When the chips are down

Wood chopper Dale Beams.
Tasmanians Amanda and Dale Beams and their two sons are Australian wood chopping royalty, even travelling to the US each year to compete. Julia Hende and Pauline Csuba report.

He has dry, blistered and scarred hands and a sweaty look of determination. The tree feller, standing on nothing more than a plank of wood wedged into the trunk of a tree, swings his axe and watches the log split and fall to the ground 2 metres below him.

His expression changes to satisfaction and pride as he realises that he has beaten his competitors, despite having an 84 second handicap at a Tree Felling Handicap final at the 2016 Royal Melbourne Show.

Fifty-one-year-old wood chopper Dale Beams is not unfamiliar with this feeling. “I’ve won the Australian All round Champion of Champions twice, I’ve won the Tasmania all round Champion of Champions eleven times and I’ve won six world titles,” he says.

Dale, who grew up in Launceston watching his father chop, decided to follow in those footsteps. He is a foreman, driller and blaster in the family mining business his grandfather and great uncle started in the early 1960s. It employs more than 50 people and has five mines based in Flowery Gully, north of Launceston.

He also jointly owns a 500 acre beef cattle farm in Flowery Gully with his father and lives there with his wife of 24 years and fellow wood chopper, Amanda. And they own an IGA supermarket with Amanda’s sister and brother-in-law, so that’s her day job, Amanda says.

Amanda and Dale Beams in the Jack and Jill sawing event
Amanda and Dale Beams in the Jack and Jill sawing event.

The family needs to be busy because, as Amanda says, the sport is not cheap. Besides shows in Australia the couple compete in a show at Hayward, Wisconsin, every July. “I guess extra money we have, we spend on the sport, whether it be coming here to Melbourne or to other places. We go over for the five day show, and yes, it is a lot of money because we are in America for 10 days. But we just love going,” says Amanda.

She has lived in Tasmania since she was a small child and grew up among wood choppers. Her father died when she was seven, but she recalls watching him chop, and with this in mind, it wasn’t long before she was climbing the wood chopping tree.

“Dale coached me my whole life and has passed on everything he knows. He will help anybody who wants help. To me, wood chopping is a sport linking us to our heritage,” Amanda says. “My dad was a logger and it is sort of; it’s pretty close to my heart, the logging industry.”

The couple’s sons, Daniel, 20 and Zack, 22, are also competing. Daniel says his dad is a relaxed, calm, hardworking person who is easy to get along with and always strives to do his best, while Amanda describes Dale as a hard worker, a very caring and a true competitor … and he loves sharing everything that he knows with the younger generation.”

Amanda says Dale is highly competitive: “When he’s out there, he has this fire in his belly that he wants to win… but when he’s across the white line, behind the scenes, he is willing to give help to anybody who asks.” But she, too, is ready to chop her competitors down to size. After a morning underhand handicap heat in which she had to change axes, she faced her afternoon competitors with a 28 second handicap, but chips flew as she powered through the log, her energy and drive apparent.

Wood chopping is a big part of the Beams’ lives: “At one stage we were all representing Australia, all at the same time,” says Dale, who hunts deer and kangaroos in what little spare time he has and has been sawing with his wife for almost 30 years.

Finalist ribbons on display with Amanda Beams
Finalist ribbons on display with Amanda Beams.

Dale, who has been competing for 36 years, since he was 16, used to train by cutting between 15 and 20 blocks a week and has competed in Australia, New Zealand, North America and Europe. Winning is always a fulfilling feeling. In handicap events “you’re setting yourself a challenge to get up from the back mark and try and run down the front mark [and winning that is] a bit of a satisfactory thing. But to win a championship or world title, that’s what you strive for to win, and if you’re lucky enough to win them, you cherish them”.

Between October and March there are woodchop events almost every weekend in Tasmania. “Back home in the Tasmanian circuit I’ll compete every weekend. I mightn’t tree fell every weekend but I’ll be thereabout, competing in something somewhere,” Dale says.

But he no longer trains for his events. “I’m like an old footballer, I don’t have to train every week…I do a bit of gym work to keep myself in a bit of nick… but I don’t cut a lot of blocks and I don’t do any tree climbing training at all because I played football as a kid and my knees aren’t that crash hot anymore and it’s hard on the knees coming back down.”

But he has managed to avoid major injury, a few axe nicks notwithstanding. And as Amanda says, no pain, no gain is a Beams philosophy. “And yes, every day we wake up hurting, but we love this sport so much and you get out of it what you put in.”