© Yvonne Harper

Winner, 2012 ‘Feast of Poetry Competition’, Cooma NSW.

“I need you Meg to saddle up for you and I must ride
to save our sheep on Hayter’s Hill – but stay close by my side!
And if the smoke becomes too dense and makes it hard to see,
use common sense and save yourself – don’t hesitate to flee!”

With Dad’s words ringing in my ears, I wheeled El Cid around.
At break neck speed, we galloped hard across the parched, brown ground
towards the hill, backlit by flames, where bracken ferns grow high,
that make an ideal hiding place for frightened sheep to lie.

In single file our climb began, the smell of smoke intense,
but Dad pressed on – his head held high – which gave me confidence.
By now a scorching westerly was roaring up the hill,
and embers cracked like guns engaged in rapid fire-drill.

The track was very narrow where the gully dropped away,
but as El Cid trod steadily, I held my fears at bay.
My Dad had said he was a horse on whom I could rely
which certainly proved very true as debris whistled by.

From time to time, we’d stop to send our kelpies out to seek
the scattered sheep and set them running down towards the creek
to join with mobs now moving down, as fast as they could go,
while we rode upward into smoke, shot through with fiery glow.

By now our dogs had lost their bark; their swollen tongues hung out.
I cracked my whip with all my might; my voice rose to a shout,
which quickly turned into a croak yet scared a few sheep from
the undergrowth of bracken fern – the perfect fire-bomb.

Some frightened sheep just wouldn’t budge, so Dad jumped from his horse.
Though flames were getting very close, I saw him summon force
to drive the sheep from ferny glens as smoke enveloped us,
and as we battled down the hill, I’m sure I heard him cuss!

The sheep had merged into one mob; we pushed them through the ford,
until we yarded them at last – a blackened, panting horde.
We too were black from ash and dust and savaged by the heat.
Our lips were cracked; our eyes red-raw, but we were far from beat.

And then, we heard a thunder-clap – an overwhelming roar.
“My oath, it’s coming.” muttered Dad as birds began to soar.
We waited stricken, as the smoke and fire gathered pace,
a look of growing terror painted on my paling face.

But while we stood and watched we felt the wind begin to drop.
It lulled and waned to spring once more but then it seemed to stop.
An eerie calmness settled, heralding a weather shift,
then softly from the South, a cooling breeze began to lift.

“I won’t forget what you did, Meg.  You helped me win this fight.
The southerly will cool things off; the sheep are safe tonight.”
Slumped wearily we rode for home, the south sky growing dark.
As clouds rolled in and thunder growled, our dogs began to bark!

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