From BLACK THURSDAY
Black Thursday was the name given to 6th February 1851 when a series of
bushfires burning throughout Victoria reached their climax.
The temperature in Melbourne reached 47 deg C.
I remember, 'Twas in February,
sun for months had drunk and drunk from earth
hidden moisture, till 'Twas cracked and rent
rendered hard and obdurate as stone.
grass that grew upon the upland slopes,
in the gullies 'tween the mighty hills,
slumbering valleys, and the wide spread plains,
sapless as the bark that yearly falls
off the gum trees, and beneath the foot
cracked like to pine twigs in the fire.
after day, week after week, the wind
scorching from his distant desert home
left no greenness on the earth at all.
birds upon the trees sat all agape,
in their voices erst all mirth and song;
was a sadness pitiful to hear;
forest, rusty green, with leaves adroop,
to the blast it bent, groaned to the core;
as well as animate things
for drink, to quench their eager thirst,
one long draught of heaven's delightful tears!
sun arose upon that dreadful morn,
dusky luridness; no bright broad smile,
his face; 'twas like the countenance
wretched mortal, whose charred heart conceives
save bitter malice to his kind---
portentious of a coming ill.
as the breath of furnace came the wind,
the withered leaves that scattered lay;
bore them off in clouds upon its wing,
weary of their cumulated weight,
let them pattering fall again to earth.
dogs beside the hut doors panting lay;
tongues bedusted, and their wretched eyes
with the action of the fevered wind;
man stood wond'ring much unto himself,
saw his neighbour, who, like to himself,
big with the same readiness to say,
ever such a day as this before?"
came; but in the room of sitting down
midday meal and social converse,
ears were startled by the cry of fire!
every side was heard the fearful cry,
every side was seen the raging flames,
as 'twere from out of the very earth!
stood aghast and helpless as a child,
hurried with a hastily plucked bough,
to stay the enemy's career.
madness and delusion! 'twas in
soon discomfitted with smoke and flame,
coughed, and gasped, and wept big tears, which left
dark spot, for a moment, where they fell.
then their traces were for ever lost
the ashes of the burnt up grass.
women, pale and mute with very fear
together on some grassless spot,
saw their homes and all their household wealth,
years of strict economy and thrift,
and self-denial had produced,
to ashes in a moment's time.
children, with their big and wondering eyes,
closely round them, trembling with affright!
'twas a fearful sight---whole fields of corn---
waiting but the sickle's jagged edge
yeild their owners wealth for labour spent,
already gathered into sheaves,
placed in stooks, that glads the farmer's heart
visions of a speedy harvest home---
swept away from earth, and left no tale
tell of their existence, save a few
pickles here and there,
the infuriated flames could not
time sufficient in their mad career,
utterly destroy; and milking kine,
lay with half shut eyes and chewed the cud,
in a moment circled round with flame,
thus bewildered, died; and flocks of sheep,
spread themselves along the ranges' sides,
among the mass of withered grass
every hidden blade of greener hue,
driven together by the furious flames
a fold, as 'twere, to small by half;
leaping on each other in their fear,
were trampled to the very death!
slugging teams, that crept along the road
hanging tongues and flanks that heaved full sore,
sides, all scarred and blistered with the lash,
by the drivers left beneath their loads
perish or escape, as best they might!
forests blazed; the very topmost boughs
the white-headed eagle hawk was wont
perch in royal majesty, and gaze
fields immense of dense waving wood,
not, but were made a moment's sport,
some gigantic flame. And when at
robe of night was hung around the earth
was a scene presented to the eye
such like grandeur, that the pen of bard
artist's pencil---mighty though they be---
ever fail to truthfully portray.
hill tops seemed to be a wall of fire---
jagged crest fraught with a wonderous life
leaped and flared in ruleless fitfulness;
ever and anon, as some old tree
toppling down and shook the lap of earth,
myriad sparks flew up into the air,
formed a glory separate and grand---
term of life, a moment, when 'twas lost
For ever midst the mass of moving flame!...
Mitchell Kilgour Beveridge