Thursday, 16 January 2020

Poem From the Past - The Phantom Horseman of Cricket Pitch Ridge by John Meredith, c.1961

Click on pictures for full-screen image

Poem © John Meredith


Thanks to Ian Hamilton for supplying this poem & story.


Photo of the Heathcote Bush Fire Engine about that time, it was parked up the top of Dillwynnia Grove. Photo
© Ron Nixon


Loughlin home - Forest Rd Heathcote, with Rocky the blue cattle dog. Photo
© Ron Nixon.

Jack Barrie & Brian Loughlin were friends & neighbours of John Meredith & members of The Heathcote Bushwhackers.


On 1 February 1999 folklorist John Meredith received a phone call from Pat Kennedy, who was writing a history of Heathcote.  Pat wanted permission to include a poem that John had written back in 1961 about a big bushfire that had threatened the district.  John had lost his copy and, when Pat was asked where he had found the poem he wished to include in his history, he told John, It’s pasted on the back of the door of the Brigade’s hut in Heathcote!

Pat Kennedy quickly supplied John with a copy and in his introduction to the poem, titled The Phantom Horseman of Cricket Pitch Ridge, Pat wrote: ‘This particular fire was burning on a freezing cold night, somewhere between the Heathcote Oval and the old railway weir in 1952.’

The Phantom Horseman of Cricket Pitch Ridge

The fire burnt up near the edge of the township,
But down in the gully we held it at bay -
‘If the wind gets round to the west,’ said Jack Barrie
‘We must warn all the folk to get out of the way!’

So on Cricket Pitch Ridge six good watchers were posted,
(The fire crept on in the gully below)
And the six men, they sat and watched and shivered
As a freezing south-easterly started to blow.

It was close on to midnight, the wind had grown colder,
When hoofbeats were heard on the chill mountain air,
And a queer ghostly voice set the echoes aflying:
‘Hollo-o-o! Hollo-o-o! Hollo-o-o! Are you there?’

‘Over here!’ yelled Jack Barrie; the horseman drew near
And a bundle of blankets he threw on the ground.
Then he wheeled his black mount and rode into the darkness,
Over the rocks without ever a sound.

‘Who was it Jack?’ asked Billy Fitzgerald.
‘Don’t know him,’ says Barrie, ‘D’you know him, Blue?’
Blue didn’t know, nor did Locko, nor Loveday,
It seems he was someone that nobody knew.

But one thing we did know, his blankets were warm ones,
We wrapped them around us and watched through the night;
Then shouldered our knapsack-sprays, climbed down the gully
And battled the fire in the morning’s pale light.

It was under control, just a few stumps to spray now,
The westerly wind was no more to be feared.
We left two men on duty, returned to the blankets,
But when we got back they had all disappeared!

If that horseman was real, then he carries my blessing;
I won’t wish him wealth, or good fortune, or gold,
(For all my mates think he must have been ghostly)
Wherever he is, may he never go cold.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~

email from Ron Nixon, Pam's nephew, 16th January 2020

In relation to the photo of “John Meredith’s” home at Heathcote, I’m sorry for any confusion but it was actually the home of Brian & Pam Loughlin, the dog in the foreground was their dog “Rocky” a blue cattle dog of questionable nature. John Meredith & Jack Barrie lived a couple of doors down the road.

I was staying at my Uncle's place in 1952 when the fire came through. The poem says it all!


Regards
Ron Nixon


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