The Fire At Ross’s 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 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 track
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 bushfires started in the north
And travelled south for weeks
At night along the riverside
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 breaks
And o’er the flat of silver grass
It hissed like angry snakes

It leapt across the flowing streams
And raced the 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
“You shall not take the men –
Go out and join your precious friends
And don’t come back 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 blinded 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 boundary where
The old coach track 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 over 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 over the crackling fire he heard
The sound of horse’s 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.

Henry Lawson