Port Arthur was initially settled as a timber cutting camp before it became the infamous prison, and timber cutting and sawing were among the numerous industries at Port Arthur to which the plentiful convict labour was subsequently applied.
According to local resident and historical researcher Beverley Ewins, later newspaper articles and the descendents of old Peninsula families report that the long-standing wood chopping carnival originated in the work of those convicts.
“With few other organised forms of entertainment, it is said that taking part in contests not only showed off convicts’ skills but was a way of having fun and letting off steam on special days such as Christmas, Easter and the Queen’s Birthday,” said Mrs Ewins.
“The emphasis was on children’s events, with timber cutting contests in which trusted convicts were allowed to participate.”
Mrs Ewins’ research, along side that of several local researchers, has been published in a special souvenir program to mark what organisers believe to be the 150th anniversary of wood chopping carnivals in the Tasman Peninsula region.
“While the documentary evidence is sketchy and doesn’t offer a definitive date, the records suggest that a carnival featuring wood cutting originated in the 1860s, while James Boyd was Commandant at Port Arthur.”
“We believe this is one of, if not the longest running sporting carnival in Australia, having occurred somewhere in the region every year since the convict era, except for a hiatus during WWII due to petrol rationing.”
Publication of the souvenir program was assisted by funding from the Australian Government’s Community Heritage and Icons Grants programme. To mark the anniversary, a temporary exhibition celebrating wood chopping at Port Arthur and on the Tasman Peninsula has been installed downstairs in the Port Arthur Visitor Centre.
The 150th Anniversary Carnival will be held at the Port Arthur Historic Site on Saturday 26 December 2015, with events commencing around 9am. In addition to the wood chops, there will be traditional children’s events such as sack races, egg and spoon races and potato races. The souvenir program will be launched at noon by Federal Lyons member Eric Hutchinson MP.
Access to the Carnival is included in the cost of Site entry.