How an Esperance wood cutting service is chipping in thousands of dollars for the Royal Flying Doctor Service

Colin McKenzie just spent his 81st birthday heaving blocks of timber around a yard.

It seems a backbreaking way to mark the milestone, but the Esperance resident says he likes the work.

It gets him outside on a blue-sky winter’s day.

And it raises hundreds of thousands of dollars for a service that has saved the lives of many friends. 

‘A fairly big full-time job’

Every Wednesday morning during the colder months about 28 Esperance volunteers gather to chop donated timber.

Three men stand around two utes loaded with wood
About 28 people are involved in the woodchopping. (ABC News: Emily Smith)

“Our oldest [volunteer] is around 86, the average is around 80 or just under,” coordinator Neil Livingstone said.

Most of the wood is tuart and would otherwise have gone to the tip, as green waste.

He stands by a pile of wood and laughs
Neil Livingstone has coordinated the group for the past 15 years.(ABC News: Emily Smith)

Once cut, it is sold and delivered to residents as firewood to heat their homes.

Mr Livingstone said word-of-mouth had seen demand surge in recent years and many of the retirees were working harder than ever to keep up.

“I do deliveries probably five days a week plus help out in the yard here with the splitting,” he said.

“It’s a fairly big full-time job here at the moment.”

Mr Livingstone said they put prices up this year — from $120 to $130 a ute load — to keep up with rising costs.

He stands by the ute and helps unload
Tor Danielson says it is helpful having the wood delivered. (ABC News: Emily Smith)

But Tor Danielson, one of the group’s many customers, is still happy with that.

‘Still here to annoy them’

The proceeds all go to the Royal Flying Doctor Service, and last year they raised $95,000 — equivalent to at least 12 flights from Esperance to Jandakot. 

A ute with a sign on the back advertising the price of the wood
The firewood costs $130 for a ute load. (ABC News: Emily Smith)

Mr Livingstone said in the 15 years since the group started, they have donated more than $700,000.

He said the cause is close to the hearts of many volunteers, who have used the Royal Flying Doctor Service.

Neil McCallum, who has volunteered with the group for 11 years, said the service was his lifeline when he had swine flu and twice when he had pneumonia.

He wears an apron and stands near a pile of logs
Neil McCallum has flown with the Royal Flying Doctor Service three times. (ABC News: Emily Smith)

“I’ve used the flying doctor three times and they’ve all been in a real emergency,” he said.

“After that I really appreciated what the flying doctor did.

“And so did my family because I can still be here to annoy them.

Mr McKenzie also used the service just recently — it flew him to Perth when he struggled to swallow a piece of food.

Three men stands around a man using an electric saw
The men enjoy the social side of the work.(ABC News: Emily Smith)

The men share the belief that volunteering was a vital part of living in a small community.

But there is one other thing Mr McCallum likes to do when he comes along.

“We have a good social atmosphere in the woodchop. It’s really good.”

Mr Livingstone said after the work was done for a day, they would all have a sausage, a cool drink and a chat before heading home.

“I think that’s a main part of it, to get out and socialise,” he said,

“You come out here and enjoy all the chaps out here and all have a good time.”

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