You probably knew this already but in case you didn’t, let me remind you that today is World Lumberjack Day.
Yes, the day when we can celebrate flannelette shirts, big boots and braces not to mention axes and chainsaws. It is to the greenies what a steak restaurant is to a vegetarian.
One of the leading Australian lumberjacks is a Gold Coast woman Jillian Stratton. It seems that political correctness has yet to visit itself on the lumberjack community since there doesn’t seem to be — yet — the term ‘lumberjill’ or even ‘lumberperson’.
Stratton is, perhaps predictably, a no-nonsense sort of woman. It’s a family tradition.
“My grandfather was an axe-person, then my father and my mum actually had a go on the end of a cross-cut saw back in her earlier days. When she retired, my father asked me if I wouldn’t mind taking it up with him and that was around thirty-two years ago,” Stratton says.
Even her 11-year-old son has taken to the axe in competition. Again perhaps predictably, his name is Jack.
Back in July, Stratton flew the flag for Australia at the Lumberjack World Championships in the United States. She didn’t win but it was not for the want of trying in fiercely competitive events. She’s not one bit discouraged and intends to continue her quest to become the best one-woman land clearing operation in the world.
She has competed in agricultural shows across Australia and has won two mixed pairs national titles — known as Jack and Jill events — at Sydney’s Royal Easter Show.
Stratton says the sport is becoming more and more popular among women.
“About 20 years ago we started competing at the royal shows and we were looked down upon a little bit by the men. But they’ve come to accept us in the sport now and gladly team up with us,” she says.
It would be a very brave man who tried to look down on Jillian Stratton and the female log chopping sisterhood. There are now about 50 women registered for the sport Australia-wide and Stratton believes that by next year there will be women-only competitions in Australia.
She spends up to four evenings a week training and going to the gym. A competition axe can cost upwards of $800 and professionals spend hours sharpening them.
She has managed to avoid serious injuries.
“I actually wear protective mesh on my feet so that does protect my feet if the axe does accidentally hit my foot,” she says, which made me wonder how tough this mesh must be. The ultimate tensile strength steel I suppose.
“Maybe on the cross-cut saw I’ve had a few nicks in my arm but nothing too major,” Stratton admits, adding, “It is a very safe sport believe it or not.”
Then again, probably not as safe as stamp collecting.
The Lumberjack World Championships began in 1960 according to its web page, which proudly boasts that it is, “… a leader in the recognition and support of the women’s events in the lumberjack sports arena…” and that “… women’s competitions have proven to be one of the most popular crowd-pleasers with some of the most incredible female athletes competing in a variety of events.”
This year more than 100 competitors participated in more than 21 events for total prize money of $50,000 before an audience of more than 12,000.
The World Lumberjack Day website is chock-a-block with useful information for an aspiring lumberjack. There is a special lumberjack dictionary explaining various arcane terms, preferred lumberjack food — pancakes feature heavily — and even special lumberjack drinks. My favourite is ‘Jack Me Off’, which is a combination of applejack (a concentrated cider beverage), Midori and Sprite. I bet stamp collectors don’t have a special drink like that and, incidentally, can I suggest one? ‘Lick My Back’ seems appropriate.
While considering the world of lumberjacks, a mischievous tune invented by the Monty Python team in 1974 kept playing in my head. It begins featuring a male lumberjack dressed in the obligatory uniform and attended by a delicate little slip of a girl simpering with adoration. The chorus was composed of men dressed as Canadian Mounties.
It began innocently: “I’m a lumberjack and I’m okay, I sleep all night and I work all day.”
Then it rather goes downhill. “I cut down trees, I skip and jump, I like to press wild flowers. I put on women’s clothing and hang around in bars.”
Increasingly, the chorus is looking uncomfortable as they repeat the lumberjack’s lyrics and the little lass is being reduced to bitter tears.
“I cut down trees, I wear high heels, suspendies and a bra. I wish I’d been a girlie, just like my dear papapa.”
You won’t find those lyrics on the World Lumberjack Day website which is a shame. It could attract the transgender community to this globally expanding sport and nowadays we should all work towards inclusiveness, shouldn’t we?
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