Dog on the Tuckerbox: Australian Folklore

Friday Folklore

Dog on the Tuckerbox
Statue of the Dog on the Tuckerbox at Snake Gully

This week, we move from Australian Aboriginal lore to more popular folklore. Today, we look at the poem and legend of “Dog on the Tuckerbox”.

 

Stories about loyal dogs are pervasive in every culture where they are loved. This isn’t surprising as these domesticated creatures have been around for nearly as long as humans. Who knows how we came to domesticate wolves but someone, somewhere, thought it was a good idea. We are eternally indebted to this person.

A non-Australian example would be Hachikō, an Akita in Tokyo. He would meet his master at the train station everyday. In 1952, the master died, but Hachikō arrived everyday regardless. Eventually, he died of worms and cancer. A statue now commemorates Hachikō and his loyalty.

Personally, I get teared up about Delta, the Cane Corso found in Pompeii, who was found draped over the body of a child and whose collar described all of her loyal acts.

Those, however, are true stories. An example of a fictional story, outside of Dog on the Tuckerbox, is Argos,the faithful hound of Odysseus.

Before I get started, I should probably define a couple of words.

Tuckerbox = lunch box

Bullocky = driver of a bullock team

The Poem, Dog on the Tuckerbox

The first white settlement in the Gundagai area came in the 1820’s. Because of the bad roads, only bullock teams could reach the settlement. It wasn’t uncommon for teams to get bogged down because of inclement weather.

Australian Bullock Team
Australian Bullock Team

In the 1850’s, a man using the pen name “Bowyang Yorke” wrote a poem about a loyal dog guarding his master’s possessions while said master went to find help after the team got bogged down. That wasn’t the original poem, however. Originally, the dog took a dump in his master’s lunchbox (which is a less than loyal action). Bowyang Yorke, and, later, Jack Moses, cleaned up the story:

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.

–Bowyang Yorke

*Originally “shat”, past tense of “shit”

Eventually, the poem was romanticized to mean that, while the master went for help, his dog guarded his possessions until death.

The Statue and Festival

A statue commemorating the loyal canine was unveiled in 1932 five miles from Gundagai in the small town Snake Gully as part of “Back to Gundagai” Week. An inscription on the statue reads:

Earth’s self upholds this monument
To conquerors who won her,
When wooing was dangerous
And now are gathered unto her again.

Since 1992, an annual Dog on the Tuckerbox Festival has been held in Snake Gully. The address for the tourist website for Gundagai is called dogonthetuckerbox.com.au.

Nine Miles from Gundagai

I’m used to punching bullock teams across the hills and plains
I’ve teamed outback these forty years in blazing droughts and rains
I’ve lived a heap of troubles down without a blooming lie
But I cant forget what happened to me nine miles from Gundagai

Twas getting dark the team got bogged the axel snapped in two
I lost my matches and my pipe ah what was I to do
The rain came on twas bitter cold and hungry too was I
And the dog sat in the tucker box nine miles from Gundagai

Some blokes I know have stacks of luck no matter how they fall
But there was I lord luvva duck no blessed luck at all
I couldn’t make a pot of tea nor get my trousers dry
And the dog sat in the tucker box nine miles from Gundagai

I can forgive the blinking team I can forgive the rain
I can forgive the dark and cold and go through it again
I can forgive my rotten luck but hang me till I die
I cant forgive that blooming dog nine miles from Gundagai

But that’s all dead and past and gone I’ve sold the team for meat
And where I got the bullocks bogged now there is an asphalt street
The dog ah well he took a bait and reckoned he would die
I buried him in that tucker box nine miles from Gundagai

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