I like Gundagai. It is one of those towns where its past is still so evident in its present. My walk down the high street was probably little different from a walk in the high street in the 1980’s or even the 1900’s.

The town is built mainly halfway up a hill, with levels causing some degree of difficulty for architects with some buildings on stilts whilst other are dug into, or high up, the hillside. But there is good reason for this as, not unlike another town I visited, it had to relocate.

Gundagai Theatre, now a craft centre

Whilst originally founded in 1838, a flood on 25 June 1852 literally swept the original town away killing between 78 and 89 of the town 250 population making the tragedy one of the largest natural disasters in Australia’s history. The original town was sadly built on a flood plain making the relocation up the hill, rather than at its foot a necessity.

I continue up the main street, past the houses, shops and offices which all have an appealing old fashioned feel (with frequently particularly large overhanging balconies), and no doubt part of the reason for the posh caravan park on the edges of town, but as I walk to the end of the main street, I’m rewarded with several mind blowing attractions.

Firstly, there is a very long wooden bridge (the longest timber viaduct in the southern hemisphere) named after Prince Alfred (who suffered an assassination attempt when visiting Sydney in 1868). It was built in 1866, formally opened in 1867 and finished in 1869 and along side this is the former rail bridge. Both are in varying states of decay, although part of the road bridge is being preserved whilst rest has a status of “managed ruin” and will remain as such unless further funding can be found. A further distance up the hill, but located in a cutting, is Gundagai station. The charm of this tastefully restored traditional building can not be resisted. The rolling countryside is an ideal backdrop and the scene is enhanced in the knowledge that no noisy steam or diesel train is going to come rolling by to shatter the silence alongside the disused rail track.

After my trek I return back to the Poet’s Recall Motel. The motel is so called as in the original Gundagai the streets were all named after poets. Upon relocation of the town, this tradition was lost but the motel owner has revived the tradition in the naming of the hotel rooms.

Now, no visit to Gundagai can be recorded without a mention of the dog on the tucker box. “What is that?” I hear you cry! Well, I’m going to confess I was not familiar with this tail and without the knowledge I certainly could not claim to be Australian as this tale is, I understand, embedded in Australian culture as indeed is Gundagai for being an iconic representation of the typical Australian country town.

Dog on the tucker box

To cut a long story short, a cattle drover by the name of Bullocky Bill was having a bad day as he got bogged down at a place called Nine Mile Creek. Then, to make things worse, the yoke of his bullock team breaks and then, the final straw is when his dog allegedly s**t in his tucker box. There have been various versions of the poem including a 1920’s cleaned up version by Jack Moses (see the foot of the page) based on an original poem by a Bowyang Yorke.

This story/poem/Australian Folklore has captured the imagination of the population for years and, perhaps amazingly, the statue of the dog on the tucker box which is located 7KM outside Gundagai was unveiled by the then Prime Minister, Joe Lyons, in 1932.

Bowyang Yorke’s Poem
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.

‘Nine Miles from Gundagai’ by Jack Moses

I’ve done my share of shearing sheep,
Of droving and all that;
And bogged a bullock team as well,
On a Murrumbidgee flat.
I’ve seen the bullock stretch and strain
And blink his bleary eye,
And the dog sit on the tuckerbox
Nine miles from Gundagai.

I’ve been jilted, jarred and crossed in love,
And sand-bagged in the dark,
Till if a mountain fell on me,
I’d treat it as a lark.
It’s when you’ve got your bullocks bogged,
That’s the time you flog and cry,
And the dog sits on the tuckerbox
Nine miles from Gundagai.

We’ve all got our little troubles,
In life’s hard, thorny way.
Some strike them in a motor car
And others in a dray.
But when your dog and bullocks strike,
It ain’t no apple pie,
And the dog sat on the tuckerbox
Nine miles from Gundagai.

But that’s all past and dead and gone,
And I’ve sold the team for meat,
And perhaps, some day where I was bogged,
There’ll be an asphalt street,
The dog, ah! well he got a bait,
And thought he’d like to die,
So I buried him in the tuckerbox,
Nine miles from Gundagai.