PEOPLE were out in force at the Heyfield Timber Festival, which returned on the weekend of February 17 and 18.

It has been a trying few months for Heyfield and the broader Victorian timber community, topped off by the state government’s decision to cease native timber logging, which came into effect on the first day of 2024.

Despite this, the Heyfield Timber Festival went ahead, and crowds came from near and far, proving the timber community will be loyal to the industry through all challenges.

On Saturday, the whir of helicopter blades cut through the roar of chainsaws as people made the most of joyrides over Heyfield and beyond.

Sale locals Danil and Victoria Tsygamenko brought their son Ivan to the Heyfield Timber Festival. Ivan was excited by the machinery on display.

The echo of axes striking wood lured hundreds of people to the wood chopping held throughout the day – it was by far the most popular event.

Further along, the metallic smell of engines came from the vintage machinery show, and the air was thick with the musty smell of wood as you perused the impressive log trucks on display around the oval.

Next came the unmistakable aroma of deep-fried potato twisters, a popular choice among the kids, and jam-filled doughnuts that beckoned hungry festivalgoers to lunch after witnessing Tim Coleman’s exhilarating motorbike stunt show.

The wood chopping events were quite the spectacle.

As well as celebrating timber, the event underscored the importance of family and community bonds.

Heyfield Timber Festival Committee President, Felicia Stevenson stood out in a vibrant green shirt emblazoned with the festival’s slogan ‘Sustainably from the hills to the mills and beyond’.

She was proactive on the day, giving directions and taking the time to converse with festivalgoers.

New wheels: The Spicer family – Jessica, Wesley and children Charlie, Reese, and Felicity – came from the Yarra Valley to check out dad’s new truck.

“They say, ‘good job, you are doing great’,” she said.

“They might thank me, but for a small committee, we do a wonderful job,” Ms Stevenson added.

Heyfield paused to commend and reflect as the festival parade got underway on Sunday morning, February 18.

Community pride abounded as a procession of vintage machinery was led by a chorus of truck horns as kids waved excitedly from the cabs.

Member for Eastern Victoria Region, Melina Bath said her passion and support for native timber and timber communities would not dwindle because of the state government’s decision to cease logging.

Beaming families cheered as Heyfield Primary and St Michael’s Primary School students and Heyfield Football-Netball Club members rounded the corner onto George Street as the parade made its way to the Victorian Timber Workers Memorial.

The sun came out as a crowd gathered, taking a moment to silently pay tribute to the 90 names on plaques encircling the memorial, signifying the lives lost in the timber industry.

History: The vintage car and truck show brought out many proud owners.

Earnest allies of the timber industry gathered as Mick Johnson, an industry icon who recently retired after more than 60 years service, reflected on his time as a bulldozer driver, contractor, and logger.

Mark Coleman represented the Native Timber Taskforce and commended the relentless efforts the taskforce and Wellington Shire have made to hold the state government accountable for the abrupt shutdown of the native logging industry, initially slated for 2030 but moved to earlier this year.

Log trucks led the way in Sunday’s parade through the main streets of Heyfield.

Mr Coleman praised Australian Sustainable Hardwoods Managing Director, Vince Hurley and managing director of Radial Timber Yarram, Chris McEvoy for keeping the industry alive.

“If we didn’t have the smarts that we’ve got in ASH Timber (Heyfield) and also Radial Timber in Yarram, 600 jobs from this region were going to go,” Mr Coleman said.

“Vince Hurley and Chris McEvoy are flying the flag and seeing some opportunity for what they can do. But still fighting all the way.”

ANC Forestry Group showcased their equipment, even displaying a miniature version of their log truck. Photos: Erika Allen.

Also in attendance was Member for Eastern Victoria Region, Melina Bath, who joined fellow Nationals Member for Gippsland South, Danny O’Brien and Member for Gippsland East, Tim Bull at the memorial.

Ms Bath and Mr O’Brien have engaged in the Mirboo North area, providing support and assistance in the aftermath of last week’s devastating storm.

Ms Bath said what she observed in South Gippsland was a testament to the community spirit ingrained in the timber industry, as log trucks promptly mobilised at the forefront to aid in clearing roads and removing timber debris from houses.

After Tim Coleman impressed crowds with his fear defying stunts, he graciously took pictures with young fans. Coleman’s hometown, Glenmaggie is a stone’s throw from Heyfield.

Ms Bath went on to reference an excerpt of an 1892 poem by Bajo Patterson, titled In Defence of the Bush.

“But the bush has moods and changes as the seasons rise and fall. And the men who know the bushland – they are loyal through it all.”

They were poignant words from the MP, emphasising the strength and tenacity with which the timber community commits to their proud industry.

She followed by saying, “I think that your people, the people on these plaques, the people in this town and in our Gippsland region – who know and care for the bush, who understand forestry, logging, and millwork – are the ones that will support people in crisis and they’re the ones we honour today.”

Brandon Kroon carved three sculptures at the festival that were later auctioned off.

While the cessation looks like it’s here to stay, Ms Bath said, “It doesn’t diminish the names on these plaques and the fact that we should be here and are here.”

The festival will return next year on February 15 2025.

Member for Gippsland South, Danny O’Brien, Aaron Ralph, Mick Johnson, Mark Coleman, Member for Eastern Victoria Region, Melina Bath, Karen Coleman, Shane Phillips, Member for Gippsland East, Tim Bull, and Felicia Stevenson at the Victorian Timber Workers Memorial on the Sunday.