The Irony of the Dog on the Tucker-box

Dog on the Tuckerbox StatueDog on the Tuckerbox Statue

Typical of Australian humour, a statue of a dog that fouled the food of our early settlers has become immortalised in stone and developed into one of our most famous icons! These are the facts behind the fable about the famous 'Dog on the Tucker-box' whose statue is situated 5 miles from Gundagai on the main highway which connects Australia's two largest cities Sydney and Melbourne.

Origin of the Fable

The origin of the 'Dog on the Tucker-box' fable was born deep in the Australian bush. When explorer Charles Sturt travelled through this area in the 1829-1830 on a Stock Route south of Sydney, he found British settlers in the district. Originally the lands of the Wiradjuri aboriginal people, the early British early settlers and their cattle had travelled along makeshift tracks over rough and difficult terrain by horseback while their gear was carried in wagons pulled by bullock teams.

A Bullock TeamA Bullock Team

At night, the wagon drivers or Bullockys would sit around the camp fires reciting ditties and rhymes. They often stopped at Five Mile Creek where there was a freshwater spring and, by 1851 an Inn[1]. In inclement weather, teams often became bogged and had to wait or seek help.

In those days food containers were called tucker-boxes. These were usually made of hessian or cloth which made them easily permeable. Consequently, should a dog decide to lift its leg on one of the tucker-boxes, fouling the food was inevitable! But if the dog's misdemeanor was the solid kind as indicated by the word 'shit' that was used in the original fable, it is easy to understand how the 'Dog on the Tucker-box' fable began!

The Original Lyric

Souvenir Ashtray c 1960Souvenir Ashtray c 1960

It reads supposedly written by poet Charlie 'Bowyang' Yorke is follows:

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.

Jack Moses Creates another Fable

Jack Moses CartoonJack Moses Cartoon

Jack Moses was a wine and spirit salesman who used to set up a booth at country shows to exhibit his wares. He was also an entertainer and author of whom two other Australian authors of that time wrote:

"Jack Moses loved the crowds - he had a joke for every occasion - and it was inevitable that someone would eventually call upon him to recite. Without missing a beat, he would launch into one of his 'bush jingles', as he called them. Jack's jingles became so popular that he published two books of his verse, and both were best-sellers... [3] "

The well-known version of famous fable was written by Jack Moses. Just before the end of century, Jack saw a dog perched on a tuckerbox as part of an exhibit at the Gundagai Show. This inspired him to write his famous poem. Soon it was printed on post cards with the attached cartoon on the reverse. Jack always carried a bundle of these cards which he distributed on his travels. When railways became the chief means of transport, the local Gundagai newsagent met each train that passed through town to distribute his newspapers, periodicals, and souvenirs. Consequently, thousands more of these popular post cards were sold to rail passengers, spreading the fame of the fable.

The Poem by Jack Moses that became the Famous Fable

This read:

My mother standing beside the Dog on the Tucker Box Statue c 1953My mother standing beside the Dog on the Tucker Box Statue c 1953

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 a bullock stretch and strain
And blink his bleary eye
And the Dog sat 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.

Its when you get your bollocks 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, stony 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 tucker-box
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 the bait
And thought he'd like to die
So we buried him in the tucker-box
Nine miles from Gundagai.

Confusion arose because Jack Moses changed two words to make his poem more politically correct. These were:

1. The Change from 'Shat' to 'Sat'

Commemorative PlaqueCommemorative Plaque

Jack Moses changed the word 'shat' to 'sat'. As explained below, Considering the original word 'shat' is a correct word in our English language, altering the word 'shat' to 'sit' in the altered version makes no sense. The word 'shat' is the past tense of the word "shit' which comes from the Old English word "scitte". This word is similar to the Dutch and German words  "schijten" and "scheissen" respectively, all three being historically Germanic.

Additionally, the word 'shit' became entrenched in the English language when it was used as a nautical term in the 15th and 16th Centuries when manure as a fertiliser 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".

2. The Change from 5 or 9 Miles from Gundagai

In 1932 a Committee was formed to organise a celebration of Gundagai's Centenary as a monument to the district's early British pioneers. In 1938 Mr Frank Clune the question of its location caused by Jack Moses famous poem, a well known author of that time continued, he published the following in the 'Daily Telegraph'. It read:

Dog on the Tuckerbox 1926Dog on the Tuckerbox 1926

Now, dog on the Tucker-box,
You got us puzzled flat;
They'll hold a Royal Commission yet
To find out where you sat.

Was it at the five mile-
Now tell us, dinky-di
Or was it on the Tucker-box
Nine Miles from Gundagai?

You are holding up the country,
You can't go on doing that,
We want it known, once and for all,
Where the hell you sat.

Was it at the Five Mile?
Don't blink your bleary eye;
Jack Moses said you did the trick,
Nine Miles from Gundagai.

The Building of the Statue

Today the 'Dog on the Tucker-box' statue stands in its rightful place five mile spot five miles from Gundagai. It all began around 1926 when an unknown resident hoisted the 'monument' (pictured above) five miles from Gundagai. Local stonemason and consummate craftsman Frank Rusconi was then commissioned by the Government of Australia to make the statue that stands there today. It was unveiled on Monday, 28th November 1932 by the then Prime Minister, Mr. J.A (Joe) Lyons during a week of 'Centenary' celebrations attended by some 3,000 people. After all the festivity, a fence was put around the statue.

It is also ironic that the dog on the tucker-box 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 (pictured).

Cathedral by Frank RusconiCathedral by Frank Rusconi

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]. That is why it is also ironic that neither of these wonderful sculptures ever received the fame of the 'Dog on the Tucker-box'.

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 Tucker-box' is an appropriate halfway stop when driving along 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 immortalised our pioneers' primitive tucker-box!

From a ditty about a dog that fouled in a tucker-box 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 Tucker-box' 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

[3] John Laws and Christopher Stewart, 'It Doesn't End There', Sydney: Pan Macmillan Australia, 2006, pp. 113-114'