Brunswick Heads is a sleepy, little village on the north coast of NSW that has managed to retain its country ambience, despite being a sought after holiday destination for Brisbane and Byron day trippers. In January, it hosts the annual Fish ‘n’ Chips festival, the Chips representing the flying wood chips in the Woodchop Competition. Brunswick’s event is the biggest woodchop competition after the Sydney and Brisbane Easter Shows. It also attracts world champion competitors. The 2016 Champion of Champions was New Zealander Jason Wynyard, who also won the Australian 235mm Underhand title, in action below. Jason is wearing his Stihl shirt, having just returned from Poland where he won the Single competition in the Stihl Timbersports Championships for the 7th time! Here he looks almost meditative before using those powerful shoulders to chop through the block in just under a minute.
The first Woodchop series at Banner Park in Brunswick began between 1928 and 1932 to raise money for the bridge connecting the town to the beach. The second series began in 1961 and continues to this day. It represents a link with the past when the Tweed and Richmond valleys were settled by timber getters, logging the red cedar from the rainforests, which clad the mountains of the Wollumbin Cauldera.
We watched as huge logs were trundled into place, cross cut saws were reverently lifted from their wooden cases and the mixed cross saw event began. No fanfare or fuss, just pairs of sawyers blitzing through the timber.
The rain began to fall gently. Competitors and their families and followers sat under pop-up tents with their eskies and cherished axes and saws carefully stowed. These were a stoic lot – no chest pumping or high fives. Everyone receiving a place if they finished and prizes donated by the local clubs and service organisations.
Surrounding Banner Park was the fun fair and Housie tent, which also doubles for the Australia Day Big Breakfast, held every year at the end of the Festival with a sausage sizzle and singalong. In the past, we have collected our breakfast and a small Australian flag and joined in the singing of “At Home Among the Gumtrees”, “The Dog Sat on the Tuckerbox” and “Advance Australia Fair”.
For me, it harks back to an uncomplicated and unsophisticated childhood, where families had picnics and barbecues in the bush, parents were involved in the local service clubs and mothers particularly had time for extensive voluntary activities, at the local library, school fetes and raised money for local causes. As we stood in the entrance to the Banner Park’s shelter shed to avoid the rain, a woman older than us (and we are retired), asked if we would like a drink and a sausage sandwich.
The Housie tent may not return next year, we are told, because the family who have run the event for many years are not able to continue. The grandparents have become too old. Brunswick Heads is rapidly becoming a trendy spot, sporting 7 cafes and 5 restaurants, numerous fashion venues, an art gallery and up market kitchen shop. It is overrun by festival goers at the Splendour in the Grass and Falls Festivals. The fish CO-OP, which no longer serves fish caught in Brunswick, has been bought by a developer.
Will the Festival of Fish’n’Chips survive with its traditions of country NSW? or will it disappear along with the pride in the local community, which day trippers and festival goers do not share?