10 Things to do in Gundagai
Gundagai. Now, if you’re anything like me, when you hear ‘Gundagai’, you hear Slim Dusty singing Jack O’Hagan’s classic…
There's a track winding back to an old fashioned shack
Along the road to Gundagai
Where the blue gums are growin' and the Murrumbidgee's flowin'
Beneath the sunny sky
There my mother and daddy are waitin' for me
And the pals of my childhood once more I shall see
Then no more will I roam when I'm headin' straight for home
Along the road to Gundagai
O’Hagan wrote the song back in 1922, but apparently he never actually visited Gundagai until several decades later.
Gundagai is a town of a couple of thousand people located on the Murrumbidgee River, a couple of hours drive west of Canberra in the Riverina district. If you’re driving from Sydney to Melbourne, Gundagai makes a great half way stop. Though not precisely the mid-point of the journey, it’s close enough.
I must admit that before I visited Gundagai, I didn’t know a great deal about the town, aside from the fact that it is home to the Dog on the Tuckerbox. In fact, my long weekend to Gundagai was delayed because around the time I planned to visit, some bloke decided to pick a fight with the iconic dog, knocking him off the tuckerbox. The damaged dog had to be carted off for repairs. On the dog’s return, the town threw a welcome home party — people came from near and far to celebrate… even the Deputy Prime Minister stopped by.
But there’s more to Gundagai than its famous dog. It’s a picturesque regional town, with a rich history demonstrated in its sign-posted main street, museums, galleries, old railway, and its historic bridges.
Gundagai is a town with lots of stories. There is the great flood that destroyed the original town, and there are the flood’s heroes — Yarri and Jacky Jacky — the Aboriginal men who rescued survivors of the flood. There is Frank Rusconi and his incredible sculpting, from the Dog, to his astonishingly intricate marble masterpiece. There is the ill-fated Andrew George Scott, or Captain Moonlite as he came to be known. That is, at once, my favourite (for his character) and least favourite (for his demise) of Gundagai’s stories.
Gundagai was a place I’d have loved to stay longer.
Things to do in Gundagai:
1. Get a view of Gundagai from Rotary lookout
While in Gundagai I stayed in town at a beautiful historic home at the end of the main street. One morning I wandered from town across the Murrumbidgee to South Gundagai and up to the top of Luke Street to take in the view from Rotary lookout. It is an easy half hour walk from Sheridan Street — or you can drive up — at the lookout there’s space to park and a picnic table to sit and enjoy the view. As you can see, this lookout gives you a view of the entire town, as well as the historic bridges that stretch across the floodplain which was the site of the original Gundagai settlement.
In 1852 a flood destroyed that original township and killed a recorded 78 people. The Wiradjuri people, whose traditional lands Gundagai is built on, are said to have warned European settlers about the dangers of flooding but these warnings were not heeded. A memorial to two Aboriginal men — Yarri and Jacky — is on the main street of Gundagai, recognising their heroism during the 1852 flood when they rescued around 50 people.
2. Visit the Dog on the Tuckerbox
The beloved, iconic Dog on the Tuckerbox. The dog is located about 8km out of town, you can drive in under 10 minutes... or, if like me you enjoy a good wander, you can spend an afternoon walking The Dog on the Tuckerbox Trail. If you’re walking from town, head north on West St until you reach William St (home to North Gundagai Cemetery). Just after turning right into William St you’ll see Springflat Drive. The walking trail starts at the end of Springflat Drive.
You’ll see the Dog on the Tuckerbox trail signpost (like the one above). The trail runs for several kilometres on a paved track between farm paddocks and the highway on the opposite side of the highway to the dog. Never fear, when you reach the dog, you’ll cross under the highway — keep walking until you see the spot (you won’t miss it, just follow the track until it dips down to the tunnel). When you come out of the tunnel you’re only a couple of minutes walk away from the dog (and the cafe where you can buy yourself a well-earned refreshment and some souvenirs). The walk is pleasant, though long at around 16km return. Be sure to wear a hat and sunscreen, and take plenty of water and some snacks.
Maybe you’re wondering what all this fuss about the Dog is?
The legend of the Dog began in the 1850s with a poem Bullocky Bill by an otherwise unknown author ‘Bowyang Yorke’, about the partnership of the bullockies who opened up the land to settlers, and the dogs who accompanied them and guarded their possessions. A version amended by Jack Moses captured the imagination of Australians both in the bush and throughout the colonies in the early 1900s.
The Dog on the Tuckerbox statue was unveiled in 1932 and has since become something of an Aussie icon.
