Arthur Streeton's visions of the landscape have defined an image of Australia. 'Fire's on' in particular is considered his greatest evocation of the country's heat and sunlight. Painted a year after the artist left Melbourne for Sydney, it constitutes a radical new type of landscape in his oeuvre. Its vertical composition and the high horizon line bring focus to the steep terrain with precarious rocks and dead tree-trunks.
The painting captures a critical moment during the construction of a railway line across the Blue Mountains, west of Sydney: the death of a railway worker in an explosion. 'Fire's on' was the warning call before the blast, as the gang dynamited the Lapstone Tunnel through the hillside. The human drama of the painting, however, is overshadowed by the heroism of the landscape itself.