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Halamus Publishing - Archived Articles - #18, September, 2003



The Articles from the Monthly Newsletters

Written by

M. Lesley Halamek

September, 2003:-

SONG: "Nine Miles from Gundagai" – Australia

Q: What happened nine miles from Gundagai?

Q: Where is Gundagai?

Q: What does Gundagai mean?

A: See Below

Dog on Tuckerbox, Gundagai

The Dog on the tucker box monument was erected in the famous (or infamous) Snake Gully by the citizens of Gundagai in 1932 as a tribute to the pioneers of Australia, and symbolises the mateship between man and dog. It was also a useful fund-raiser for the cash- strapped local Hospital: visitors would throw coins into the pool.

The legends behind either the faithful dog guarding his master's food supply, or the delinquent dog ruining it at the end of a day of disasters are well-known in Australian bush lore.

The monument is 5 miles (8 kms) from Gundagai, on the old road to Sydney. The actual event, whether real or apocryphal, may have occurred five miles, six miles, or nine miles from Gundagai, depending on the story teller.

The Traditional Australian Melody "Nine Miles from Gundagai"
is on Page 3 of:

"Folksongs for the Violin", Part 2: The Violin in Major Keys
(A Graded Selection of Melodies for Beginners of All Ages).

Details on the MUSIC PAGE

Nine Miles from Gundagai (1880s)

I'm used to drivin' bullock teams
Across the hills and plains
I've teamed outback these forty years
In blazin' droughts and rains
I've lived a heap of troubles through,
Without a bloomin' lie
But I can't forget what happened me
Nine miles from Gundagai.

'twas gettin' dark, the team got bogged,
The axle snapped in two
I lost me matches and me pipe,
Now what was I to do?
The rains come down, 'twas bitter cold,
And hungry too was I
And the dog shat in the tucker-box
Nine miles from Gundagai.

  Some blokes I know has all the luck
No matter how they fall
But there was I, Lord love a duck,
No flamin' luck at all.
I couldn't make a pot of tea
Nor keep me trousers dry
And the dog shat in the tucker-box,
Nine miles from Gundagai.

I could forgive the blinkin' tea,
I could forgive the rain;
I could forgive the dark and cold,
And go through it again.
I could forgive me rotten luck,
But hang me till I die,
I won't forgive that bloody dog,
Nine miles from Gundagai.

Gundagai was popular with songwriters: over 30 songs have been written about Gundagai.

As Australian ballad singer and author Lionel Long and/or his co-author Graham Jenkin ("Favourite Australian Bush Songs", © 1964) wrote,

"The road to Gundagai is easily the most famous road in Australia, being celebrated in ballads and songs that were composed in the middle of last century (i.e. 19th C., or 1800s) and surprisingly enough in songs that are still being composed in the middle of this one (i.e. 20th C., or 1900s).

In the days when teams (bullocks) did the carting, Gundagai was on a most important wagon route and, being situated on the Murrumbidgee (River), was a great place for quenching the thirst of man and beast.

Of all the "Road to Gundagai" songs, the "Lazy Harry's" version... is perhaps the best-loved... In the early days shearers and other bush workers habitually spent their cheques (checks) in the first shanty they came to and it was only towards the end of last century (i.e. the 19th C., or 1800s) that they began to aim for the big cities to blue (spend) their cheques.

Notice that they were dinkum (genuine) mates and drew their earnings in one cheque – which came to at least a hundred pounds. One of the maxims of mateship was the sharing of a purse (in this case their combined wages for a season of sheep-shearing).

"On the Road to Gundagai" tells the story of two of the many who failed to reach their destination because they were lambed down in a shanty....."

