Wednesday, November 1, 2017

The Wood Chopper - Pambula's Gordon Radford:

Since his first Pambula Show woodchop in 1951, Gordon Radford has become one of the most recognisable faces of the event locally.

Gordon’s foray into the sport is perhaps unsurprising. Both his father & grandfather were champion axemen, & his uncle, Bob Radford, was a world champion. In recognition of his father's contribution to the sport locally, the local A. H. & P. Society introduced the Percy Radford Memorial 300 mm Standing Block Championship.

Despite this Radford family tradition, however, it was actually while working as a farm hand for Frank Kelly that Gordon first got involved with the sport. With the encouragement of his boss, he decided to try his hand at chopping, & it was Frank who also gave the newcomer his first axe.

Gordon learnt the art of the sport through self-instruction until moving to Goulburn in 1963. There, he said, "I got in with a couple of blokes who...showed me a lot of the finer points & it went from there, I really kicked on from there."

When he came back to Pambula to pick up wife Dot & son Kevin, it was just in time for the local show, & although he hadn't brought any axes with him, his father Percy encouraged him to enter the woodchops, lending him his beautiful Plumb axe. Gordon had improved so much during his time in Goulburn that he broke the show record for the 12-inch underhand, chopping it off in 17 & two-fifths seconds. He was quick to point out that "...the wood's your time, the better your log, the quicker you cut it..." That said though, he still managed to take 12 or 15 seconds off the previous record to set a new one that still stands today.

Gordon recalled a chop at the 1963 Yass Show when he won a tray & £30. Money was a bit tight at the time, & he laughed that "The tray didn't mean anything that day, but the 30 quid did. I shouted Dot & Kevin pies & peas at the cafe."

For many years, Gordon cut with fellow wood chopper Bob Munday of Kiah. He recalled "...we used to go all around together to wood chops." After teaming up at the butcher's block, the pair won everywhere from Pambula, Bega, Eden & as far up as Tumut & Canberra, winning about 17 events on end & taking out the Bega & Tumut events off the hefty handicap of 50. They also took second place in the event at the Royal Easter Show in Sydney.

Gordon has literally hundreds of ribbons for his efforts in the wood chopping arena, not only from local shows but many other venues as well including the Sydney Royal Easter where he first cut in about 1962. And on a number of occasions he has even managed to take out the entire programme at Pambula, a feat that doesn’t occur very often. This long association with the sport has seen Gordon compete on all of the Pambula Show Society's three home grounds, probably the only person who could truthfully make that claim.

Although he no longer cuts at the local show, his lengthy involvement continues. Now a patron of the Pambula A. H. & P. Society, Gordon's involvement with the committee dates back to 1967. For many years he held the position of Vice President & he ran the wood chopping events for even longer. 

The wood chops have been popular both with competitors & show patrons since the first Pambula Show in 1902. Originally the events were as much an effort to hone skills as the show pavilion was an attempt to improve yields, the timber industry, particularly sleeper cutting being an important local industry back when the show started out. With the Australian sleeping cutting industry now defunct, wood chopping has become a competitive sport, maintaining important skills from yesteryear.  

© Angela George.

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