With an axe and a prayer
WITH a father who was such a keen wood cutter that he kept his axe under his bed at the Marist Brothers-run school he attended, it’s no surprise that Fabian Harding and his four siblings have all taken up the sport their father excelled in at one time or another.
When Ron Harding left school he studied to become a Christian Brother but he gave that away to work as a wool classer, before turning his hand to logging contracting, purchasing a sawmill and cutting sleepers for the Victorian Railways along the Ovens River.
“Dad won a few local championships here in the North East, mainly in the standing block and I remember travelling to competitions from Canberra all the way down to Geelong,” Fabian said at his Wangaratta home.
Those ‘few’ wins actually numbered nine North East aggregate championships and Ron, along with other famed axemen such as David Foster, Gary Smith, Laurence and Martin O’Toole, Len Bennett, Gary Hewitt, Tommy Bartel and Jason Wynyard were often revered and celebrated.
Ron and wife Margaret raised five children and Fabian noted that it was his mother who was head of the house.
“She kept the five of us kids in line,” he said. “Dad was a great saw man and he and my eldest brother, Brendan, won many crosscut events.
“My brothers all cut and were excellent axemen, but due to work commitments, they didn’t keep going in the sport as work always comes first.”
Fabian attended Galen College until year nine when glandular fever saw him miss most of the year; he intended to repeat at the Wangaratta Technical College but he and the vice-principal agreed that school ‘wasn’t for him’ and he left.
Fabian is now a log driver, carting logs from pine plantations to local sawmills and competes in a few competitions but there was a time he didn’t think he’d ever be able to cut again - in fact he battled just to stay alive and get back home to his family.
“In 2012 I had a terrible truck accident which crushed my legs,” he said.
“Because of the extended length of time they were crushed for, and the surgery to save my legs, I was left with severe nerve damage and pain issues.
“I was also heavily medicated for a few years and had trouble walking and standing without pain.
“The medication made me unstable on my feet, so chopping was out of the question.”
Fabian’s main goal was to get himself right for his family and when his children - Lily (16), Eliza (12) and Zeke (8) - showed interest in learning to cut, Fabian made a concerted effort to get back to the sport and impart his knowledge.
“Lily started competing in 2018, she only had four competition cuts that year, with four again in 2019, she hasn’t cracked it for a win yet, but isn’t far off,” he said.
“Eliza is going well, she’s still cutting in the backyard, but will be competing next year.”
“I’m not ready for competitions yet,” Eliza noted.
“She has trouble getting the right makeup to wear when she’s cutting, which is her main priority at the moment,” Fabian corrected with a grin.
“Zeke will be a few years off but he has plenty of determination so he should go well.
“I think I’ve almost got my wife convinced to have a cut as well, but as usual it’s the ageold juggling act of work and school that comes first.”
If Fabian has his way and the whole family ends up competing at the Wangaratta Sports Carnival one year, it may be rather confusing as to whether the ‘Harding’ they call is a competitor or the name of the award with the Ron Harding Memorial Underhand State Title and Margaret Harding Front Markers Underhand awards presented to winners during the January carnival.
“The Front Markers award is for up and coming axemen...Mum used to sponsor the under 18s Underhand as she thought the junior cutters deserved as good (as) prizes as the older blokes,” Fabian explained.
“The minimum competing age is about 11 or 12, but I’ve seen younger kids cutting at the bigger shows and junior cuts.
“Unfortunately Lily, Eliza and Zeke are the only local juniors, so for the moment Lily has to cut against older male cutters.
“We have to do a fair bit of travelling for them to cut against other juniors, but the sport is getting more and more female cutters.
“Around here we’ve had a few female-only events, which is fantastic for the sport and Lily has cut against some of the members of the Australian women’s team.”
For more information or to see Fabian and Lily in action, they will be competing at the Wangaratta Athletics Carnival held at the Wangaratta Showgrounds on January 25.
◆ IN HIS BLOOD: Fabian Harding’s love of wood chopping comes from his father, Ron, one of the great axemen of the ‘70s and ‘80s.
◆ CHOP STICK: Fabian Harding gives it his all at the Mitta Muster in March 2019.