[Editor: This poem by Henry Lawson was published in Short Stories in Prose and Verse (1894) and In the Days When the World Was Wide and Other Verses (1896).]
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 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 oft at eve across the flats,
Beneath the Southern Cross,
Young Robert Black was seen to ride
With pretty Jenny Ross.
There came at last a Christmas time,
With fear and ruin dire,
For many miles around the run
The scrub-lands were on fire.
(And when the shades of evening fell
The scene was grand and strange —
The hill-fires gleamed 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 thro’ the breaks,
And o’er the flat of growing 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,
Let’s act as white men should;
Poor Ross’s wheat is all he has
To buy his children food.”
“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 father’s foes,
And don’t come here again.”
“I’ll not return,” young Robert cried,
All reckless in his ire —
And then he turned his horse’s head
And galloped to 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 love of Jenny Ross.
But inch by inch the stubborn foe
Compelled them to retreat
Until they reached the narrow track
That ran above the wheat;
“The track is now our only hope,
There we must stand,” cried Ross,
“For nought on earth can stop the flames
If once they get across.”
Then came a cruel gust of wind,
And, with a sudden rush,
The flames leapt o’er the narrow path
And lit the fence of bush.
“The crop must burn!” the farmer cried,
“We cannot save it now,”
And down upon the blackened ground
He dashed the blackened 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 and a dozen men
Came bursting 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. Short Stories in Prose and Verse, L. Lawson, Sydney, , pages 40-45
A Nemaric says
You could describe The Fire at Ross’s Farm, as a story a trifle long,
Or you could say it is a fair effort, with a final verse that is strong,
I wonder what was the eventual star crossed lovers’ fate,
In any event the poem is not good, far from it, it is great!
Arlene Patterson says
I love this ballad. Perfect to read aloud on Christmas Eve. Thank you Kel Watkins for introducing me to the ballads of Henry Lawson and Banjo Patterson. I spent 8 months in Australia once, mostly in the outback, playing my fiddle (busking and playing at folk clubs) to pay my way. My mum told our Glasgow neighbors I was on a tour of open air concerts. “Ah could nae tell the neighbors ye were begging”, she explained.