Lazy Harry's

(Printed in Paterson's Old Bush Songs)

Oh we started down from Roto when the sheds had all cut out
We'd whips and whips of Rhino as we meant to push about
So we humped our blues serenely and made for Sydney town
With a three-spot cheque between us as wanted knocking down

But we camped at Lazy Harry's, on the road to Gundagai
The road to Gundagai
Not five miles from Gundagai
Yes we camped at Lazy Harry's on the road to Gundagai

Well we struck the Murrumbidgee near the Yanco in a week
And passed through old Narrandera and crossed the Burnett Creek
And we never stopped at Wagga for we'd Sydney in our eye
But we camped at Lazy Harry's on the road to Gundagai

Oh I've seen a lot of girls my boys and drunk a lot of beer
And I've met with some of both chaps as has left me mighty queer
But for beer to knock you sideways and for girls to make you sigh
You must camp at Lazy Harry's on the road to Gundagai

Well we chucked our blooming swags off and we walked into the bar
And we called for rum-an'-raspb'ry and a shilling each cigar
But the girl that served the poison she winked at Bill and I
And we camped at Lazy Harry's not five miles from Gundagai

In a week the spree was over and the cheque was all knocked down
So we shouldered our Matildas and we turned our back on town
And the girls they stood a nobbler as we sadly said good-bye
And we tramped from Lazy Harry's not five miles from Gundagai

Last chorus
And we tramped from Lazy Harry's not five miles from Gundagai
The road to Gundagai
Not five miles from Gundagai
Yes we tramped from Lazy Harry's on the road to Gundagai

[Roto is a station in south central NSW, on the Sydney to Broken Hill railway line.
Gundagai lies on the Hume Highway, the main road from Sydney to Melbourne.
Gundagai is mentioned in more songs than any other town in Australia.
Three-spot-cheque: a cheque in the hundreds of pounds ( In the 1940s three pounds
a week was quite a good wage for a town tradesman who lived carefully, enough to
support a family, pay the mortgage, and save for the annual holiday to the seaside.
In the 1850s, one hundred pounds would probably have bought a modest house in a rural town).]

Bill, The Bullocky

(Printed, Gundagai Times, 1857)

As I was coming down Conroy's Gap
I heard a maiden cry
"There goes Bill the Bullocky,
He is bound for Gundagai.

A better poor old basterd
Never earned an honest crust,
A better poor old bugger
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 bloody 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 Road to Gundagai

Andrew Barton 'Banjo' Paterson

The mountain road goes up and down
From Gundagai to Tumut Town.

And, branching off, there runs a track
Across the foothills grim and black,

Across the plains and ranges grey
To Sydney city far away.

*        *         *        *         *        *

It came by chance one day that I
From Tumut rode to Gundagai,

And reached about the evening tide
The crossing where the roads divide;

And, waiting at the crossing place,
I saw a maiden fair of face,

With eyes of deepest violet blue,
And cheeks to match the rose in hue–

The fairest maids Australia knows
Are bred among the mountain snows.

  Then, fearing I might go astray,
I asked if she could show the way.

Her voice might well a man bewitch–
Its tones so supple, deep, and rich.

"The tracks are clear," she made reply,
"And this goes down to Sydney town,
And that one goes to Gundagai."

Then slowly, looking coyly back,
She went along the Sydney track

And I for one was well content
To go the road the lady went;

But round the turn a swain she met–
The kiss she gave him haunts me yet!

*        *         *        *         *        *

I turned and travelled with a sigh
The lonely road to Gundagai.

Gundagai – Charming historic township on the banks of the Murrumbidgee River

"Gundagai, forever associated with the dog on the tuckerbox in Australian folklore, is situated on the Murrumbidgee River at the foot of Mt Parnassus, 387 km south-west of Sydney. It is located just off the Hume Highway about halfway between Yass and Holbrook at an elevation of 225 m. Perhaps more than any other Australian town, Gundagai has proved an irresistible subject with writers of popular verse. This perhaps relates to the fact that Five Mile Creek, to the north of town, was a popular meeting place with teamsters, drovers, shearers and bush travellers...

'Lazy Harry', 'On the Road to Gundagai' and 'Flash Jack from Gundagai' are three anonymous poems relating to the town. The latter two were first published in 'Banjo' Paterson's Old Bush Songs (1905). Paterson himself also wrote a ballad called 'The Road to Gundagai'... Jack O'Hagan...wrote the nostalgic and highly sentimental song 'Along the Road to Gundagai' which, in 1922, became an international success and the signature tune for the popular radio show 'Dad and Dave'.

