Dog on the Tuckerbox

Statue of the Dog on the TuckerboxStatue of the Dog on the Tuckerbox

Only in Australia could a dog that fouled the food of our early settlers become immortalized in stone and be one of our most famous icons. But that is not the only irony behind the 'Dog on the Tuckerbox' statue situated at Gundagai on the main highway half way between Sydney and Melbourne.

Dog on Tuckerbox 1953Dog on Tuckerbox 1953

The Origin of the Pivotal Word 'Sat'

The story begins with the origin of the word "shit" which comes from the Old English word "scitte" which is similar to the Dutch and German words  "schijten" and "scheissen" respectively, all three being Germanic. The word 'shit' became further entrenched in the English language as an acronym which dates back to an old nautical term of the 15th and 16th Centuries when manure as a fertilizer was transported by ship. If stored below deck and became wet, it produced methane gas. Combined with the exposed flames of lanterns of those days, this caused explosions that destroyed many ships. So containers were then stored above deck and labelled S.H.I.T, which literally meant "Ship (or Stow) High In Transit".

Whatever the origin of the word 'shit' the past tense of 'shit' became 'shat'! So it's easy to understand the irony of just how this dog, immortalized by a statue, became a famous Australian icon because of his unacceptable behaviour!

The Original Writers of the Fable

Back to the 'Dog on the Tuckerbox' fable that was born deep in the Australian bush in the 1830's. Then bullock wagons travelled south and west from Sydney along makeshift tracks over rough and difficult terrain. They often stopped at Five Mile Creek where there was a fresh water spring plus, by 1851 an Inn[1].

At night, the drivers of these wagons or 'Bullockies' would sit around the camp fires reciting ditties and rhymes. But when one dog fouled the foodstuffs contained in a tucker box, the famous fable arose. In those days food containers were made of easily permeable materials like woven paper or cloth. So fouling the food contained within these bags should a dog decide to lift its leg, was inevitable! But if the fouling of the food that took place by the dog's misdemeanour was the solid kind as implied by the word 'shit', one can only speculate about the mess that really sparked the 'Dog on the Tuckerbox' legend!

There were many different versions all ending in:

... for Nobby Jack has broke the yoke,
Poked out the leader's eye
and the dog shat on the tucker box,
Five miles from Gundagai.

The Development of a Fable

So in 1880 Mr. Collins, a newsagent and keen businessman, commissioned Tom Kinnane, a reporter on the Gundagai 'Independent' newspaper, to piece together the lines of the original poem. Consequently this version was written under the nom-de-plume of 'Bowyang Yorke'. It appeared on many souvenirs and matchbox covers that were distributed throughout the land. This, produced below, was the beginning of the souvenir industry that has immortalized this fable.

Souvenir Ashtray c 1960Souvenir Ashtray c 1960

It reads as follows:

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 buggar
Never earnt an honest crust,
A better poor old buggar
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.

When one reads the tone of the poem, it is easy to see why the word 'shat' was changed to 'sat' and 'buggar' to begger' when Jack Moses wrote a booklet 'Beyond the City Gates' in 1923. But it is not so easy to understand why he also changed 'Five Mile Creek' to 'nine miles from Gundagai'.

Political Correctness?

In 1923, Jack Moses wrote a booklet 'Beyond the City Gates' which told the fable about the famous dog. He considered the 'Bowyang Yorke' text to be crude and rude and hence politically incorrect. So he removed the words considered indecent by bowdlerizing them, so amending the text into the following verse called 'Nine Miles from Gundagai'. The fable then became famous throughout Australia, both in the bush and in the cities.

It reads:

Commemorative Plaque Commemorative Plaque

I've done my share of shearing sheep,
Of droving and all that;
And bogged a bullock team as well,
On a Murrumbidgee flat.

Nine miles from Gundagai.
I've been jilted, jarred and crossed in love,
I've seen the bullock stretch and strain
And blink his bleary eye,

And the dog sit on the tuckerbox
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.

