“We’re seriously low on petrol. Do you see any service stations on the map?” Ryan asks.
“Oh, that’s what you call them!” I say. “I’ve been searching ‘gas stations’ all this time and nothing came up.”
Ryan lets out a groan of exhaustion. We’ve been driving for a good five hours through the nothingness that lies along the Hume Highway between Melbourne and Sydney, looking for a good place to stop for the night. And now that we’re running low on fuel, I realize I’ve been typing in the wrong word on my iPhone map the whole time.
“Um, here’s something. Wait, that can’t be right.”
“What?” Ryan asks. “Is it a service station?”
“I don’t know, but there’s a town, I think. I mean, it has a Subway. Maybe it’s not a town?”
“You’re not making any sense. What does the map say?”
“Dog on the Tuckerbox.”
“I’m not kidding,” I say, showing Ryan my iPhone. “It’s labeled on my map as Dog on the Tuckerbox.”
“Well, I don’t care what they call it as long as they have a petrol station and somewhere to park. I’m exhausted,” Ryan says.
“But, what if it’s a mean dog? What if it barks so loud we can’t sleep? I mean, he must be a really memorable dog if they put him on the map.”
Ryan doesn’t respond. He just pulls the camper van off the road, and we’re delighted to discover both a gas station, or rather a petrol station, and a Subway sandwich shop.
While Ryan is pumping diesel into our camper, I go inside to browse the Subway menu and ask where we can park our van for the night.
“Well, you can park behind the building with the lorries, but they can be pretty loud with their air brakes and all. The best place is over behind the dog on the tuckerbox. It’s nice and quiet over there,” the attendant says.
“I’m sorry, behind the what?” I ask, looking for clarification on what this thing is, exactly.
“Behind the dog on the tuckerbox.”
I stare blankly.
“It’s a historical thing. An internationally famous tourist attraction,” the girl says without irony. She seems genuinely proud.
“But what is it?”
The girl seems confused by the question. “Um, it’s a dog. On a tuckerbox.” There’s a pause and a light bulb seems to go off in the girl’s head, alerting her to the fact that she’s speaking to a foreigner. “Oh, it’s not a real dog. It’s like a statue. Is that what you’re asking?”
“No. I mean, yes. What’s a tuckerbox?” I ask.
“Um, it’s a box. For tucker.”
At this point, it’s midnight and I’ve had very little sleep, so I chalk up the confusion to not asking the right questions. But it seems fair to say this girl has never played a game of Taboo in her life and therefore hasn’t been educated in the art of explaining words without using the same vocabulary. What is tucker? And why does it need a box? Or, better yet, Why is there a statue of a dog and a whatever-box?
I decide to abandon my questions lest I exhaust the poor Subway sandwich girl further. She seems relieved by this arrangement, saying to me as I walk away, “Google it. You’ll see, it’s famous!”
“Did she say there was a good place to sleep?” Ryan asks when I approach.
“Yeah. Behind the dog on the tuckerbox.”
“Yeah, I know. I mean, I don’t know. It’s over there, away from the big trucks. By the way, what the hell is a tuckerbox?” I ask.
“A lunch box,” Ryan says.
“A dog on a lunch box? Huh,” I say. “That explains nothing.”
In the short trip from the diesel pump to our camping spot, I take the Subway girl’s advice and Google “Dog on the Tuckerbox” on my iPhone. And I discover that rather than answer the question of “why,” I’m left with even more questions than I started with, after reading this explanation on the www.thedogonthetuckerbox.com:
“The Dog on the Tuckerbox is an Australian historical monument and tourist attraction… The statue was inspired by a bullock driver’s poem, Bullocky Bill, which celebrates the life of a mythical driver’s dog that loyally guarded the man’s tuckerbox (Australian English for lunch box) until death.”
I particularly like how the word “tuckerbox” is explained, and yet “bullock” isn’t. Is it not British English for testicle? I once knew this stray cat that hung around my college dorm, who we called “Big Balls,” for obvious reasons. Is that how Bill got his name? Wait, who is mythical here? The bullock driver or the dog? So many questions.
It seems Ryan and I are both way too tired to ask these questions out loud, so in silence we drive our camper away from the big trucks and in the direction of the famous, historical Dog on the Tuckerbox, parking in a quiet space next to it. We climb out of the van and approach the tiny statue with the chain link fence around it, hoping it will all make sense as we get nearer.
“Well, I’ll be damned,” Ryan says. “It’s a dog. On a tuckerbox.”