3. Wander the main street
Plaques and signposts up and down Sheridan St tell of the town’s history. Pop into the Visitor Information Centre where you can pick up information to take yourself on a self-guided walking tour. Be sure to stop into the Coffee Pedler, who do an excellent coffee.
4. Visit Gundagai’s historic railway station
Trains don’t stop here any more. Gundagai railway station was restored in the 1990s and now houses a museum that tells of the town’s railway history. Entry is by donation — you’ll find the donation box and guest book by the old ticket window.
A sign at the railway station museum explains that this station provided the main link between Gundagai and the rest of NSW between 1885 and 1984. The Gundagai station building is the longest timber station building in the state.
Posted on one of the station’s inside walls is a newspaper article print out, that in part reads, “When the railway first began, a steam locomotive was a thing of magic and wonder, as exciting and interesting as a spaceship is today. Before the railway age, no one ever travelled faster than a horse could gallop.” ♡
5. Check out the historic bridges
There are a couple of historic bridges in Gundagai. The Prince Alfred bridge — 921m long and opened in 1867. Beside it is the railway viaduct, 809m long and built in 1903. Both now long-disused, but used to be thoroughfares for people and goods across the floodplain and the Murrumbidgee River. While you can no longer walk or drive on the bridges, you can take a look from a few different vantage points including the end of Sheridan St, or down on the flats by wandering down Oibell Dr. And for a view of the entire township including both bridges, head up to Rotary lookout in South Gundagai.
6. See the Murrumbidgee River
At 1,485 km the Murrumbidgee is Australia’s second longest river, and it runs through Gundagai. This view is from the bridge over the river on Middleton Dr.
7. Discover the history of Gundagai at the Museum
I thought I’d pop into the museum for a quick half hour. I thought wrong. This museum is true treasure trove of local history. I could’ve spent the entire day pouring over everything here. Volunteer run, the museum is open daily from 9am until 3pm and is $5 entry for adults, $4 concession, $1 children, and $10 for a family. You’ll find it in town on Homer St.
8. Witness Frank Rusconi’s Marble Masterpiece
Be sure to stop by Gundagai’s visitor information centre where for a small fee (adults $5) you can see Frank Rusconi’s marble masterpiece. The workmanship and detail is extraordinary.
A true craftsman, Rusconi built this impressive display from 20,948 individual pieces of marble, every piece cut, turned and polished by hand over a 28 year period.
Rusconi was a monumental mason who, in addition to crafting this legit masterpiece, was the man behind the iconic Dog on the Tuckerbox. Rusconi was born in Australia, and studied the marble trade in Europe before returning home and settling in Gundagai. You can see some of the tools Rusconi used to craft his marble masterpiece on display in the Museum on Homer St, and you can even book yourself into to stay in the beautiful historic house, Araluen, that what was once Rusconi’s home.
9. Stop by the final resting place of Captain Moonlite
North Gundagai Cemetery is located 2km out of town, on William St. It’s the final resting place of Andrew George Scott, or Captain Moonlite as he came to be known.
As to a monumental stone, a rough unhewn rock
would be most fit, one that skilled hands could
have made into something better. It will be like
those it marks as kindness and charity could have
shaped us to better ends.
— Andrew George Scott, Captain Moonlite
Scott’s grave was not always in Gundagai. After being tried for murder and hanged in 1880, Scott was buried at Sydney’s Rookwood Cemetery. But it was Scott’s dying wish to be buried alongside James Nesbitt, who died in his arms after being shot when gunfire was exchanged with police during the hold up at Wantabadgery Station, near Gundagai.
Nesbitt was not the only man killed that night. A police man was also killed and it was for this that Scott was sent to the gallows in Sydney. Scott’s executioners did not abide his dying wish to be buried with Nesbitt in Gundagai. But in 1995, his body was exhumed and moved to Gundagai, where today it lies under a tombstone beyond the rest, in the shade of a big, old tree. You’ll not regret taking a few minutes to learn more about the story of Andrew George Scott and James Nesbitt in this fascinating feature by Jeff Sparrow for The Monthly.
10. Watch the Sunset from Mt Parnassus
Watch the hills glow golden as the sun sinks over Gundagai. To get to this point, Hanley Street runs in a sort of loop from West Street. You can drive or walk from town, it’s not far. Around the high point of the street you get this magic view over the town from the north side of town. This sunset vantage point is a short walk from the North Gundagai Cemetery if you happen to be wandering back into town after paying Captain Moonlite a visit. Gundagai’s Mt Parnassus is well worth a stop to enjoy sunset.