There’s cheering in the background and the sound of the steel and sweat whirling through the air before the axe hits the spot. The blade glimmers against the sky and bites the wood below, its fresh crevices shining. Shattering. Smattering, as onlookers gasp and clasp their hands over their mouths.
I remember the woodchop from the World of Sport days, Ron Casey, “Uncle Doug” Elliot and the brilliant Lou Richards all coming at you, their voices relishing the excitement of another woodchopping event. Red Hill Show woodchop head steward John Holmes is a natural born wood-slashing man. This Peninsula-raised larrikin has been delivering the woodchop program, organising sponsorship and getting the job done right for around 10 years after taking over from his Uncle ‘Pud’ (Kevin), who was the longest living member of the Red Hill Show Society. About 50 years. But John is really a chainsaw man. He likes to build and race them. He explains.
“We have 14 events at the Red Hill Show this year including tree felling, woodchop and chainsaw racing. The first Red Hill woodchop was held at the railway station in 1922, so there’s been a long history of it in the area. My grandfather was a woodchopper too. I guess it runs in the family,” he chuckles.
“I started building chainsaws just because I was interested. I’ve built 22 so far. I love the power and the technique behind it. They’re noisy, have huge exhaust pipes and need to be controlled. I’ve won a couple of Victorian titles too - in 2015 and ‘16. I suppose it’s quite dangerous, although that’s part of the attraction. You’ve got to have a qualified chainsaw operator’s ticket and wear your safety gear. I haven’t seen a bad accident in my 10 years of organising the woodchopping event at the show. Might have cut a few of my own fingers though,” he laughs again. He does that a lot.
This is what a chainsaw race looks like: four people, four separate logs, each held up by two cradles at either end. They’re off and racing. Whoever gets through first wins. It’s pretty simple - but put simply, it gets your adrenalin going big time!
“All woodchoppers and chainsaw racers do it for the fun. I certainly haven’t seen anyone buy a sheep station on the proceeds from it, but it’s thrilling and fast and really gets the blood pumping. The event at the Red Hill Show brings in a crowd. The ‘Pud’ Holmes Woodchop Arena is packed. Uncle Pud would have been proud, I reckon.”
Get along to Red Hill on March 10 to experience pure Peninsula history with a capital H and watch in awe how small beginnings with an axe and a log set up behind a train station can transform into something bigger than anyone ever imagined. John will be there with bells on, and you don’t want to miss this man in action. Chop, chop!