Kelly Oakley

Kelly Oakley
July 2, 2020 Active


For Kelly Oakley the tree industry isn’t just his profession, it’s a way of life. Not only is he a supervisor for Active Tasmania but Kelly is renowned in the industry as a woodchopping champion with a family pedigree in the timber industry that dates back 70 years.

As a third generation timber cutter, Kelly’s life has been spent around sawmills, logging timber and clearing trees. His grandfather owned a sawmill, his father built his own, and Kelly, his three brothers and sister spent much of their childhood following logging contracts around the state.

It was only natural that Kelly would follow in his father and grandfather’s footsteps and it was all he ever wanted to do.

“My Mum’s got scrapbooks of my school projects and they’re all pictures of the machinery I wanted to drive when I grew up,” he reflects. “I’ve always been involved and never wanted to do anything else.”

Since a young age, Kelly’s enthusiasm for timber cutting has extended far beyond work. He’s been wood chopping competitively since the age of 14 and it’s been an ongoing passion ever since. He is also renowned as an expert axe sharpener, with champions in New Zealand, the US and Europe all utilising his skills.

Along the way Kelly’s picked up a “fair few state titles championships” of his own, including placing second at the Tasmanian Championship at AgFest in May where he also qualified to join an elite team of Tasmanian sportsmen representing their state nationally.

Sponsored by Stihl Timbersports, the event involves a series of components including three axe chopping events of underhand, standing block and springboard, along with a single buck handheld sawing event, and the stock chainsaw and hot saw races.

Kelly had a convincing win in the stock saw event after training with a standard MS661 chainsaw that was lent to him by Active. It’s arguably his favourite element of the competition and saw him hold the Australian record for two years before he was pipped in 2016.

He also notched up success in the hot saw, placing first in Tasmania. Kelly explains that event involves modifying a chainsaw with a more powerful engine like one from a snowmobile.

“And bloody oath it cuts,” he says.

As a result Kelly was selected for a recent demonstration event in the Northern Territory, and will also head to New South Wales in September to compete in the qualifying championships. 

“I was told Active was like a big family, and that’s pretty much how it is,” he says. “I’ve worked for family most of my life and to come to a big company and get that sort of relationship is really good.”

In the meantime he returns to his role as a supervisor with the TasNetworks contract, drawing on a lifetime of exposure to the timber industry and two decades of formal experience. It’s a role that takes him all over the state trimming around high and low voltage powerlines. 

Kelly has been with Active since the Tasmanian contract commenced 10 months ago and is relishing the role. His own family finally got out of the timber trade about 4½ years ago as the industry experienced a downturn. He and his brother Gerald worked for another tree maintenance company before both joining Active last year.

“I was told Active was like a big family, and that’s pretty much how it is,” he says. “I’ve worked for family most of my life and to come to a big company and get that sort of relationship is really good.”

As for highlights in a timber career that spans his entire lifetime, well Kelly says it’s been “a pretty good life” but by far the pinnacle was winning an event at the Brim Creek Show. There, the Oakley family set up a memorial event for Kelly’s brother who was killed in a logging truck accident 29 years ago.

“The first time I won that was really special,” he notes, “followed by seeing my Dad then win it as well.”

And the family tradition of wood chopping looks set to continue. Kelly is joined in competitions by his brother Gerald, and now Kelly’s son, making it four generations of Oakley’s who have competed on the Tasmanian wood chopping stage.