[Editor: This article was published in the Gundagai Independent (Gundagai, NSW), 7 April 1938.]
Gundagai’s mysterious dog
Origin of “The Tucker Box” story unknown
Immortal tradition benefits Gundagai
How did the story of “The Dog and the Tucker Box” come about, is it fact or legend? Why the dispute about “Nine Miles” and “Five Miles”?
The origin of the story is unknown. We have been repeatedly requested to give the correct history of Gundagai’s famous dog. We have hunted up records, our newspaper files, and made numerous enquiries — but we have been unable to trace the origin of “The Dog and The Tucker Box.”
We do know that the story has become immortal, and will be handed down to each succeeding generation.
Gundagai erected a monument of “The Dog and The Tucker Box” at the Five Mile, as a symbol of the pioneers. It is the pioneers the people honor — the monument is merely the symbol of that worthy band.
The article (reproduced below) has revived the debate regarding who “invented” or saw the incident.
We know that Jack Moses made the Dog famous with his poem, and to him goes the credit of keeping the legend alive. Certainly the Dog was mentioned in prose and poetry before Moses wrote his lines, but no one is certain of the first poem.
To-day the Gundagai hospital benefits by the enterprise of certain townsmen, and all postcards and novelties bear a royalty to the hospital. Some of the cards and novelties bear Moses’ poem, and others another type of verse. We do not believe that either is the first poem written on the subject. The advent of the second poem complicates the situation. Not only is it by an unknown author, but it is doubtful as to where the lines came from. We do know that the enterprise of certain business men has meant a wonderful boom to Gundagai, and that the erection of the monument was a wise move. It assures Gundagai with permanent publicity. Any town in Australia would give anything to have the boost Gundagai receives.
The article that has caused a renewal of the argument is:—
A wonderful dog
(By J. G. Castleton in “Digest of World Reading”.)
Everybody assures me that the creature never existed, that it was merely an imaginary dog, whose story, related in the crude outback “poetry” of the pioneering days, has freakishly lived to pass into the great Australian folklore, immortalising both the “dog that sat on the tucker box” and the little New South Wales town of Gundagai around which the poem is written.
But the fact remains that the dog does exist to-day, a peculiarly shaped dog, it is true, squatting calmly atop of a pedestal by the roadside, five miles from Gundagai.
No less a personage that the Rt. Hon. J. A. Lyons, Prime Minister of Australia, attended on November 27th, 1932 to unveil the dog’s statue. A local resident, Rusconi by name, cast the statue, the object being, as solemnly recorded on a brass tablet, to pay a “tribute to our pioneers.” A second brass plate bears the following message:—
“Earth’s self upholds this monument to conquerors who won her when wooing was dangerous, and now are gathered unto her again.”
The spot on which the monument stands is near where “Sugar” O’Brien Creek crosses the road, the one-time camping ground of the bullockies, teamsters and settlers who followed on the heels of Hume and Hovell from 1824 onwards.
But the Gundagai people saw in the dog a source of income — they have produced postcards and other souvenirs featuring the dog on the pedestal, and on each such souvenir a royalty is charged and credited to the funds of the local hospital. The cost of the statue was paid off in two years and a revenue of about £300 a year is now paid to the hospital funds. Those are the facts of the recent history of the dog, but they throw no light whatsoever on the origin of the story.
To get down to the actual facts, I found that it was necessary to dig much deeper and even now I am not quite satisfied that there is not something that still eludes me as to why the Gundagai dog should have been immortalised in preference to one from Boomanoomoonah, or even from Wooloomooloo. Both these names are just as euphonious as Gundagai, so we’ll conclude that the dog did actually come from the last-named town. Next thing to determine, is what the dog did to merit fame.
Ask almost any youth-about-town about the dog from Gundagai, and you will probably be greeted with a knowing grin, that suggests that the subject is not one for polite discussion, but more fit for the shearing shed and the hoboes’ camp fire. But, even if you press for details, you’ll invariably complete your conversation none the wiser. Even the Gundagai people themselves can’t help you much. They can refer you though, as they did me, to a poem written by Jack Moses under the title “Nine Miles from Gundagai — The Dog and the Tucker Box” published in his book, “Beyond the City Gates.”
Jack Moses interviewed
Like a bloodhound on a hot scent I hurried to the public library, collected the book and learned little from the poem beyond the fact that even though the hero had been “jilted, jarred and crossed in love, and sand-bagged in the dark” and suffered all sorts of other catastropes, his bitterest affliction was to see the dog “sit on the tucker box nine miles from Gundagai, at a time when his bollock team was bogged on a Murrumbidgee flat. Discouraged, but not dismayed, I next sought Jack Moses himself.
