The Dog on the Tuckerbox

Dog on the Tuckerbox
bready_fv/Flickr/CC BY 2.0

Actually, despite the line from the original verse, the monument of the Dog on the Tuckerbox lies about five miles (eight kilometers) north of the New South Wales town of Gundagai.

Celebrated in Australian folklore, poetry, and song, the Dog on the Tuckerbox, a monument to the pioneers of the Riverina region, has become an icon of Australia's past.

The Legend Is Born

One version of the dog's role in pioneering times is that the dog was guarding its master's tuckerbox and other possessions while he sought help from being bogged at a river crossing. The master, a bullocky or driver of a bullock team, never returns but the dog continues to guard the tuckerbox until its death.

Tucker is an Australian word for food, so the food box the dog was guarding symbolized the sustenance (which needed protecting) of the region's pioneers.

'Romanticized' Version

The story of the faithful dog is quite possibly a romanticized version. The refrain from the supposedly original verse about the dog was:

Then the dog sat on the Tucker Box
Nine miles from Gundagai

But it's been said that in the "actual" original, it wasn't "sat" that the dog did. (Think of a one-syllable word starting with "s" that rhymes with "sat" - consider the misfortunes that befall the bullocky - and think what other misfortune occurs to, in a manner of speaking, top it off.)

Verse and Song

These lines of verse are part of the story penned by an unknown poet writing under the name of Bowyang Yorke and published in the Gundagai Times in the 1880s. A later version was written by Gundagai journalist and poet Jack Moses.

Both versions speak of a bullock team being bogged at a river crossing nine miles from Gundagai with the dog tenaciously "sitting" on the tuckerbox.

The story of the dog and the tuckerbox was enshrined in the song Where the Dog Sits on the Tuckerbox (Five Miles from Gundagai) by Australian songwriter Jack O'Hagan who also wrote Along the Road to Gundagai and When a Boy from Alabama Meets a Girl from Gundagai. (O'Hagan had never been to Gundagai.)

1932 Unveiling

The monument of the Dog on the Tuckerbox was unveiled in 1932 by the then Prime Minister of Australia, Joe Lyons, on the 103rd anniversary of Australian explorer Charles Sturt's 1829 crossing of the Riverina's Murrumbidgee River.

The monument was the creation of Gundagai stonemason Frank Rusconi, another of whose works, the Marble Masterpiece, is on display in town.

Gundagai, 386 kilometers from Sydney, lies along the Hume Highway which runs inland from Sydney to Melbourne.

Yorke's Lines

Here is part of Bowyang Yorke's poem about Bullocky Bill:

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 beggar
Never earnt an honest crust,
A better poor old beggar
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
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