Kevtoberfest #25 Gundagai and Holbrook
No matter how large or small, country towns and cities in Australia all have memorials commemorating past events. Many are war memorials with the names of long ago battles and those who served. Some recall explorers who passed by or local residents who achieved greatness. Others are either famous or a complete surprise, with a fascinating story to match.
Eight kilometres out of Gundagai is a memorial to the pioneers who journeyed west and settled in what would become the Riverina region. In the early days, supplies were transported from the coast to the inland by bullock drays. The routes were difficult and unpredictable and the bullock drivers, known as bullockies, took many risks to deliver their precious cargo on time. In the 1850s, an unknown poet penned the tale of “Bullocky Bill“, recording the hardships of life on the road for the bullockies and their faithful dogs.
The Dog on the Tuckerbox depicts the bullocky’s dog immortalised in the poem, loyally guarding his master’s food store. The statue was unveiled in 1932 and has become an iconic Australian symbol.
While the faithful dog is well-known, further south at Holbrook is another memorial much more unusual and not so famous – the upper section of an Oberon-class submarine. Why does a town so far from the sea have a connection with a submarine?
Until 1915 the town was known as Germanton but, with patriotism at a high during World War One, the decision was made to change its name. “Holbrook” was chosen to honour Lieutenant Norman Holbrook, a submariner with the Royal Navy. He had become an international hero after deeds of bravery in the Dardanelles earned him a Victoria Cross. In the years after the war, Norman and his wife Gundula visited the town three times. Following Norman’s death in 1976, she made a bequest to the town for a memorial to submariners in his name.
The submarine HMAS Otway, decommissioned after 26 years service with the Royal Australian Navy, was the perfect choice for a memorial. The funds gifted by Gundula were used to purchase the submarine’s upper casing, fin and stern and they were transported by semi-trailer to Holbrook. The submariners’ memorial and museum were established and opened in a ceremony in 1997, attended by Gundula Holbrook.
Today, Holbrook is known as “the Submarine Town”, even though it is more than 300 kilometres from the sea and no one drives past Gundagai without visiting the famous dog. Some memorials are far more interesting than others!