The woodchopper

Aug 31, 2022
This blogger takes a stroll down memory lane and the history of woodchopping in Australia's forestry. Source: Getty

Who was your first, oldest friend on Earth?

Mine was my father, a kindly stoic man, full of funny jokes. He was a surveyor in the Titles Office by day. On the weekends, he made gardens and grew vegetables and fruit trees.

My dad also had a woodshed and a woodpile. It was his task to chop kindling and wood for the original one-fire stove and the wood or briquette heater in the lounge room. For this important task, Dad had two axes, kept with their own covers in pristine condition. His axes were honed and sharpened.

Dad’s three young bossy daughters would stand and admire his axe techniques. We were told never to get too close to wood-chopping. Chips would fly anywhere. Standing well back, Dad would smile at us once his chopping was complete. We were instructed to be careful near the woodpile, in case snakes lived there.

That sounds like good advice in life, beware of snakes, or fake friends, who could lurk anywhere. Largely non-issues at my time of life. So we crept away indoors, glad of our cosy fire heating one room and the kitchen. The rest of the house was freezing.

Dad battled on, chopping lumps of wood in peace. He taught us to value good axe work, so we all enjoyed wood-chopping competitions by famed axemen at the shows we attended. We could sit or stand for a while, seeing different forms of the woodchop. There were axemen chopping small logs, then tall poles. These represented tree felling. The competitors were very skilled.

Wood-chopping is part of our Australian history of forestry. Dad, my oldest friend, descended from some of the early pioneers of this district where I now live. The old timers travelled from the Port, all their worldly possessions on bullock drays. These folk even plaited their own leather whips. The settlers took their simple axes and saws, chopping forests to create orchards and farmland.

Some people today have open fireplaces, such as my older sister. She lives in the mountains in regional Victoria. One fireplace, one cosy room, and one woodpile. She’s a woodchopper’s daughter and has been a mountain woman for many years. My sister tells me she’s quite capable of chopping the kindling for their fireplace. She still dodges any snakes in residence.

Axemen on tour hope all the shows resume in slightly different formats, due to the costs of insurance for the attractions. Everything is governed by political correctness today. The brawny woodchoppers will take up their axes again. It will be one way of preserving our Australian heritage. As I mentioned, I now reside near where I grew up. The old house is long gone. But I can still visualise Dad, my oldest friend, the woodchopper, wielding his trusty axe.

Mind out for snakes, and battle on in peace!

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