But that's all past and dead and gone,
And I've sold the team for meat,
And perhaps, some day where I was bogged,
There'll be an asphalt street,

The dog, ah! well he got a bait,
And thought he'd like to die
So I buried him in the tuckerbox
Nine miles from Gundagai.

The Building of the Statue

Dog on the Tuckerbox 1923Dog on the Tuckerbox 1923

But the arguably most impact on the 'Dog on the Tucker Box's' immortality is its famous statue. Around 1926, an unknown resident hoisted the first dog 'monument' at site of five miles (pictured) from Gundagai, probably the result of the fame of Jack Moses' poem.

Consequently, local stonemason and sculptor Frank Rusconi was commissioned to make a proper statue. So, the statue that stands today was unveiled on Monday, 28th November 1932 by the then Prime Minister of Australia, Mr. J.A (Joe) Lyons and the fence was put around it within a couple of days.

Cathedral by Frank RusconiCathedral by Frank Rusconi

It is ironic in itself that this statue should become Frank Rusconi's best-known work. Frank Rusconi was a very talented man. Before he came to Australia, among his other works is the marble stairway in Westminster Abbey. He also worked on the altar of Saint Marie's Cathedral in Paris. However, as a local Gundagai resident and proud Australian, Rusconi took 28 years and 20,948 individual pieces of marble, each piece cut, turned and polished by hand to produce an amazing work, a cathedral in miniature.

This cathedral, plus a replica of the altar of Saint Marie's Cathedral in Paris, now stands in the Gundagai Tourist and Visitor Information Centre. All the marble was sourced from quarries in NSW. Although Rusconi worked on the original alter in Paris, no plans, drawings or construction charts have ever been found. It appears he did the work entirely by sight, to demonstrate to his peers back in Italy the quality and variety of stone to be found in Australia[2]. It is also ironic that neither of these wonderful sculptures ever received the fame of the 'Dog on the Tuckerbox'.

Gundagai's fame was further immortalised by Jack O'Hagan in 1937 in his popular songs 'Along the Road to Gundagai' and 'My Mabel waits for me' that put the town on the world map. As time went by, controversy continued over the exact location of the monument. Should the famous monument be moved closer to the town? And was it 5 or 9 miles from Gundagai?

Today's National Icon

Dog on Tuckerbox TodayDog on Tuckerbox Today

Today tourists have solved the problem with the conglomeration of buildings that now surround the famous statue. 'The Dog on the Tuckerbox' is an appropriate half way toilet stop when driving that long dual carriageway between Australia's two largest cities, Sydney and Melbourne. I wonder how many who stop, reflect about the irony of how today's fast foods have immortalized our pioneers' primitive tuckerbox!

From a ditty about a dog that fouled in a tuckerbox long ago in inclement weather, to a 'must see' attraction that stands on some arbitrary spot five miles from Gundagai! So, the irony of the story of the 'Dog on the Tuckerbox' lives on.

References and Further Reading

First published in 2006 as "The Irony of That Dog on the Tuckerbox" in National Dog, the Ringleader Way (Published by Sahjobe Pty Ltd, Menangle Park NSW ABN 86 075 412 761) Volume 9 Number 10 Page 32

  • Amended Version published in 2016 'The Ironies of the Dog on the Tuckerbox' in Dog News Australia (Top Dog Media Pty Ltd Hoxton Park NSW NSW ABN 11 123 306 034) Issue 10, 2016 Page 4
  • Re-published by Dog News Australia (Top Dog Media Pty Ltd Austral NSW) Annual 2107, Page 186

[1] Carol Manton (Gundagai Shire Library), "Nine Miles From Gundagai" Published in 'On Lead/Off Lead' January 1992 Pages 5 - 7

[2] Gundagai Information Centre - "The Story of Gundagai's Marble Masterpiece and of the Genius of its Creator, Mr Frank Rusconi" Published by the Gundagai Information Centre 2007, Pages 1 - 4