Our flight arrived at the Gold Coast airport in the late morning on a hot and humid mid-January day. Chris and Trev were there to meet us and we headed off to their home in Byron Bay.
Enroute we stopped for lunch at Brunswick Heads where we sat outdoors at the lovely Brunswick Hotel enjoying great company, eating delicious food and sipping glasses of cold Aussie ale – perfect on a hot summer’s day; and a perfect start to our new life on the road.
From our lunch spot in the heat of the day we watched enviously as people lined up on the old wooden bridge to jump into the cool water of the Brunswick river.
And just across the road from us there was another country past-time taking place that intrigued us city slickers. During lunch we could hear repetitive, and sharp unfamiliar sounds and then loud cheers. Trev explained that it was the wood-chop – which meant absolutely nothing to us; and so we finished lunch and went to investigate.
The sounds were those of metal on wood as a line of eight contestants in the wood-chop competition swung their axes and brought them down hard on the log at their feet, each attempting to be the first to split the log underneath them. After a short time, the first log split with a loud crack, which prompted cheers and applause from the spectators who were sitting in stands covered by large awnings that enclosed the park the woodchoppers used as their arena. We had arrived during the Brunswick Wood-chop Carnival.
I was fascinated by this spectacle in this small country town. It appeared to be a family occasion - there were men and women, and boys and girls (some as young as 12) competing and even the younger kids were there helping to clear up the woodchips after the events.
The woman sitting next to us told us that most of the competitors were amateurs, although a few were professionals and they travel the world competing and the best of them could win up to $100,000 in prize money. She and her husband were very involved in the sport – she also told us that:
In Australia wood-chopping was initially a means of survival when settlers needed to clear heavily timbered Australian bush land for farming and to build homes and
from this came the knowledge and skill to wield axes and cross-cut saws and eventually this survival skill became a competitive game.
Apparently, the first recorded wood-chopping contest took place on the southern island state of Tasmania in 1870 when two men in a bar made a £25 bet to see who could fell a tree the fastest.
Contests sprung up across Australia, Sydney's Royal Easter Show (an annual extravaganza showcasing Australia's rural lifestyle) introduced wood-chopping in 1899.
Wood chopping is a sport that combines athleticism and technique together with power and strength and of course there is the ever-present element of danger.
Male wood-choppers are often referred to as Axemen and/or
Lumberjacks and the women are Lumberjills.
The Australian team is called the Chopperoos.
I later discovered that
Wood chopping is also popular in New Zealand and competitions are held at A&P shows around the country. (I did say we were city people)
The Lumberjack Planet website says that the axemen from Australia and New Zealand comprise most of the best woodchoppers in the world
Nearly one hundred and fifty years after timber workers first turned their skills into a competitive sport, woodchopping still leaves audiences in awe.