The Fire at Ross's Farm

Henry Lawson, 1890

      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 Ross's Ground.

      Now many schemes to shift old Ross
             Had racked the squatter's 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 Ross's stock,
             And Sandy pounded Black's.
      A well upon the lower run
             Was filled with earth and logs,
      And Black laid baits about the farm
             To poison Ross's 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 o'er the flat of silver grass
             It hissed like angry snakes.

      It leapt across the flowing streams
             And raced o'er 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 Ross's farm.'

      'Now, father, send the men at once,
             They won't be wanted here;
      Poor Ross's wheat is all he has
             To pull him through the year.'
      'Then let it burn,' the squatter said;
             'I'd like to see it done —
      I'd 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 don't come here again.'
      'I won't come back,' young Robert cried,
             And, reckless in his ire,
      He sharply turned his horse's 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 farmer's 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 bound'ry 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 o'er 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 o'er the crackling fire he heard
             The sound of horses' feet.
      'Here's 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 Ross's farm;
      And when before the gallant band
             The beaten flames gave way,
      Two grimy hands in friendship joined —
             And it was Christmas Day.