Australian Dictionary of Biography

  • Tip: searches only the name field
  • Tip: Use double quotes to search for a phrase

Sherriff, Ronald (1931–1968)

by Tim Jetson

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 16, (MUP), 2002

Ronald Sherriff (1931-1968), bushman and axeman, was born on 11 January 1931 at Launceston, Tasmania, eldest of fifteen children of Roy Joseph Sherriff, timber-cutter, and Phoebe Dorothy Barrett. Ron attended Lefroy State School until the age of 13 when he went to work for his father, cutting and splitting up to ten tons of 6-ft (1.8 m) firewood a week. Boyhood amusements, such as long-distance running, skipping and hitting a punching-bag, developed his endurance and stamina. He later worked as a blacksmith-striker on the construction site of the Australian Aluminium Production Commission's smelter at Bell Bay. In 1951 he was employed by the Hydro-Electric Commission as a bulldozer driver; he also used axes and cross-cut saws to clear trees for transmission lines. At the Methodist Church, Claude Road, on 13 November 1954 he married Myrtle Alma ('Toby') McCoy. From 1955 he cut timber for mine-shafts at Rossarden; by 1958 he was a contract tree-feller with Australian Newsprint Mills Ltd, Maydena.

In 1947 Sherriff won his first 'chop' at Pipers River, but he did not take up wood-chopping seriously until 1953. Through work and intensive training, he built his 5 ft 10 ins (178 cm) frame into a compact 13-14 stone (83-89 kg). He went into the bush, accompanied by a fellow axeman, and learned the best angles to cut; he even analysed the reasons for his defeats. His competitive temperament, profound self-belief and fierce desire to succeed—driven, perhaps, by his father's jibe that he would never be an axeman—made him one of the best all-rounders in Australia.

During his career Sherriff reputedly held 55 State, 10 Australian and 4 world titles, in standing, underhand, sawing and tree-felling events. He won 'Oscars' for the most points at royal shows in Melbourne (1962), Sydney (1966 and 1967) and Hobart (1967), took the all-round Tasmanian title (1964-66), and was named champion of champions (1967) at the Royal National Show, Brisbane. In 1967 he captained the Tasmanian and Australian teams at the Royal Easter Show, Sydney. He was a member of the Australian teams that toured New Zealand in 1961, and Britain and South Africa in 1966. Two of his world records—the 24-ins (61 cm) standing block (Somerset, Tasmania, 1962) and the 18-ins (46 cm) standing block (Lietinna, 1966)—still stood in 1999.

Sherriff competed in a period of intense rivalry between axemen such as Doug and Ray Youd and Jack O'Toole. He was widely respected for his encouragement of fellow-axemen and for his community spirit. With Doug Youd, he founded the Maydena Youth Club, and was its chief instructor. On 13 January 1968 at Deloraine he won the (unofficial) world 15-ins (38 cm) standing-block championship. Four days later, while clearing trees for the Hydro-Electric Commission dam in the Forth Valley, he was killed in a logging accident; his wife, and their son and two daughters survived him. Politicians, sporting officials and axemen attended the funeral at the Latrobe Methodist Church which preceded his cremation. In 1994 Sherriff's name was listed in the Tasmanian Sporting Hall of Fame, Launceston.

Select Bibliography

  • P. Adam-Smith, Tiger Country (Adel, 1968)
  • J. Preston, Racing Axemen (Melb, 1980)
  • R. Beckett, Axemen, Stand by your Logs! (Syd, 1983)
  • Examiner (Launceston), 18, 22 Jan 1968
  • Mercury (Hobart), 18 Jan 1968
  • Sunday Examiner-Express, 20 Jan 1968
  • private information.

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Tim Jetson, 'Sherriff, Ronald (1931–1968)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/sherriff-ronald-11682/text20877, published in hardcopy 2002, accessed online 1 November 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 16, (MUP), 2002

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2014