25 November 2022

Australia's most famous dog celebrates 90 years

| Edwina Mason
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The Dog on the Tuckerbox legend dates back to the bullockies, teamsters, explorers and settlers of the 1850s who would pass through the Gundagai district. Photo: Gundagai Tourist Information Centre.

It’s always been a little bit controversial for a range of reasons, but this weekend all that conjecture will be put to one side as the most famous dog in Australia this Sunday celebrates its 90th birthday.

It has been kidnapped, mugged, suffered the indignity of being vandalised and pushed off its perch, but the Dog on the Tuckerbox has endured the passage of time and long tickled the fancies of generations of Australians.

READ ALSO Man and woman wanted for questioning after Dog on the Tuckerbox vandalised

Whether it be a he or she, they or them, Lady or Lucy, five or nine miles from Gundagai, The Dog on the Tuckerbox is homogenous in the fact him, her, they, them, IT is loved and venerated globally.

The first Dog on the Tuckerbox monument was forged from corrugated iron and pinned to a wooden post closer to Coolac. Photo: Gundagai Tourist Information Centre.

Perennially keeping watch at the spot that in pioneering days was said to be a camping ground for the bullockies, teamsters, explorers and settlers of the 1850s, locals suggest the legend was born, in all probability, at an encampment located four miles to the north on Muttama Creek near Coolac.

For it was here a corrugated iron cut-out of a dog remained pinned to a wooden post for years.

But among the bosomy hills that reverberate lore, myth and legend, streams and creeks intersect, often flood, where the off-piste soil is often soggy and unsatisfyingly unsuitable for anything other than four-wheel drive, there is absolutely no disagreement that the heavily-laden, thin-of-wheel bullock wagons would often sink.

Often, on such occasions, the bullocky’s dog would sit guarding its master’s tuckerbox and possessions while he was away seeking help.

It is in this vein the story of the Dog on the Tuckerbox had its genesis, as a bullocky who had withstood all manner of challenges in one day, including a bogging and a breaking of the dray yoke, was dealt a final blow when his dog (shall we say, evacuated) in his tuckerbox.

Passed by word of mouth around the encampments of that time, as story or song, back in 1857 Bowyang Yorke was first credited with the poem Bullocky Bill, his deft pen removing any curse words (for instance, replacing a “sh” with an “s”) and forever changing the context of the story.

READ ALSO The short and tall tales that put Gundagai on the map

The verse was amended sometime later by whisky salesman and poet, Jack Moses, with his rendering of the story in, Nine Miles from Gundagai but the legend was immortalised by Jack O’Hagan in 1937 in his popular song Where the Dog Sits on the Tuckerbox.

What started as a story and metal post art took the form of a statue at a public meeting on 29 July, 1932 to discuss the annual ‘Back to Gundagai’ celebrations.

The idea of a monument to the pioneers, in the form of The Dog on the Tuckerbox at the Nine Mile Creek, was decided upon.

Yes, your dog can be immortalised on its own tuckerbox at the Snake Gully tourist spot this weekend as the 90th birthday celebrations take place. Photo: Gundagai Tourist Information Centre.

Gundagai stonemason, Frank Rusconi was elected as the chair of The Pioneers Monument Committee, having first floated the idea in 1928.

The dog was cast in bronze by Oliver’s Foundry, Sydney, its base sculpted by Rusconi and more than 3000 people were in attendance when it was unveiled by the then prime minister, Joseph Lyons, on 28 November 1932.

Instead of the original nine mile location it was placed, strategically, at Snake Gully, closer to Gundagai and a spot ideal for viewing by the thousands of people who pass by daily on the highway named Hume.

As true today as the words printed in The World’s News newspaper on Saturday 25 March, 1950, “that every road traveller and tourist who passes by or through the township looks out for the dog on the tucker-box, a bronze effigy on a marble pedestal-gift of the citizens of Gundagai in tribute to the pioneers who opened up the country after Hume and Hovell had made their epic exploration in 1824”.

To this day money gathered from the wishing well at the base of the monument is donated to Gundagai’s Hospital Auxiliary.

The “Dog on the Tuckerbox” festival has been held every year since 1992, the 60th anniversary of the erection of the monument.

The Gundagai community is inviting the people of the region to come along and enjoy a lovely day out to help the Gundagai community celebrate “the Dog”.

The fun starts at 9 am on Sunday 27 November and will run through until 1 pm, with something for everyone, including market stalls, live music from talented local bands, kids entertainment including pony rides and a jumping castle mega slide!

And there’s no forgetting the dogs – with free microchipping from 9 am to 1 pm and a dog high jump hosted by the Tumblong Hall Committee throughout the day!

Then there’s Selfibox which can forever immortalise your own dog on a tuckerbox!

For more information call Gundagai Tourist Information Centre on (02) 6944 0250.

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