With an axe and a prayer

Ovens & Murray Advertiser - North East Regional Extra - - Front Page - By BELINDA HAR­RI­SON

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.

PHOTO: Belinda Har­ri­son

◆ 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.

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