© Arthur Green

Winner, 2008 Walla Walla Wagon Wheel Award, Albury, Victoria.

Pungent wood-smoke wafts a warning, in the Outback’s early morning,
though the distant, smoke-filled columns, climbing high,
were sufficient confirmation of the looming devastation
if one cared to cast a glance towards the sky.

Bush bred Sarah-Jane, at thirteen, over breakfast, hadn’t foreseen
how events that day would change the life she knew.
Adding to her consternation was that morning’s altercation
over what her mum felt girls her age should do.

“Boarding school is not forever, and I’m sure you’ll hardly ever
even miss us all, so save those tearful pleas.
We’ll discuss it more tomorrow, with your Dad who’ll have to borrow
what you’ll need for clothes and books and first year’s fees.”

Sarah-Jane was devastated and refused to be placated
by her mum’s appeal to see things from their side.
“What about Flynn’s care and grooming, while I’m gone for two years rooming
with some city girl I’ll bet can’t even ride?”

Errol Flynn, the movie actor, was of course, the major factor
in how Sarah’s horse acquired his fancy name.
Wielding sword or gun or sabre, she’d watched Errol Flynn belabour
endless villains in his climb to movie fame.

Sarah’s dad had left at daybreak – said he planned to cut a firebreak
with the `dozer through the bush behind the creek.
With the time now well past mid-day and the bushfire heading their way,
Sarah’s mum voiced thoughts they both were loathe to speak.

“Could well be your dad’s in trouble. Saddle Flynn; he’ll carry double.
Pray your father isn’t trapped among the trees.
Flynn, I’m sure, will bring you both in. Trust his horse’s intuition.
Find dad, Sarah. Ride like fury. Find him ... please.”

Through the dense smoke, gum-tree scented, Sarah rode like one demented.
Flynn soared over gates and fences in their way.
Dreading what her dad was facing from the firestorm they were racing,
Sarah prayed, please God, don’t let him die today.

Pinned beneath a fallen gum-tree, Sarah found her dad, but could she
lift it off him to escape what lay in store?
Looking `round in desperation, Sarah searched for inspiration,
through her years of outback training in bush-lore.

“Fear not, Dad, I should be able, if I hitch the dozer’s cable
`round that branch above, to winch that gum-tree free.”
“Leave it Lass. Forget the `dozer. Hear that roar? It’s getting closer.
Save yourself and Flynn. It’s too late. Leave me be.”

Burning embers fell around them. Dense smoke added to the mayhem.
Minutes passed as Sarah strove persistently;
praying hard she’d be successful, then as Dad’s pleas grew more stressful,
branch and cable took the strain and he was free.

Frantic-eyed and agitated, Flynn, despite his fear had waited,
though survival instincts screamed at him to run,
but at last, when both had mounted, he knew now each second counted,
and their race with death had finally begun.

As the firestorm grew more fearsome, through the flames they flew, that threesome,
clearing fallen trees and stumps with every bound.
Flames above their heads were roaring, like some fiendish monster drawing
ever closer with its terrifying sound.

Then appeared the creek’s deep water – safe refuge for dad and daughter,
and for Flynn, of course, who’d saved them all that day.
When at last the flames had ended and a smoky haze descended,
homeward bound, the trio made their weary way.

At the homestead, scanning vainly through the burnt-out bush that plainly
held no hope that those she loved were still alive,
Sarah’s mother paused while making vows of things she’d be forsaking
if such sacrifice might help them to survive.

Could that be, with dusk descending, in the distance, three shapes wending
their way home as if in answer to her prayer?
Without conscious thought she’s crying tears of joy as she went flying
to assure herself that they were really there.

Clean and rested, some time after, Sarah deftly steered the laughter
of relief at their miraculous return,
to an all-important matter that transcended idle chatter;
well aware of bonus points her ride could earn.

“Mum, imagine this was next year; me at boarding school and not here,
and that bushfire came rampaging through again,
and dad needed help real badly, but no Flynn and me, so sadly,
what might happen could be far more different then.”

“And since bush kids should forever, be allowed to roam wherever
they’ve a mind to, which sounds just like Flynn and me,
and since Dad says that I’ll never need to ever be more clever,
let’s skip boarding school next year. Don’t you agree?”

“You’ve a point,” her mother answers, after weighing up the chances
that the bush-fire threat could well appear again,
“but since Dad, I swear, will never cut another fire-break ever,
it’s still boarding school for you, Miss Sarah-Jane.”

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