In July 2019 the beloved Dog on the Tuckerbox statue, near Gundagai in the New South Wales Riverina, was vandalised, damaged and knocked from its pedestal. The townspeople were shocked, as were others all around the country. This monument brought thousands of tourists to Gundagai and was immortalised in Jack O'Hagan's song ‘Where the Dog Sits on the Tuckerbox’ in 1938.
Credit: with permission Readers Digest, 1974
The folklore of the Dog runs deep in the history of early settlement in the bush. Pioneers followed explorers searching for the source of the Murrumbidgee River to the west and south of Sydney between the 1820s and 1850s. Bullock teams transported supplies in wagons across rough terrain, opening the land up near Gundagai for settlers. Five Mile Creek, just north of Gundagai, now on the Hume Highway, was a major camping ground on the way to and from Sydney and later site of the Five Mile pub, where gold diggers gathered.
Rough and tumble bullockies created their own entertainment with stories, songs and rhymes to pass the time until weather or river crossing conditions improved. Every wagon had a dog. If the driver was forced to go for help, it was expected to guard his belongings. The tuckerbox carried money, papers and other valuables, as well as food. Apparently, around 1850, one teamster’s dog did the wrong thing, in the wrong place, at the wrong time and took his place in Australian folklore. Many have searched newspaper files, libraries and old homesteads for verses and resurrected what might be original poems and lyrics that clearly indicated the dog ‘shat’ on the tuckerbox – Bullocky Bill, under the name of Bowyang Yorke, was written around the 1850s and apparently another unattributed song also survives. Distances mentioned vary between five and nine miles from Gundagai.
In the great Australian tradition of embracing the underdog, this tale ironically inspired an exhibit at the Gundagai Pastoral and Agricultural Show around 1900, which in turn inspired poet and traveller Jack Moses’ Nine Miles from Gundagai in the early 1900s. Apparently Moses originally wrote ‘the dog shat on the tucker box’ but the story morphed into a tribute to a faithful guard dog and became popular right across the country. There was no looking back.
The Citizens of Gundagai erected their tribute at the ‘Five Mile’ – a marble monument base topped by the bronze Dog on the Tuckerbox, modelled by local sculptor Frank Rusconi, cast by Oliver’s Foundry in Sydney and unveiled by Prime Minister Joseph A. Lyons on 28 November 1932. The Dog, no longer in disgrace, sat proudly and even though only about half a metre high, was iconic. Apart from the Sydney Harbour Bridge there was nothing to attract tourists to towns in Australia in the 1930s, 40s and 50s – no big rams, fish, bananas, pineapples or other giant attractions. Ayers Rock / Uluru had yet to be developed. The Dog brought tourists to Gundagai in droves and created merchandising opportunities, such as collectable matchbox covers printed with photographs of local scenes or Jack Moses’ poem, now in the Gundagai Museum. The Gundagai District Hospital holds copyright on use of the Pioneers’ Memorial and receives royalties from the sale of postcards.
Jack’s song was written for Dad and Dave, a radio serial launched 31 May 1937 that broadcast fifteen-minute episodes four nights a week – Monday to Thursday – across 2UW’s seven station Commonwealth Network, which included 3DB Melbourne. Dad and Dave was a huge success, ultimately aired over 58 stations for sixteen years and seven months. The Wrigley Company, world's largest manufacturer of chewing and bubble gum and owners of Juicy Fruit, Extra and P.K. brands, sponsored the soap opera until it finished, 2276 episodes later, on 29 December 1953. At the height of its popularity, 75% of Australian listeners tuned in. At the time, Dad and Dave was the biggest hit in the history of Australian radio, a sensational entertainment phenomenon and the country’s longest running recorded drama.
The show was produced by George Edwards, a colourful ex-vaudeville actor, dancer, comedian and well-known radio producer, known as ‘The Man with a Thousand Voices’. Dad Rudd was a typical man from the bush who frequented the country pub and stockyards. Mum and Mabel were countrywomen, capable in the kitchen and in crisis. Dave was a simple lad who aspired to marry Mabel. Their trials, tribulations and life on the farm became part of the ‘Australian’ story and the nation laughed with, grieved with and were entertained by Edwards’ characters.
Jack struck while the iron was hot and crafted a love song for Dave and Mabel and pitched it, singing over the phone, to a relatively disinterested Edwards. By the time he had finished, Edwards was already thinking about placing ‘Where the Dog Sits on the Tuckerbox’ into the script and told Jack to bring the foxtrot to Sydney immediately. It made its first public appearance on Dad and Dave with Edwards singing it himself. The storyline had Dad running for Mayor with character Alf Morton singing at the meeting. Dad said, ‘It was composed by that bloke O’Hagan and Alf’s written the words’. The publicity department felt listeners would embrace the song if they believed Alf really wrote it. Sheet music credited lyrics to the character.
‘Tuckerbox’ was recorded by hot Sydney dance band, Jim Davidson’s Dandies on Regal Zonophone, sold 50,000 records immediately after the first night’s airing and was released on Mastertouch and Broadway piano rolls. It became the quickest hit Jack O’Hagan had ever written.