Henry Lawson wrote many poems that captured the character of rural Australia in his time and the harshness of life in the bush, but this one is my favourite. It’s a little sad and a little funny, as well as being about drought, dust storms and bushfires (despite the opening line it’s not about war)…
Ah, better the thud of the deadly gun, and the crash of the bursting shell,
Than the terrible silence where drought is fought out there in the western hell;
And better the rattle of rifles near, or the thunder on deck at sea,
Than the sound – most hellish of all to hear – of fire where it should not be.
On the runs to the west of the Dingo Scrubs there was drought, and ruin, and death,
And the sandstorm came from the dread north-east with the blast of a furnace-breath;
Till at last one day, at the fierce sunrise, a boundary-rider woke,
And saw, in the place of the distant haze, a curtain of light blue smoke.
There is saddling-up by the cockey’s hut, and out in the station yard,
And away to the north, north-east, north-west, the Bushmen are riding hard.
The pickets are out and many a scout and many a mulga wire,
While Bill and Jim, with their faces grim, are riding to meet the fire.
It roars for days in the hopeless scrubs, and across, where the ground seems bare,
With a cackle and hiss, like the hissing of snakes, the fire is travelling there;
Till at last, exhausted by sleeplessness, and the terrible toil and heat,
The squatter is crying, ‘My God! the wool!’ and the farmer, ‘My God! the wheat!’
But there comes a drunkard (who reels as he rides), with the news from the roadside pub:-
‘Pat Murphy – the cockey – cut off by the fire! – way back in the Dingo Scrub!’
‘Let the wheat and the woolshed go to’- -Well, they do as each great heart bids;
They are riding a race for the Dingo Scrub – for Pat and his wife and kids.
And who is leading the race with death? An ill-matched three, you’ll allow;
Flash Jim the Breaker and Boozing Bill (who is riding steadily now),
And Constable Dunn, of the Mounted Police, is riding between the two,
(He wants Flash Jim, but the job can wait till they get the Murphys through).
As they strike the track through the blazing scrub, the trooper is heard to shout:
‘We’ll take them on to the Two-mile Tank, if we cannot bring them out!’
A half-mile more, and the rest rein back, retreating, half-choked, half-blind;
And the three are gone from the sight of men, and the bush fire roars behind.