Iconic axeman dies at 96

GYMPIE lost a living legend on Tuesday evening, with the sudden passing of former world champion axeman Vic Summers.

Though 96 years old, Vic had remained active and industrious until the last minutes of his life, collapsing from a massive heart attack about 5pm on Tuesday while walking back to the house from his shed in Gympie.

The Troy Cassar-Daley song They Don't Make 'em Like That Anymore could have been written for the powerful, reserved and humble man who was the world tree-felling champion eight times during his 80-odd years of competition.

Vic suffered a number of health and personal setbacks over the years, but never let them stop him from the sport he loved and for which he became an icon.

The oldest of five boys born to Perc and May Summers, Vic followed his father into scrub felling and ringbarking at the age of 14, though he is reported to have started woodchopping at the age of nine.

His family moved around for work, and Vic was once accidentally separated from them for almost a year, where he survived on odd jobs. He eventually took a contract to supply electric light poles to the electricity board in the Gympie region, which lasted 31 years.

His work did not take him away from woodchopping and his greatest achievement came in 1940, when he won the world tree felling championship for the first time.

Vic Summers competing at the Gympie Show.
Vic Summers competing at the Gympie Show. Craig Warhurst

He went on to win it eight times in his prime, over a span of 14 years - the war fell in the middle of those years.

Vic was also the Wide Bay champion eight times and the Gympie Show champion on countless occasions.

In 1950, he was backmarker in the Royal Sydney in every event. The backmarker was the last man to start in all the handicap events. It was akin to a swimmer being a champion in every event from the 50m to the 1500m.

With only one eye after a workplace accident operating the pole yard, Vic was also affectionately called the "gutless wonder", a reference to an operation in the 1950s, which removed two-thirds of his stomach.

When asked about his longevity, he once said: "I take cod liver oil. I've taken it for nearly 45-50 years I suppose and I never smoked and I don't drink a lot, but I do drink a little."

It was known that he never missed his teaspoon of cod liver oil first thing in the morning and a nip of rum in the afternoon.

One of the greatest highlights of his career was a tree felling event in Sydney in 1951, where he dropped his board from the top of the tree and had to climb to the ground to retrieve it. He still won the competition.

Vic retired from woodchopping (one of five times) at the 2009 Gympie Show.

The announcement made national headlines.

A year later, he came out of retirement.

In 2012, at the age of 93, he was back in the woodchop and making no new plans to retire.

Vic features in the Australian Axeman's Hall of Fame at Latrobe, Tasmania, where a display records that amazing feat in 1951 with these words: "He dropped his board from the top of the tree, climbed down and back up again - and still won."

Vic eventually hung up the axe and took up the "easier" sport of sawing.

In his first contest, he won another Gympie show ribbon - the Open Veterans Handicap Sawing.

Gympie Times

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