FROM THE RECOLLECTIONS OF OSSIE & DON WELLSMORE
THE DAY THE FIRES CAME 1939.
A blistering, scorching day, we were caught up in the fray,
In the way of an unstoppable great fire,
Taking all within its path, waiting for the aftermath,
Fear and loathing now of natures wrath, the flames were soaring higher
Two days and nights we battled, on foot and in the saddle,
Just chaff bags soaked in water trying to keep the blaze at bay.
No choppers then or planes, no fire trucks, no rain,
No rest, no sleep, no time to stop, we fought her night and day.
The scorching wind, terrific, consequently, quite horrific,
Our home for generations now, these mountains that we love.
Hills and valleys, open plains, Snowy River, raw terrain,
Unforgiving, unforgettable, we prayed to god above¦
The heat was so intense, livestock perished by the fence,
The enormous strain of fire and heat, it left its deadly brand.
The pressure was so great; man or beast would not escape,
Fighting on defiantly, we had to make a stand¦
It was in mid afternoon, with intensity and gloom,
The fire was right upon us now, she held us in her grip.
There was nowhere left to shelter from the searing heat and swelter,
We would have to take our chances and take cover in the dip.
For those who do not know, it is where the sheep must go,
To rid them of the maggots, that infest the wool and skin.
Pure arsenic mixed with water, felt like lambs into the slaughter,
Our only hope of shelter, or the fire would surely win.
We were over by the gate, then with a twist of fate,
The fire appeared from nowhere and came roaring up the road.
We surely did take fright; Dad came running in to sight,
He grabbed us, one under each arm, toward the dip he strode.
There were ten or twelve inside, in that arsenic water tide,
The men still on the outside, pouring water overhead.
For the fiery wind so hot, it would take the flaming lot.
If we didnt keep the water up wed surely burn instead.
A kangaroo dog, he jumped in, to save his scalding skin,
A hunting dog, quite greyhound like, and almost whippet thin,
We filled up every space; fear possessed our hearts, our face.
Women, children, baby boy, neighbours, friends and kin.
Then the baby caught alight, what a bleak god awful sight!
No time to think or hesitate must act and act damn quick.
Dad grabbed the nearest pail, doused the babes flames without fail,
But within the pail not water, but pure foul arsenic¦
That baby turned bright yellow, in the stinking sheep dip shallows,
The flames were out! The baby boy, his life was surely saved!
His mother washed him off in the arsenic water trough,
No time for self-admonishment we had to all be brave.
Uncle Chris dropped to his knees, praying for a last reprieve,
Down below the house, the fire came and burnt him off the post.
Well bugger ya he said, Im not planning to be dead,
He ran back to the stables then to let the horses go.
I was on grandmothers knee, embers flying so fiercely,
They would fall and burn her arms that held me safe within the dip.
She would grimace with the pain, in the scorching ember rain,
But not once did she dare loosen her protective vice-like grip.
In the confusion smoke and heat, came the words hard to repeat,
Is my house gone? Grandma asked, and simply yes, came her reply.
Her head dropped in defeat, teardrops glistened on her cheek,
Its the only day I ever, ever saw my grandma cry¦
The fire passed over head, thought that we were surely dead,
Like a freight train it went roaring with such power heat and force.
Then everything went still, body tingled, spine it chilled,
The fire had passed us over; wed survived its deadly course.
When we slowly did emerge, from the arsenic water scourge,
Surreal, such desolation, wed escaped a fiery hell.
A stranger then appeared, from the paddock, singed and seared,
He made it to the water tank and then collapsed and fell.
Grandpa fought a gallant fight, for two full days and nights,
Side by side with all the men, he took the hits and dives.
But a mighty price he paid, had a heart attack that day,
Fading in and out of consciousness, hed surely saved our lives.
Other men dropped where they stood, they had done the best they could,
Had they just collapsed exhausted? Firestruck? We did not know.
We poured water overhead, prayed to God that they werent dead,
We hoped we could retrieve our car then in to town wed go.
Some luck had come our way; our car was saved that day,
Our dodge was in a dried out dam and somehow it was spared.
We all climbed or clambered in, arsenic burning on our skin,
A dishevelled, beat-up, barefoot lot, but no-one really cared.
We headed then for town; no-one moved or made a sound,
The searing heat and savagery, it took enormous toll,
The cattle and the sheep, hooves were dropping from their feet,
No land untouched, all obsolete, our livelihood it stole¦
Buckleys Crossing now not far, in the safety of our car,
We drove to meet the others who survived that fateful day.
We arrived at the hotel, quite a sight and quite a smell,
The verandah full of country folk whod all escaped the fray.
Some eyes squinting, some grew wide, no hiding their surprise,
No way to get a message through, so on to town wed pressed.
Some were neighbours, some were friends, doing double take again,
They could not recognize us we were such an awful mess!
They kindly took us in, truly treated us like kin,
They fed and clothed and washed us and the bush nurse, she came too.
Eyes were bathed, our wounds were dressed, we all needed sleep and rest
The nurse took care of Grandpa, did the best that she could do¦
When we ventured home again, our lives forever changed,
The loss was so enormous, we would rebuild with regret,
To survive through such a fire, natures giant funeral pyre,
It is something neither man nor beast could ever soon forget¦
Our small home had not burnt down, but when we had a look around,
A hole in our verandah burnt, a dinner plate in size!
But it didnt catch alight, quite amazing in hindsight,
So we all moved in together, to the task ahead wed rise.
So many stock had perished, blackened earth, the land we cherished,
The fences, livestock, homestead gone, now years of work ahead.
We battled on determined, to defeat that fiery vermin,
We rose up from the ashes to rebuild our lives instead.
The things I most remember, from the day of falling ember,
Were the piles of white bleached bones, where livestock perished by the fence.
They remained that way for years, through the blood and sweat and tears,
Stark reminders of that fateful day, the memories intense.
Unforgettable for me, It was my birthday too you see,
Mother made a special birthday cake, left cooling on the tray.
But while they checked our houses fate, the men ate half my cake!
Well, I guess no one was game to light a candle on that day¦
Some my memories, some were told, from a bygone day of old,
Our lives were changed forever by that January day¦
Grandmas house gone, Babe in flames, Grandpa never quite the same.
But, you know that babes an old man now, and still alive today!
Many years have come and gone, still our legacy lives on,
Seven generations now, our passion, time cant quell.
Then January zero-three, fire struck again you see,
And my son now has a fire story of his own to tell¦
Its a hard life on the land, and we all must lend a hand,
Through fire, feast or famine, your resolve must never wain,
Still the images can haunt me; they can paralyse and taunt me,
Etched in my memory still remains the day the fires came¦
The day the fires came¦ The day the fires came¦
Lee Taylor-Friend copyright 2005