Henry Lawson ( )

The Fire at Rosss Farm

The squatter saw his pastures wide 
Decrease, as one by one 
The farmers moving to the west 
Selected on his run; 
Selectors took the water up 
And all the black soil round; 
The best grass-land the squatter had 
Was spoilt by Rosss Ground. 

Now many schemes to shift old Ross 
Had racked the squatters brains, 
But Sandy had the stubborn blood 
Of Scotland in his veins; 
He held the land and fenced it in, 
He cleared and ploughed the soil, 
And year by year a richer crop 
Repaid him for his toil. 

Between the homes for many years 
The devil left his tracks: 
The squatter pounded Rosss stock, 
And Sandy pounded Blacks. 
A well upon the lower run 
Was filled with earth and logs, 
And Black laid baits about the farm 
To poison Rosss dogs. 

It was, indeed, a deadly feud 
Of class and creed and race; 
But, yet, there was a Romeo 
And a Juliet in the case; 
And more than once across the flats, 
Beneath the Southern Cross, 
Young Robert Black was seen to ride 
With pretty Jenny Ross. 

One Christmas time, when months of drought 
Had parched the western creeks, 
The bush-fires started in the north 
And travelled south for weeks. 
At night along the river-side 
The scene was grand and strange -- 
The hill-fires looked like lighted streets 
Of cities in the range. 

The cattle-tracks between the trees 
Were like long dusky aisles, 
And on a sudden breeze the fire 
Would sweep along for miles; 
Like sounds of distant musketry 
It crackled through the brakes, 
And oer the flat of silver grass 
It hissed like angry snakes. 

It leapt across the flowing streams 
And raced oer pastures broad; 
It climbed the trees and lit the boughs 
And through the scrubs it roared. 
The bees fell stifled in the smoke 
Or perished in their hives, 
And with the stock the kangaroos 
Went flying for their lives. 

The sun had set on Christmas Eve, 
When, through the scrub-lands wide, 
Young Robert Black came riding home 
As only natives ride. 
He galloped to the homestead door 
And gave the first alarm: 
`The fire is past the granite spur, 
`And close to Rosss farm. 

`Now, father, send the men at once, 
They wont be wanted here; 
Poor Rosss wheat is all he has 
To pull him through the year. 
`Then let it burn, the squatter said; 
`Id like to see it done -- 
Id bless the fire if it would clear 
Selectors from the run. 

`Go if you will, the squatter said, 
`You shall not take the men -- 
Go out and join your precious friends, 
And dont come here again. 
`I wont come back, young Robert cried, 
And, reckless in his ire, 
He sharply turned his horses head 
And galloped towards the fire. 

And there, for three long weary hours, 
Half-blind with smoke and heat, 
Old Ross and Robert fought the flames 
That neared the ripened wheat. 
The farmers hand was nerved by fears 
Of danger and of loss; 
And Robert fought the stubborn foe 
For the love of Jenny Ross. 

But serpent-like the curves and lines 
Slipped past them, and between, 
Until they reached the boundry where 
The old coach-road had been. 
`The track is now our only hope, 
There we must stand, cried Ross, 
`For nought on earth can stop the fire 
If once it gets across. 

Then came a cruel gust of wind, 
And, with a fiendish rush, 
The flames leapt oer the narrow path 
And lit the fence of brush. 
`The crop must burn! the farmer cried, 
`We cannot save it now, 
And down upon the blackened ground 
He dashed the ragged bough. 

But wildly, in a rush of hope, 
His heart began to beat, 
For oer the crackling fire he heard 
The sound of horses feet. 
`Heres help at last, young Robert cried, 
And even as he spoke 
The squatter with a dozen men 
Came racing through the smoke. 

Down on the ground the stockmen jumped 
And bared each brawny arm, 
They tore green branches from the trees 
And fought for Rosss farm; 
And when before the gallant band 
The beaten flames gave way, 
Two grimy hands in friendship joined -- 
And it was Christmas Day.

Henry Lawson's other poems:
  1. Wide Lies Australia
  2. Mount Bukaroo
  3. To an Old Mate
  4. The League of Nations
  5. Camerons Heart

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