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Classic and Contemporary Poetry

THE FIRE AT THOMPSON'S FORD, by                    
First Line: Hottest of hot december's days
Last Line: "'shearers wanted, union rates.'"
Alternate Author Name(s): Wamba
Subject(s): Fire;labor & Laborers;sheep

HOTTEST of hot December's days,
Fierce and strong are the sun's keen rays,
The north wind's sulphurous breath blows strong;
Even the magpie stills his song.
Over the pools of the stagnant creek
Steaming hangs the vaporous reek.
Under the scanty she-oaks crowd
Panting cattle, breathing loud.

Slowly, out in the eastern sky,
A wreath of smoke climbs clear and high,
It sways in the air like a tangled cord—
A fire has started at Thompson's ford!

Thompson's shed is late this year,
Most of his sheep are yet to shear;
"Blackleg" labour, with half a board—
No "truck" with the union at Thompson's ford.
The union camp breaks up today;
Horses are saddled and ready, but stay!
Thompson shears with "scabs". Just so,
But a big bushfire is a common foe.

Down the old gully, along the flat,
Red Bill leading with one-eyed Mat;
Past the stockyard, over the brush,
Mat now first, the rest in a crush;
Seven long miles in a blazing sun,
And yet the prelude has but begun.

The flames in mountains roar and swirl;
Dense black smoke-clouds over them curl;
Bounding, crackling, leaping higher—
Ah, strong men shrink from a big bushfire!
"A real old bender," says Mat, "good Lord!
But we've got to stop her at Thompson's ford."
The river at Thompson's ford runs low—
"But the homestead goes if it's crossed, you know."

Yes, that was a battle, and, even now,
The very thought just pains my brow.
Choked with smoke, dry as a board,
With our teeth hard-set we hold the ford.

Side by side in that desperate band,
Squatter and shearer, hand to hand,
Fought like tigers for hour on hour,
Never a man was seen to cower.
The sun in the west began to sink,
When, choking, panting, gasping for drink,
We sent up a cheer, aye, how we roared—
We had stopped the fire at Thompson's ford!

Next year, Thompson's notice states:
"Shearers wanted, union rates."

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