Vonda Stanley's collection of early Australian bush poems




Note:  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.

Yes, I remember, 'Twas in February,

The sun for months had drunk and drunk from earth

It's hidden moisture, till 'Twas cracked and rent

And rendered hard and obdurate as stone.

The grass that grew upon the upland slopes,

And in the gullies 'tween the mighty hills,

The slumbering valleys, and the wide spread plains,

Was sapless as the bark that yearly falls

From off the gum trees, and beneath the foot

It cracked like to pine twigs in the fire.

Day after day, week after week, the wind

Came scorching from his distant desert home

And left no greenness on the earth at all.

The birds upon the trees sat all agape,

And in their voices erst all mirth and song;

There was a sadness pitiful to hear;

The forest, rusty green, with leaves adroop,

As to the blast it bent, groaned to the core;

Inanimate, as well as animate things

Panted for drink, to quench their eager thirst,

For one long draught of heaven's delightful tears!


The sun arose upon that dreadful morn,

In dusky luridness; no bright broad smile,

Adorned his face; 'twas like the countenance

Of wretched mortal, whose charred heart conceives

Nothing save bitter malice to his kind---

Scowling portentious of a coming ill.


Warm as the breath of furnace came the wind,

Lifting the withered leaves that scattered lay;

And bore them off in clouds upon its wing,

Till, weary of their cumulated weight,

It let them pattering fall again to earth.

The dogs beside the hut doors panting lay;

Their tongues bedusted, and their wretched eyes

Red with the action of the fevered wind;

And man stood wond'ring much unto himself,

Or saw his neighbour, who, like to himself,

Was big with the same readiness to say,

"Was ever such a day as this before?"

Noon came; but in the room of sitting down

To midday meal and social converse,

Their ears were startled by the cry of fire!

On every side was heard the fearful cry,

On every side was seen the raging flames,

Springing as 'twere from out of the very earth!

Man stood aghast and helpless as a child,

Or hurried with a hastily plucked bough,

Thinking to stay the enemy's career.

Oh madness and delusion!  'twas in vain;

For, soon discomfitted with smoke and flame,

He coughed, and gasped, and wept big tears, which left

A dark spot, for a moment, where they fell.

And then their traces were for ever lost

Amongst the ashes of the burnt up grass.


And women, pale and mute with very fear

Huddled together on some grassless spot,

And saw their homes and all their household wealth,

That years of strict economy and thrift,

Labour, and self-denial had produced,

Reduced to ashes in a moment's time.

Whilst children, with their big and wondering eyes,

Clung closely round them, trembling with affright!

Oh! 'twas a fearful sight---whole fields of corn---

Some waiting but the sickle's jagged edge

To yeild their owners wealth for labour spent,

Others already gathered into sheaves,

And placed in stooks, that glads the farmer's heart

With visions of a speedy harvest home---

Were swept away from earth, and left no tale

To tell of their existence, save a few

Charred pickles here and there,

And halfburnt ears

That the infuriated flames could not

Spare time sufficient in their mad career,

To utterly destroy; and milking kine,

That lay with half shut eyes and chewed the cud,

Were in a moment circled round with flame,

And thus bewildered, died; and flocks of sheep,

That spread themselves along the ranges' sides,

Searching among the mass of withered grass

For every hidden blade of greener hue,

Were driven together by the furious flames

Into a fold, as 'twere, to small by half;

Where leaping on each other in their fear,

Hundreds were trampled to the very death!

And slugging teams, that crept along the road

With hanging tongues and flanks that heaved full sore,

Their sides, all scarred and blistered with the lash,

Were by the drivers left beneath their loads

To perish or escape, as best they might!

Whole forests blazed; the very topmost boughs

Where the white-headed eagle hawk was wont

To perch in royal majesty, and gaze

O'er fields immense of dense waving wood,

Escaped not, but were made a moment's sport,

To some gigantic flame.  And when at length

The robe of night was hung around the earth

There was a scene presented to the eye

Of such like grandeur, that the pen of bard

Or artist's pencil---mighty though they be---

Must ever fail to truthfully portray.

The hill tops seemed to be a wall of fire---

Its jagged crest fraught with a wonderous life

That leaped and flared in ruleless fitfulness;

And ever and anon, as some old tree

Came toppling down and shook the lap of earth,

A myriad sparks flew up into the air,

And formed a glory separate and grand---

Its term of life, a moment, when 'twas lost

For ever midst the mass of moving flame!...


Mitchell Kilgour Beveridge

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