Off the chopping block: Crowd favourite returns to the Show
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Off the chopping block: Crowd favourite returns to the Show

One of the most popular events at the Royal Canberra Show is being brought back this year after a gap caused by cost constraints.

Woodchopping was dropped last year because of the price of the wood but the show's new chief executive said it would return because of overwhelming demand.

Andrew Wiseman, the show's woodchopping sector head, demonstrating the skill.

Andrew Wiseman, the show's woodchopping sector head, demonstrating the skill.Credit:Karleen Minney

"There was a lot of financial pressure on the organisers but it's coming back because all the surveys show that people love wood chopping," said Athol Chalmers, who took over as chief executive three months ago.

Before being dropped, chopping was a three day event. It's now returning for the Saturday only. There will be a range of categories including juniors, seniors and "championship standards" with, according to the organisers, some of the best wood choppers in Australia.

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The show, which has been running for more than 90 years, takes place from February 22 to 24 with the chopping on the middle day.

The organisers have also decided to reduce entrance prices for the show to try to increase the gate. Mr Chalmers said that ticket prices had been slashed by a third so an adult ticket would drop from $30 to $20 and a family ticket from $72 to $50. Prices for parking would halve this year from $10 to $5.

Mr Chalmers estimated that the price cut would mean a family in a car would get a reduction from last year's $82 to $47 if they booked online.

The calculation of the show organisers is that lower prices will bring more people and so increase revenue. They hope that will justify the cost of the reinstated woodchopping.

The essential equipment.

The essential equipment.Credit:Karleen Minney.

The high cost of the event is because it's not any old wood which contestants chop. Each log has to come from the same tree so competitors face the same quality of wood.

Each log to be chopped in competition has to be the same size. Trees were naturally bigger at the base than the top so lathes had to be used to make each log equal in size.

Andrew Wiseman, the head of the show's woodchopping section, said each log cost $20. They were from indigenous eucalypts which had to be specially prepared.

The wood was bought at a commercial price from NSW Forestry. It was a labour intensive process, said Mr Wiseman. Timber had to be cut to length and stored in a plastic wrap to keep it moist.

The announcement of the return of woodchopping was made at the showground and accompanied by a demonstration of the skill by four experienced choppers, including a father and son.

Andrew Wiseman said that a lot of Canberrans had a family connection to chopping, perhaps through a relative or ancestor who had worked in forestry.

He, a chopper himself, said the thrill of doing it was "primaeval".

One of the choppers in the exhibition match agreed that it was an utterly absorbing sport in which to compete.

"When I'm doing it, I block out the world," said Sheyanne Girran. "It's very competitive."

Steve Evans is a reporter for The Canberra Times.

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