Peasant Autonomy
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Story 57

A hamlet in New South Wales, Australia – 1914 (1)

Forest Fire

for bigger picture click on this photo

(Photo: Bertknot)


The situation is desperate. It is so hot, the flames burn the hair on the hands and arms of the men from the hamlet Durilgai. Their eyes are red and weeping, the smoke burns in their throat and lungs. And what in fact can they accomplish? They have fastened bags to sticks with iron wire, and with them they beat out the flames like mad. At least, that is what they try to do. But the flames are clever, again and again they know how to reach some grass and withered twigs, and crawl further. Till they arrive again at tinder-dry bush, which a moment later burns like a torch. Or at a pine tree, which is coated in resin, and will go up in smoke as well.

A group of children with bare feet comes running up. They are from the hamlet and head for the sweating men. They are out of breath, and can only utter a single word. But the men do understand it quite well. While they were trying to stop the fire here, the wind has blown the forest fire from the other side to their farms and huts. They look at each other. They are defeated. They put a chew of tobacco in their mouth. But a few moments later, they still untie their horses, which are eager to leave, and ride to the hamlet.

for bigger picture click on this photo

(Photo: Doug Beckers)

New South Wales.

The fire has indeed arrived frighteningly close to a few farms. In the meantime it has become dark. Actually it is a bewitching view, all these golden-yellow and orange flames, which crawl up into the trees, and throw down burning branches. The men strike here and there at some creeping flames on the ground. But they are too tired. They almost don't know what they’re doing any more. Often they gaze into the flames, like they want to walk right into them. They are lost.

Then, suddenly, one of the children shouts. He has caught a drop on his hand, which glitters like a diamond. And another drop, and another. The children laugh. A lightning flash, and a deafening thunderbolt. And then it rains countless life-saving drops. The men, women and children walk back to their huts and farms. For days it smells of ash. Soon, little green blades raise their heads everywhere.


In the novel The tree of man (1956) the Australian author Patrick White describes in an almost poetic way the lives and feelings of a farmer and his wife on a small farm.

Go to:
= part 2: Failure - a hamlet in New South Wales, Australia – about 1935 (2), story 87.
= the next page: My padrino - the pampas of Argentina – 1916, story 58.
= the Table of contents, story 57.