When Nick Stranks applied a gentle heat to the muzzle of Australia's most famous mutt, he realised that he had become part of a great Australian story.
It's a narrative which began 87 years ago, when then prime minister Joseph Lyons unveiled a small bronze statue which paid tribute to the nation's pioneering history.
Gundagai's Dog on the Tuckerbox had sat faithfully in place for decades, a much-loved and recognised roadside figure until he was knocked off his sandstone plinth by a vandal in late July.
The dog lost an ear and his plinth was cracked in an incident which shocked the nation.
Recovery was swift, with the missing ear quickly located and welded back on, the point of attachment looking bright and shiny compared with the rest of the dog's coat.
That's when the Cootamundra-Gundagai council wisely realised that while the piece was removed and accessible, some professional advice and skill was needed for its long-term conservation and protection. The dog and its green tuckerbox arrived in Canberra, quite appropriately roped in the back of a ute, and into Mr Stranks' safekeeping at the ANU's School of Art and Design.
As a lecturer, artist, and the school's foundry manager, Mr Stranks has cast some of Canberra's most admired and somewhat controversial public sculptures, including the stunning works around Brindabella Park and Jan Brown's bronzed bird people in Civic. But in terms of national importance, looking after this particular dog, which was cast by some nine decades ago out of gun metal, is in another league.
"It's a fascinating and much-loved part of our heritage; it touches the common man in all of us," he said.
"This is a dog that has had many lives, and while the artist in me is tempted to correct some of its flaws, that's not my place; it's wonderful just as it is.
"So we will treat it to bring back the original patina and then add a coat of wax to protect it from the elements."
Ironically, the recent vandalism wasn't the first time the dog's ears had been removed. The original dog design had droopy Labrador ears, but they were substituted for more pointy "mongrel" ears to make him look more like an Australian cattle dog.
The dog and its tuckerbox weighs in at nearly 200 kilograms. It was produced by a Gundagai artist, the late Frank Rusconi.
Mr Stranks said the temporary internment of the dog at the art school had been a wonderful teaching aid, as some of his students were not aware of the dog's historical significance. But he's also working to a tight deadline; the sculpture must be ready to go back on its plinth for a "welcome home to the dog" party on Saturday.