While today’s travellers do not have the option of staying here overnight, earlier travellers could avail of Joseph and Rosannah Carberry’s hospitality in Carberry’s Inn – the subject of my next review.
Address: Five Mile Creek, Gundagai
Directions: Just of the Hume Highway on the Sydney side of Gundagai – well signed posted as is the nearby modern service station.