[Editor: This article, about “the dog on the tucker box” (of Gundagai fame), was published in Smith’s Weekly (Sydney, NSW), 31 July 1937.]
Gundagai’s dog is gilt-edged investment
How digger’s brain-wave saved hospital
Motorists who traverse the Hume Highway between Sydney and Melbourne, generally feel interest in the statue of the Dog on the Tucker Box, which has been erected beside Sugar O’Brien’s Creek, five miles on the Sydney side of Gundagai.
Most of them feel sentimental over the old pioneers and the bush poet who immortalised the dog; some even stop the car and read the inscriptions.
But there are few who know that that dog stood between the Gundagai Hospital and serious financial embarrassment and that to-day it represents a sound investment which returns an annual income to the funds of the institution. Gundagai has capitalised its dog.
Away back in 1859, a bush versifier who used the pen-name of “Bowyang Yorke,” wrote a set of rhymes which were printed in the local newspaper. The verses, if such they can be called, were quite without merit. As long as the poet could find two words of similar vowel sound, he finished the lines with them and filled in the blanks with any old words.
But the Muse was lurking about somewhere and a stray shot from her quiver hit its mark. The poet concluded the set with two lines which stuck in everybody’s memory:
“The dog sat on the tucker-box
“Five miles from Gundagai.”
On the map
More than half a century passed, a writer who did possess a sense of music and rhythm, felt that these two lines were deserving of a better setting. He used them for his finale, but wrote a real bush rhyme to act as their escort. He restored the apparently dead; the dog came to life and all Australia knew him and loved him and metaphorically patted his head. Gundagai was placed once more on the map.
A little later, the Gundagai Hospital got into low water, after the manner of hospitals generally. The local board was at its wits’ ends to raise money to get it out of debt — a debt of £2000 which seemed impossible of liquidation. But the board was fortunate in having among its members Mr. O. A. Collins, a man who had followed his experiences in the A.I.F., by touring the world and — what is far more important — noticing what methods of other nations night be profitably utilised in Australia.
He had noted how in the United States — especially in California — any fact of natural or historical interest was capitalised.
“If the Yanks have a desert, they don’t profess to be ashamed of it,” he said. “It is boomed as ‘The World’s Greatest Desert,’ and tourists are invited to inspect it and recoil in horror. All of which brings in the good gold to the residents.
“I got the idea of boosting that dog in good American fashion. I thought out a dozen ways and finally decided on the statue. Then I had to persuade the rest of the board to take a risk. At first, they didn’t like the idea of adding more to a debt they weren’t able to pay; but, at last, I convinced them and contrived to get £75 to gamble with.
“Then we had to work out a plan to get publicity for the dog and the unveiling ceremony — for that was to be the money-maker. There was a ‘Back-to-Gundagai’ week just about due, and I persuaded the people in charge to join forces with me. We did the same with a railway picnic. Then we wrote to the Prime Minister to help us out. Joe Lyons agreed to carry out the unveiling ceremony and, when that was fixed, we got busy with the Press — all brands of it—and the radio people and they both stood by us splendidly.
“Our programme carried a week of festivities — races, cricket, tennis, a ball, gatherings of pioneers, and the rest of it, the great day being the Monday when the statue was to be unveiled as a memorial to the pioneers by the Prime Minister, as the climax to a procession headed by Granny Luff, the grand old woman of the district, who was then 90 years of age.
“It was what the Yanks call a wow.
“I was always optimistic, but none of us had the slightest idea it would turn out such a winner. We raised sufficient money that week to pay off the £2000 debt on the hospital and when we had collected the government pound for pound subsidy we were £1000 in credit. The town was eaten bare and quaffed dry before Monday. We had to send trucks to towns miles away for more food and drink.
“But that wasn’t all of it. I realised that we could go on raking off the profits of that dog to eternity. I applied some of the tricks I had observed in the States. I got the hospital to copyright the photos of the monument and collect 20 per cent. of the sales of all the souvenir stuff. We started on picture post-cards. Then we got out silver dog-spoons, dog-folders, and dog-cups and saucers, and plates, made by Doultons. There’s not a day passes now without some motorist going through buying one or more of these mementoes. One English visitor, only a few weeks ago, got one of everything. Another, a Yank, told me that Gundagai was the only live town he had butted into in Australia; in its enterprise it reminded him of Fresno and Riverside.
