Wood chopping competition at the Pioneer Valley Show

Axe-wielding families bond over competition

TWELVE-YEAR-OLD Usha Johnston wandered through the Finch Hatton Showgrounds on Sunday brandishing a metre-long sharpened axe.

The Mirani schoolboy, who was competing in woodchopping events at the Pioneer Valley Show, said the heavy Keysteel axe was probably the same size as he was when he first took up the sport at the age of five.

"I've been doing it since I was a baby," he said, adding that he'd first stepped up to the block and swung his axe in the show's junior competition.

On Sunday, competing against men at least three times his age, Usha and his brother Akzia Johnston, 13, received a round of applause as they made their final swings to cleave the blocks of wood beneath their feet.

An exhausted Usha and Akzia both said they were proud of their times.

They said the woodchopping spirit had been passed on by their father, Trent Johnston. Mr Johnston said he got it from his father.

"It keeps going down the family," Usha said.

 

Usha Johnston, 12, Trent Johnston and Akzia Johnston, 13, during the wood shopping competition at the Pioneer Valley Show.
Usha Johnston, 12, Trent Johnston and Akzia Johnston, 13, during the wood shopping competition at the Pioneer Valley Show. Marty Strecker

The annual test of skill and brawn is a family affair for many competitors at the Pioneer Valley Show.

Ryan Donnelly, 14, is a fourth generation axeman.

He and his father, Proserpine resident Graeme Donnelly, said they competed "just for fun", but for Ryan's great-grandfather woodchopping was a career.

"Eighty years ago, before bulldozers, my grandfather used to drag wood," Mr Donnelly said.

To carry on his tradition, for three months a year Ryan and his father travel around competing in agricultural shows, including Brisbane's Ekka and shows in Rockhampton, Mackay and Townsville.

"But this one is my favourite," he said of the Pioneer Valley Show.

Mr Donnelly said it was not unusual for axemen to travel to compete.

 

Don Brown has been competing in wood chop competitions across Australia and internationally since picking up the sport 33 years ago. He competed in the sport at the Pioneer Valley Show on Sunday.
Don Brown has been competing in wood chop competitions across Australia and internationally since picking up the sport 33 years ago. He competed in the sport at the Pioneer Valley Show on Sunday. Marty Strecker

For the past six years Don Brown and his wife Beryl Brown have made the yearly 2300km pilgrimage from their home in Possum Brush, near Taree in NSW, to Mossman, stopping at every woodchopping competition including the Pioneer Valley Show.

"It's a beautiful escape from the weather in Taree" Mr Brown said.

He and his wife started following the show simply because "it was done by axemen before me".

"When they retire they say it's time to move up the coast. We're just keeping up the tradition," he said.

The 71-year-old retired policeman said he was still in love with the sport, 33 years after first picking up the axe.

"You can compete in the sport until old age because of the handicap," he explained. "For every second you win, your handicap goes up. It's like golf in reverse."

For Mr Brown, the community of travelling competitors, and the family spirit within the competition, transforms woodchopping from a chore to a great agricultural show tradition.

 

Doc Barret in the wood shopping competition at the Pioneer Valley Show.
Doc Barret in the wood shopping competition at the Pioneer Valley Show. Marty Strecker

Pioneer Valley Show woodchop results

EVENT 1

Percy Conrad Memorial - 280mms S/B Handicap

1st F Barrett

2nd T Johnston

3rd A Barrett

EVENT 2

280mm U/H Handicap

1st F Barrett

2nd A Barrett

3rd D Howard

EVENT 3

300mm S/B Handicap

1st N Barrett

2nd T Johnston

3rd A Barrett

EVENT 4

Milton Primrose Memorial - 325mm U/H Handicap

1st F Barrett

2nd D Howard

3rd N Barrett

DOUG TOLCHER MEMORIAL EVENTS 1 - 4

EVENT 5

300mm Tree Felling Handicap

1st J Ware

2nd N Barrett

3rd G Donnelly

4th H Fortescue

EVENT 6

280mm U/H Handicap - Veteran

1st P Donnelly

2nd D Howard

3rd D Brown

EVENT 7

Lindsay Smith Memorial - 280mm Combination Relay

1st A Barrett F Barrett

2nd G Donnelly N Barrett

3rd T Johnston F Johnston

EVENT 8

300mm A Grade Championship

1st J Ware

2nd F Johnston

3rd D Brown

EVENT 9

300mm B Grade Championship

1st A Barrett

2nd P Donnelly

3rd G Donnelly

EVENT 10

300mm C Grade Championship

1st A Barrett

2nd P Donnelly

3rd G Donnelly

EVENT 11

Boys Chop - Under 15

1st H Fortescue

2nd R Donnelly

3rd A Barrett

EVENT 12

280mm S/B Handicap

1st N Barrett

2nd W Neilsen

3rd F Barrett

EVENT 13

280mm Father & Son Relay

1st G Donnelly R Donnelly

2nd D Fortescue H Fortescue

3rd F Barrett A BArrett

EVENT 14

Darrin Johnston Memorial - 250mm S/B Handicap

1st W Neilsen

2nd D Fortescue

3rd A Barrett