Ron Sherriff – Tasmania
When he won the World Standing Chop at Deloraine, Tasmania, 13th January 1968, Ron had totalled 80 woodchopping Championships. Four days later, this experienced timber worker and bushman died in a fatal car accident near Devil’s Gate in the Forth Valley of Tasmania.
Eulogies presented at his funeral were expressed in the words:
“A great ambassador for Tasmania wherever he went, an outstanding sportsman and a fine personality.”
“The greatest all-round axemen and sportsman this country has ever known.”
The life and death of Ron Sherriff was respectfully acknowledged by more than three thousand people at the Royal Easter Show, as they stood in silence in the central arena and a 15 inch costal ash was draped with an Australian Team singlet and many Championship ribbons. This was a significant tribute to a memorable Australian axeman.
Ronald Sherriff, on the 11th January 1931, was the first born of fifteen children to Roy and Phoebe Sherriff, at his grandparent’s home at the Tunnel on North East Tasmania. Along with his brothers and sisters, he attended the Lilydale Area School. Like many oldest children in the family, he regarded himself as the protector of his younger siblings. Most school days involved “scrapes and punch-ups” as he defended the family name.
At 13 years of age he left school and went to work for his dad from eight in the morning until five in the afternoon. He assisted felling trees and would cut mill logs with a crosscut saw which were then dragged by a bullock team to a landing and then transported by truck to a mill in Lilydale.
At 16 years of age, Ron won his first woodchopping event at Pipers Brook, having borrowed two shillings to enter. His winnings were ten shillings.
In 1953 he took a serious interest in competitive woodchopping and until 1959 he averaged nine major wins per year. It was in 1953 and 1954 that he won his first tree-felling events and the Melbourne Show.
He married Myrtle (Toby) McCoy on the 13th of November 1954. Whilst living at Bracknell from 1954 to 1955 he worked at clearing ground for the transmission line from Deloraine to Cressy. He then moved his family to Rossarden. It was a matter of going to where work was. Joining his mates the Youd brothers, he once again took his family to live at Maydena. This move was more beneficial financially as payment was for timber cut. He was able to choose his times to pursue his woodchopping sport.
In 1955 he won the 42 inch girth big-block event at the Hobart Show and later gained a reputation as a “big block” specialist. By the end of 1959 Ron’s expertise in the “butcher block” event was firmly established.
In 1961 he gained 24 wins and one thousand pounds in prize money. Still a big-block specialist, he developed into an all-round champion axeman and gradually accumulated:
4 World Championships
10 Australian Championships
55 Tasmanian Championships
All in the standing and tree-felling events until his death in 1968.
He represented Tasmania and Australia, captained his state and toured New Zealand in 1961 and Great Britain, South Africa and Rhodesia in 1966 where they travelled 24,000 miles and gave 24 chopping exhibitions.
One of his most notable achievements was in breaking the 54-year-old record for the 24 inch chop or “butchers block”. In 1962 Ron’s effort was described as a “magnificent display of endurance, stamina and experience to finish 50 blows in front of fellow champion Tasmanian axeman, Clayton Stewart.
His favourite event was the tree felling and even at the peak of his career, his fitness regime, included a regular running and fitness routine.
What were the qualities that made Ron Sherriff a Champion Axeman?
A tough upbringing inured to hardship from an early age. Cutting and splitting wood developed stamina, endurance and precision with the axe. In the face of defeat, he would analyse his opponent’s strengths and weaknesses and endeavour to challenge these.
From a young age Ron was a natural athlete. Like most country boys of his era, he enjoyed sport but lacked opportunities. He excelled at cricket, football and golf. He was a self-taught musician and played the guitar and accordion.
In January 1968 Ron was clearing the slope and felling a eucalyptus in the Mersey Valley of Tasmania. The tree hit a limb and the butt slapped back knocking him to the ground. It was a fatal accident.
Ron Sherriff will be remembered as a loyal, passionate and committed person, a true champion in his sport was enticed with a life of humility, generosity and a willingness to help others.
- Described in his obituary by a well known woodchopping reporter as “nature’s gentleman…a wonderful sportsman…greatest all rounder produced in Tasmania”, Ron Sherriff, a quiet, unassuming Maydena logging contractor but originally from Lefroy, recorded his first win at Pipers River in 1947.
- In a twenty year career, he went on to win 55 Tasmaninan titles, 10 Australian Championships and 4 World titles as well as winning the oscar for gaining the most points at the Sydney, Melbourne and Hobart Shows. He also was the champion of champions at the Brisbane Show in 1964 and 1967 and won the all round Tasmanian title three years in a row from 1964-1966.
- In 1962 Ron, at the Tasmanian Championship at Somerset, broke a 54 year old World Record for the 24 inch standing block, a record still unbroken today. In 1966 at Lietinna, he broke his own World Record when he cut through an 18 inch log in 53.0 seconds.
- Killed in a logging accident in the Forth Valley in 1968.
- Ron Sherriff will be remembered as a former Australian Captain, a champion axeman and a great ambassador for his sport, his state and his nation.