Earnestly, he assured me that the dog was purely imaginary, and that the poem was written about 50 years ago in the days when he used to roam the country, as a whisky seller, in coaches and whatever other means of conveyance were available. A jovial, witty, hail-fellow-well-met Jack was always sure of a hearty welcome, wherever business took him. A traveller in good spirits, in more than one way, Jack brought the news of the outside world when news even a week or more old was really news, and railways, motors and telephones and daily papers and broadcasting had not broken down the isolation of the outback.
Jack also brought a fund of stories, some gathered in his travels, some the product of his fertile imagination. Of the latter clan, he says, was the dog and the tucker box, the gathering together of a series of “jingles” which had been turning over in his mind in tune to the clip-clop-clip of the horses’ hoofs on the earthen roads, to the clinking of the harness and the creaking of the coaches as the miles slipped steadily past. Jack’s still an identity in New South Wales, an infectiously cheerful fellow who is probably better known, certainly more liked, than the famous Gundagai dog.
Nine miles or five
But I was still dissatisfied with my enquiries. I couldn’t reconcile Jack’s “nine miles” with the statue’s “five miles”. And I remembered having received a postcard from a friend who was travelling through Gundagai several years ago. The card showed a motor car standing at the roadside where a mile post pointed “5 miles to Gundagai” and a cheerful looking motorist remarking to a ferocious looking farmer, turned with a gun, “is this the spot where the dog ——,” at which point the farmer interrupted with the shouted threat, “Another word and I’ll blow yer —— head off.” And then I remembered having been driven around Gippsland by a motor-driver who had a matchbox holder with a Gundagai poem printed on it, that was different from the version given by Jack Moses.
“Bill the bullocky”
By this time the pursuit of the dog and his tale had become a matter of tremendous importance to me, so I followed the motor driver’s clue and eventually found to my great satisfaction that the matchbox holder was still intact. Under the title of “Bill the Bullocky” and the date June 20th, 1859, the crude doggerel ran 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 ——
Never cracked an honest crust;
A tougher poor old ——
Never drug a whip through dust.”
“His team got bogged at the five-mile creek,
Bill lashed and swore and cried
“If Nobby don’t get me out of this
I’ll tattoo his —— hide.”
But Nobby strained and broke the yoke,
And poked out the leader’s eye,
Then the dog sat — on the tucker box
Five miles from Gundagai.”
The tucker box
Somehow that poem rings true to me, and I’m satisfied it contains the real story of the incident around which the tucker box tradition was built up. A tucker box, incidentally was any rough box in which a teamsters food and cutlery and crockery was carried, keeping them all together to be got at readily at meal times. I can visualise Bill the Bullocky telling his story around a crackling camp-fire on some broad river bank where the teamsters would congregate overnight, at the end of another stage of the long haul to the Riverina sheep stations. I can imagine the rough uncultured voice and the wealth of profanity which only a teamster of the good old days could command, and I can see the germ of an idea sinking into the brain of a listening bush “poet” who turned it over and over in his mind before committing it to paper. And, to-day, the story, if not the poem, is known more or less in detail from one end of the continent to the other.
Gundagai Independent (Gundagai, NSW), 7 April 1938, p. 1
The first part of this article was published in various other newspapers, including:
Yass Tribune-Courier (Yass, NSW), 2 June 1938, p. 5 (entitled “Gundagai dog: How did story arise?”)
The Burrowa News (Burrowa, NSW), 3 June 1938, p. 4 (entitled “Gundagai dog: How did story arise?”)
The second part of this article (by J. G. Castleton, originally published in “Digest of World Reading”) was published in various other newspapers, including:
Glen Innes Examiner (Glen Innes, NSW), 10 March 1938, p. 16 (entitled “A famous dog: Immortalised by Jack Moses: Teamsters and tucker-boxes”)
Forbes Advocate (Forbes, NSW), 1 April 1938, p. 7
The photo of Prime Minister Lyons unveiling the Gundagai monument appeared in the Gundagai Independent on 1 December 1932 (p. 1), 7 April 1938 (p. 1), 16 July 1945 (p. 3), and 9 August1948 (p. 2).