“The twenty per cent. royalty the hospital gets on the sales of these curios brings it in a steady income of from £30 to £40 a year. No wonder we feel inclined to pat that dog on the head every time we pass.”
By the way, Granny Luff is still living along the main street. She is now 95, but vigorous and in splendid health. She is a native of Sydney and went to the Gundagai district with her husband from Twofold Bay, shortly after her marriage. It was the covered-wagon drama over again. The young couple got out in the primitive bush where Tumbalong now stands, and settled. The man and his wife carved a home out of the wilderness with nothing but their hands and a few tools. They grew wheat, until Mr. Luff was appointed to control the snagging operations in the river.
In the earliest days, the township of Gundagai was built on the lower side of the stream, but, when a flood took place, sweeping away every building and drowning all but half a dozen of its residents, the new town was built on the higher ground on the north bank.
The verse which now appears on the monument was the work of Mr. Brian Fitzpatrick, well-known publicist of Melbourne, who won from over 1000 competitors the prize offered in connection with the celebrations. It runs:
Earth’s self upholds this monument
To conquerors who won her when
Wooing was dangerous, and now
Are gathered unto her again.
Smith’s Weekly (Sydney, NSW), 31 July 1937, p. 13
A.I.F. = Australian Imperial Force; the First Australian Imperial Force was created in 1914 to fight in World War One, the Second Australian Imperial Force was created in 1939 to fight in World War Two
boom = praise, promote, tout; advocate for, popularise, publicly recommend
Doulton = Royal Doulton, a manufacturer known for its fine china, porcelain, or pottery (such as plates and vases); the company was founded in England in 1815
See: “Royal Doulton”, Wikipedia
Joe Lyons = Joseph Aloysius (Joe) Lyons (1879-1939), schoolteacher and politician; Premier of Tasmania (1923-1928), Prime Minister of Australia (1932-1939); he was born in Stanley (Tas.) in 1879 , and died in Darlinghurst (NSW) in 1939
See: 1) P. R. Hart and C. J. Lloyd, “Lyons, Joseph Aloysius (Joe) (1879–1939)”, Australian Dictionary of Biography
2) “Joseph Lyons”, Wikipedia
live = (slang) dynamic, lively, vibrant; fashionable; an event, occasion, or place which is full of vitality and vigour (similar slang terms are: happening, jumping)
Muse = a source of artistic inspiration; a person, especially a woman, or a force personified as a woman, who is the source of inspiration for an artist (derived from the Muses of Greek and Roman mythology, who were said to provide inspiration for artists and writers)
per cent. = an abbreviation of “per centum” (Latin, meaning “by a hundred”), i.e. an amount, number, or ratio expressed as a fraction of 100; also rendered as “per cent” (without a full stop), “percent”, “pct”, “pc”, “p/c”, or “%” (per cent sign)
Press = the print-based media, especially newspapers
quaff = to heartily drink a beverage (usually an alcoholic drink), especially to drink a copious amount in a short time; (archaic) an alcoholic drink
the States = in the context of America, “the States” refers to the United States of America
tucker-box = a box to store food in (as well as cutlery, plates, mugs, napkins, etc.)
wow = (US slang) someone or something which is: outstanding; successful; attractive, good-looking; very surprising; unbelievable
Yank = someone from America (the United States of America), i.e. an American, or something from America; in the context of the American Civil War (the War Between the States), or in the context of the US North-South divide, it refers to someone, or something, from the northern states of the USA (also rendered as “Yankee”)
[Editor: Changed “how in United States” to “how in the United States”; “went to Gundagai district” to “went to the Gundagai district”. The two sub-headings, “On the map” and “Souvenirs!”, were not directly part of the flow of the main text, so they have been inserted where it was deemed most appropriate.]