Gundagai is situated in what is still sheep and cattle country ... Prior to European occupation the Wiradjuri Aborigines were the local tribe. It is thought the town's name derives from the Aboriginal word 'gundabandoobingee' which has unconvincingly been interpreted as meaning 'cut with a hand-axe behind the knee'. (Gundagai may possibly mean 'bend in the river').

The first known whites in the area were explorers Hamilton Hume and William Hovell who passed through on their way to Port Phillip Bay in 1824. The first European settlers arrived around 1826. Charles Sturt passed through the present site of Gundagai in 1829 during an exploration of the Murrumbidgee River. A cairn on the northern riverbank ...denotes the spot at which he crossed the river.

A village developed in the 1830s on the road to Melbourne. Despite warnings by local Aborigines, a town plan was approved in 1838 on the low-lying alluvial flats on the northern side of the Murrumbidgee. Gundagai was gazetted (i.e. listed as a town in the Government Gazette) in 1840. A number of the early streets were given literary references – Homer, Virgil, Ovid, Sheridan, Pope, Byron and Punch. By 1843 there were four hotels, a post office, several stores, a school, a blacksmith, 20 houses and a number of tents.

The first flood hit the town in 1844 and prompted debate but no action. Gundagai was finally moved to higher ground after a flood virtually destroyed the settlement in 1852, killing 83 of the 250 residents and destroying 71 buildings. Many were saved by local Aborigines, notably Yarri who paddled about throughout the night in his bark canoe saving stranded people. The locals were deeply appreciative and there are numerous contemporary memorials about town in his honour. At the time Yarri was described, in the Sydney Morning Herald, as 'belonging to Mr Andrews'. He was buried in the Catholic cemetery at Gundagai in 1880. Near the cemetery gates is his black marble headstone, recently erected by the Aboriginal Lands Council.

In the 1850s the town acted as a service centre to a prosperous pastoral and agricultural area and it benefited greatly from travellers headed to the Victorian goldfields. When Francis Cadell took his steamer up the Murrumbidgee as far as Gundagai, hopes emerged that the settlement would become an inland river port, thereby facilitating access of local producers to new markets. However, Gundagai proved to be too far upstream and nothing ultimately came of the plan.

A gold rush swept the area in 1861, lasting about 15 years (another rush took place in 1894) and the first bridge over the Murrumbidgee – one of the longest in NSW – replaced the ferry service in 1867.

The famous Ben Hall bushranging gang was active in the Gundagai area in 1863-64. Hall, John Dunn and Johnny Gilbert bailed up the mail coach between Gundagai and Jugiong in 1864. They charged down a hill with guns firing. In the fracas Gilbert killed Sgt Edmund Parry who is buried at Gundagai cemetery.

At the end of 1879 Andrew George Scott, better known as bushranger 'Captain Moonlite', and three companions, were tried at Gundagai courthouse after holding up Wantabadgery station (see entry on Wagga Wagga)...

The railway arrived at Gundagai in 1886 and the town became a municipality in 1889. The annual Dog on the Tuckerbox Festival is held over three days each November."

The Road to Gundagai

– Jack O'Hagan, 1922

There's a scene that lingers in my memory,
Of an old bush home and friends I long to see;
That's why I am yearning
Just to be returning
Along the road to Gundagai.

There's a track winding back
To an old-fashioned shack,
Along the road to Gundagai;
Where the blue gums are growing,
And the Murrumbidgee's flowing
Beneath that sunny sky,
Where my Daddy and Mummy are waiting for me
And the pals of my childhood once more I will see;
Then no more will I roam,
When I'm heading straight for home,
Along the road to Gundagai.

To come and be a child again,
To leave behind the sorrow on my way,
That's where I am playing,
Where those gums are swaying
Along the road to Gundagai.


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