—— = two em dashes (or a variant number of em dashes) can be used to indicate swearing, just as “****”, “$#*!”, “#$@&%*!”, or similar, can indicate swearing (a series of typographical symbols used to indicate profanity is called a “grawlix”); an em dash is an extended dash (also known as an “em rule” or a “horizontal bar”), being a dash which is as wide as the height of the font being used (em dashes can also be used in place of a person’s name, so as to ensure anonymity; or used to indicate an unknown word)
bullocky = a driver of a bullock team
clan = a class or a group of people or things which are similar in nature or are connected by similar aims or interests; a group of families in Scotland (or, outside Scotland, of Scottish ethnicity or descent), especially those who are headed by a hereditary chieftain; a group of families connected by familial and political ties
germ = the basis, beginning, or origin of an idea or project; a seed, spore, bud, or plant embryo from which a new organism can develop (can also refer to: a pathogenic microorganism which can cause disease, e.g. a bacterium or virus; a bug)
Gippsland = a region of south-eastern Victoria, which encompasses Bairnsdale, Drouin, Lakes Entrance, Leongatha, Mallacoota, Moe, Morwell, Omeo, Sale, Seaspray, the Strzelecki Ranges, Traralgon, Walhalla, Warragul, Wilsons Promontory, Wonthaggi, and Yarram; the region was named after George Gipps (1790-1847), who was Governor of New South Wales (1838-1846)
See: “Gippsland”, Wikipedia
hail-fellow-well-met = a reference to someone who is very cheerful, genial, and friendly, especially in a hearty and informal way (derived from the archaic greeting “Hail, fellow! Well met!”, meaning “Hello fellow, good to meet you”, although, originally, “hail” meant “be well” or “be healthy”); however, the phrase has also come to refer to someone who presents as very cheerful, genial, and friendly, but in an insincere and superficial manner, especially being overly-familiar and ingratiating
See: 1) “Meaning and origin of ‘hail-fellow-well-met’”, Word Histories
2) “Hail fellow well met”, Wikipedia
hoboes = (also spelt: hobos) plural of “hobo”: a bum, drifter, tramp, or vagabond
Hume and Hovell = Hamilton Hume (1797-1873) and William Hilton Hovell (1786-1875), explorers
See: 1) Stuart H. Hume, “Hume, Hamilton (1797–1873)”, Australian Dictionary of Biography
2) T. M. Perry, “Hovell, William Hilton (1786–1875)”, Australian Dictionary of Biography
3) “Hume and Hovell expedition”, Wikipedia
J. A. 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
motor = a motor car, an automobile
motor car = a car, an automobile
motor-driver = a driver of a motor car; a taxi driver
outback = remote rural areas; sparsely-inhabited back country; often given as one word and capitalized, “Outback” (variations: out back, outback, out-back, Out Back, Outback, Out-Back)
the Riverina = a region of south-central New South Wales, which encompasses Albury, Coolamon, Cootamundra, Deniliquin, Griffith, Gundagai, Hay, Jerilderie, Junee, Leeton, the Murrumbidgee River, Narrandera, Temora, Tocumwal, Tumbarumba, Tumut, Wagga Wagga, and West Wyalong
See: “Riverina”, Wikipedia
Rt. Hon. = an abbreviation of “Right Honourable” (i.e. very honourable), used to refer to Privy Counsellors, Governors-General, some members of the nobility (earls, viscounts, and barons), and the mayors of certain prominent cities (including the capital cities of the Australian states); in the past, Australian Prime Ministers and senior Ministers were traditionally offered appointments to the Privy Council, and (if they accepted) were therefore entitled to the honorific of “Right Honourable” (as a style, it is commonly capitalised, e.g. “the Right Hon.”) (also abbreviated as “Right Hon.”)
tucker = food
tucker box = a box to store food in
yer = (vernacular) you
[Editor: Changed “Origion of” to “Origin of”; “The origion of” to “The origin of”; “the origion of” to “the origin of”; “Gundagai receives” to “Gundagai receives.” (added a full stop); “motor drivers clue” to “motor driver’s clue”. Changes to the second part of the article (by J. G. Castleton), made in line with the Glen Innes Examiner version (10 March 1938): “Digest Of World Reading” to “Digest of World Reading”; “when woing” to “when wooing”; “one time” to “one-time”; “Hume and Hovel” to “Hume and Hovell”; “last named” to “last-named”; “Nine Miles From Gundagai” to “Nine Miles from Gundagai”; “sand bagged” to “sand-bagged”; “sit on the tucker-box” to “sit on the tucker box”; “bollock team” to “bullock team”; “a fund of stories” to “a fund of stories,” (added a comma); “certainly more liked” to “certainly more liked,” (added a comma); “and which point” to “at which point”; “dogerel” to “doggerel”; “five-mile creek” to “five-mile creek,” (added a comma); “tatoo” to “tattoo”; “leaders’ eye” to “leader’s eye”; “on thfe tucker-box” to “on the tucker box”; “tucker-box tradition was built up. A tucker-box” to “tucker-box tradition was built up. A tucker-box” (removed two hyphens); “cracking camp-fire” to “crackling camp-fire”. Added a double quotation mark after “tribute to our pioneers.”, “jingles”, and “Five miles from Gundagai.” (in the second instance). Added a line break and a double quotation mark before “His team got bogged”. The 1st paragraph of the first part of the article, the 2nd and 3rd paragraphs of the second part of the article, and the quotation beginning “Earth’s self upholds”, were all in bold, but have been rendered here as standard text. Changes to the text under the photos: “Dog and The” to “Dog and the”; “monument unvieled” to “monument unveiled”; “unvieled the” to “unveiled the”.]
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