The Loaded Dog: Summary & Quotes

Instructor: Ivy Roberts

Ivy Roberts is an adjunct instructor in English, film/media studies and interdisciplinary studies.

This lesson summarizes Henry Lawson's short story 'The Loaded Dog.' We will learn about the setting and characters while exploring the shenanigans that ensue when Tommy the dog absconds with a makeshift stick of dynamite lathered in animal fat.

Shenanigans and A Gold Mine

Australian author Henry Lawson wrote the humorous short story 'The Loaded Dog' in 1901. The story is set against the backdrop of the gold rush. Out on the goldfields, near Stony Creek, New South Wales, Australia, Jim, Andy, and Dave divide their time between blasting a mine and catching fish. They've got a pot of fatty sausage boiling over a fire, and their hungry dog, Tommy, is circling the camp. Inevitably, shenanigans ensue.

Australia gold digging circa 1855
gold rush

Misadventures

Jim, Andy, and Dave mine haphazardly. They know there are riches to be found. They just don't know where to look. So, as the author describes, they proceed in whimsical fashion: 'In the gold fields, there is always a fortune in gold supposed to exist nearby. The only questions are whether it is ten feet or hundreds of feet under the surface, and in which direction.' They hit a rock bed and the water table, so they decide to fashion some rudimentary dynamite from blasting powder (gunpowder) and heavy cloth. In order to make the crude stuff stick together, they concoct the brilliant idea of slathering the cloth in hot animal fat.

dynamite
dynamite

It's slow going, blasting through the rock. The men break up their time with excursions to the creek to check up on their fishing lures. 'It was just a series of muddy water-holes, from holes with a few buckets of water in them to sizable pools with an average depth of six or seven feet.'

Well, why not use the blasting powder for another purpose? The gold is in a hole. The fish are also in a hole. They build this bomb much bigger than the last. For one thing, it must be impenetrable to the water. For another, insulating layers should allow enough time for the fish to gather. Andy and Dave enjoy fishing, but not Jim. 'Jim, by the way, wasn't interested in their 'damned silliness'.'

Recipe for Disaster

Added to the mix, Tommy certainly makes a recipe for disaster. He's a young black dog, 'a big, foolish, four-footed mate.' Tommy is a retriever, the kind of dog that will instinctively bring back anything you throw away, be it tennis balls, toys, dead animals, sticks of dynamite, you name it. Tommy retrieved the cat from its grave after it died. Tommy retrieved the guys from the water after they jumped in for a swim. Characteristically, Tommy 'watched Andy with great interest all the morning making the bomb, and got in the way a lot, trying to help.'

Remember the pot of sausage boiling over the fire? It's not just the fact that the dynamite is shaped like a stick. It also smells like hot meat! ''Run!!! Look behind you, you fool!' Andy turned slowly and looked. And there, close behind him, was the retriever with the bomb held tightly in his mouth - showing his broadest and silliest smile.'

Tommy runs through the embers of the fire. Dave, Andy and Jim hightail it. Tommy follows. That's a retriever for you. ''Don't follow us! don't follow us, you stupid fool!' But Andy kept on, no matter which way they ran. They could never explain, any more than the dog, why they followed each other, but so they ran.'

Dave grabs the dynamite stick from Tommy's mouth. Dave throws it. Tommy brings it back! Jim thinks he can escape the coming blast by climbing up a tree. ''Go away, Tommy,' said Jim weakly, 'go away.''

Dave, Andy and Jim run in opposite directions. Tommy follows Dave, who's running toward a nearby Inn, as if the inhabitants could be of any help: ''My dog!' he cried, in reply to the surprised look of the hotel owner, 'the bloody retriever - he's got a live bomb in his mouth!''

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