By Sahar Adatia and Jimmy Singh.
Across Australia, historical monuments and memorials hold a special significance as sacred touchstones of the past.
They link bygone days to those of the present, allowing people to remember and respect the rich history of the nation at large.
For this reason, community members work hard to preserve them and they are fiercely protected so their legacies can live on.
Last week, however, saw one of Australia’s most recognised monuments – the Dog on the Tuckerbox statue – discovered vandalised, sparking outrage across members of the public.
The revered monument, which depicts a dog guarding its owner’s tuckerbox and which is also renowned internationally, was left dislocated in a wishing well.
Gundagai’s Dog on the Tuckerbox Statue Knocked from its Sandstone Pedestal, Targeted by Vandals
On 27 July 2019, Gundagai’s treasured Dog on the Tuckerbox statue, which is located at Snake Gully, about 7.2 kilometres from the centre of Gundagai in New South Wales, was knocked from its sandstone pedestal and dislodged in an attack of vandalism.
It is reported that at about 4pm, a motorist on the side of the Hume Highway saw a man vandalising the statue.
It was knocked off its plinth, with both the dog and tuckerbox fixtures of the monument ending up in the wishing well surrounding the statue.
The dog’s ear was also missing, however was recovered for reattachement.
Police released images of a man and a woman they wish to speak to in relation to the incident, sparking a search for the culprit.
It is believed they left the scene in a Black Hyundai Santa Fe.
Gundagai in Mourning and in Shock after Beloved Statue Vandalised
The bronze statue, which was inspired by an 1850s poem about the bullock trains that traversed regional NSW, commemorates the early settlers. It was immortalised in Jack O’Hagan’s song Dog on the Tuckerbox.
Given its historical significance and its status as a tourist drawcard, local residents were left grieving and in shock over the vandalism, calling the act a “huge insult to the whole town”.
Speaking of the incident, the Cootamundra-Gundagai Mayor, Abb McAlister, said the statue was a meaningful part of the community.
“It’s iconic, that dog, and the wishing well there,” Mr McAlister said.
“It’s iconic to the Australian history – not only just Gundagai.
“So when something happens like this it really makes you sick in the stomach,” he said.
The Mayor also expressed being “very angry” when he first received news of the vandalism.
Meanwhile, the site’s current leaseholder, Denny Allnutt, said the act was low not welcome in the community.
“I’m absolutely gutted and really devastated; it’s so tragic to see the dog being the target of such a nasty sense of vandalism,” Ms Allnutt said.
“Visitors are shocked and saddened and we would’ve had about 100 people come today who are disappointed to find it like this, especially those who have travelled a long way.”
It turns out the dog was famously stolen in 1981 by a group of Canberra university students as part of a prank.
“The dog was well looked after and then handed into Collingullie Police Station, but this was nothing like that,” Ms Allnutt said.
“I’m sure the dog will be back on his tuckerbox and will remain there for years to come.”
The Significance of the Dog on the Tuckerbox Statue
For over 80 years, the bronze dog on the tuckerbox has been sitting obediently as tourists from around the nation and worldwide visit the renowned Australian monument.
Celebrated in Australian folklore, poetry, and song, the statue is a shrine to the pioneers of the Riverina region of NSW.
A history of the statue reveals its narrative, relating that in pioneering times, one of the dog’s roles was to guard its master’s tuckerbox and other possessions while he sought help from being bogged at a river crossing.
The master, a bullocky or driver of a bullock team, never returned but the dog continues to guard the tuckerbox until its death.
Tucker is a colloquial Australian word for food, so it is believed the food box which the dog was guarding symbolised the sustenance – which needed protecting – of the region’s pioneers. And so became the story of the faithful dog.
The monument of the Dog on the Tuckerbox was unveiled in 1932 by the then Prime Minister of Australia, Joe Lyons, on the 103rd anniversary of Australian explorer Charles Sturt’s 1829 crossing of the Riverina’s Murrumbidgee River.
The statue is the creation of Gundagai stonemason Frank Rusconi.
What the Law says About Damaging or Desecrating a Protected Place in NSW
In NSW, it is an offence to damage or desecrate a protected place.
A protected place is a statue, monument or shrine in a public place. It also includes a war memorial or an interment site.
A war memorial includes a war memorial located in a public place, including the Anzac Memorial in Hyde Park, Sydney.
According to section 8 Summary Offences Act 1988 (NSW), the penalty for wilfully defacing or damaging a protected place is up to $4,400 fine and a criminal conviction.
According to the same section, the penalty for committing a nuisance or committing an offensive act or indecent act either on or in connection with a war memorial or interment site is up to $2,200 fine and a criminal conviction.
A person who pleads guilty to this offence or where he/she is found guilty by the court will avoid a criminal conviction penalty if the Local Court Magistrate or Judge decides to impose a non-conviction penalty as a sentence instead (i.e. section 10 non conviction sentence or Conditional Release Order without conviction sentence).
Along with the Dog on the Tuckerbox statue, examples of such protected places include the statue of Queen Victoria that is found at the Queen Victoria Building on George Street in Town Hall, and the sculptures of Anzac Memorial Hyde Park.
If a person breaks, vandalises, damages, or in some other way taints a public monument, then they can be charged with the offence of damaging or desecrating a protected place.
If the court decides to impose a conviction, the Local Court Magistrate has the option to, instead of a fine, impose a Community Correction Order involving a community service order component to it. This still includes a criminal conviction.
If you don’t have a lawyer to represent you, where you are self-representing this offence in court on a plea of guilty, you should be aware of how you can maximise your chances at getting a section 10 to avoid a criminal conviction in court.
Committing this kind of conduct can also amount to a separate offence of offensive conduct which carries heavy penalties under section 4 Summary Offences Act 1988 (NSW).
In addition, damaging a property can also amount to another offence of damaging property in NSW. This offence carries imprisonment ranging from 5-years to 11-years imprisonment under section 195 Crimes Act 1900 (NSW).
It is recommended to receive the advice of an experienced criminal lawyer if charged with a criminal offence.
Our Parramatta and Sydney office is available 24/7 on (02) 8606 2218 if you wish to speak with a lawyer.