Black Thursday


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

FOOTNOTE:
Australia is well know for it's bushfires. My first experience was in 1979 in the Blue Mountains. Four years later in 1983 was the infamous Ash Wednesday fires which is burned into Victorians memories. Then of course was the tragic fires in Tasmania.
The Summer of 2002 saw NSW alight, and this year (2003) the destruction of Canberra (The Bush City) and the Snowy's.
Black Thursday was the name given to 6th February 1851 when a series of bushfires burning throughout Victoria reached their climax, when the temperature in Melbourne reached an incredible 47 deg C.

T.Clitheroe (2003).




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