Shaun takes up woodchopping and builds a club

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The Hall and District Axemen’s Club… top, from left, Bailey Sutherland, 15, Travis Ginders, Shaun O’Connor, Molly O’Connor, 5, and Tarlo Odlum, 15. Bottom, from left, Lucy O’Connor, 10, Pete Garbutt, Curtis Bennett (4th generation wood chopper) and Gus O’Connor, 8. Photo: Holly Treadaway

AFTER starting the Hall and District Axemen’s Club about three years ago, president Shaun O’Connor believes it’s the fastest growing woodchopping club in the world. But Shaun wants it to grow even more to keep the sport alive.

“From a personal point of view, woodchopping is one of the oldest Australian sports that’s out there. From a heritage point of view, we should keep that alive,” says Shaun, 50, of Hall, who started woodchopping about six years ago. 

The first generation woodchopper had been a community rugby player most of his life until he got to the point where he couldn’t keep playing. 

“I still felt young enough to do something physical and thought why not try something else?” he says.

Woodchopper Shaun O’Connor… “It’s all about accuracy. It’s probably 60 per cent accuracy and 40 per cent speed and strength.” Photo: Holly Treadaway

Shaun had always loved watching woodchopping events at the Sydney Royal Easter Show and the Canberra Show and always wondered how people got into it. 

It turned out to be a pretty challenging sport for Shaun to learn because it’s a “father-son sport”, he says. There’s also not an axemen’s club in the region and the nearest one is the South Coast and Tablelands Axemen’s Association, which is based about two hours away in Moss Vale. 

“It’s usually passed down from father to son or from father to daughter,” says Shaun, who ended up contacting a local Canberra man to see if he would show him the woodchopping basics, which he did. 

Then, when Shaun started entering competitions, he would get guys coming up to him giving him suggestions on his technique.

“The more competitions you go in, the better you get,” he says.

“It takes you a while to learn the basics. It’s a long apprenticeship.”

But when Shaun headed up the Hall club three years ago, he wanted to change this, and says anyone can join their club and learn the sport. 

After starting off with just five members, the club has about 25 men and women, with the youngest member, Molly, chopping at age five, and the oldest about 60. 

“We’re getting new people all the time. On average, we’re getting about one person every two months. We’re also the newest woodchopping club that I know of,” he says. 

But Shaun wants to double the club’s membership and would love to see 50 people in the club. 

“There’s only 800 competitors in the whole of Australia. It’s a dying sport, but it’s clubs like us that keep it going,” he says.

Competitively, the sport is about chopping through the wood the fastest, according to Shaun, who says people (like himself initially) usually think it’s a sport that’s strength-focused. 

“I’ve always been fairly strong in the upper body, so I thought, I’ve got the strength to do it, I’ll give it a go,” he says.

From left, Lucy, 10, Gus, 8, and Molly O’Connor, 5, with president (and uncle) Shaun O’Connor. Photo: Holly Treadaway.

“But I was ill-informed. It’s all about accuracy. It’s probably 60 per cent accuracy and 40 per cent speed and strength.”

Some people are naturally better than others but Shaun says it’ll generally take someone five years to get to the point where they’re not a novice anymore. 

“You move out of novice once you win an open chop,” he says. 

“It took me about three years to move from novice to opens. Some people do it in a year, some people do it in 10 years. Out of our group we have two other people out of novice.” 

During competitions there’s a number of events. Shaun says there’s the standing block, which is when it’s standing upright and it’s chopped down “like a tree”, the double saw and there’s chainsawing, too. 

“With competitions you get to meet a good bunch of people and you get to go to some places you wouldn’t ever think to go for competitions,” he says.

“And the best thing is you get to chop with and against your family. My son’s 15. We get to chop together and against each other.”

He says it’s also a sport where competitors can compete against the best in the world, right next to them. 

“You can’t do that in any other sport,” says Shaun, who got to meet the woodchopping world champion, David Foster, from Tasmania.

“It’s a sport that doesn’t matter when you start, you can do it for a very long time. You can do it until you can’t pick up the axe anymore.” 

It’s really safe, too, he says. 

“In the last 100,000 hours of competition, there hasn’t been one claim from an injury or incident in Australia,” he says.

In the six years Shaun’s been woodchopping, he says he’s only ever seen a guy cut his foot and get five stitches. But Shaun says everyone in the Hall club wears chainmail socks, which are like the gloves that butchers wear.” 

Anyone interested in joining the club, call 0427 363747.

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Danielle Nohra
Danielle Nohra is a "CityNews" staff journalist.

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