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 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.

This work is in the public domain in Australia because it was created in Australia and the term of copyright has expired.

See Australian Copyright Council - Duration of Copyright (August 2014).

This work is also in the public domain in the United States because it was in the public domain in Australia in 1996, and no copyright was registered in the U.S. (This is the combined effect of Australia having joining the Berne Convention in 1928, and of 17 USC 104A with its critical date of January 1, 1996.)

This work is in the public domain in the United States because it was published before January 1, 1925.

The author died in 1922, so this work is also in the public domain in countries and areas where the copyright term is the author's life plus 80 years or less. This work may also be in the public domain in countries and areas with longer native copyright terms that apply the rule of the shorter term to foreign works.