Paul Beirne admires his new rocking horse created by (back l-r) Denis Nicholl, Ed Chapman and project supervisor Greg Ryan (Bruce Sherwood Absent) - the rocking horse was made from a tree cut down in Grafton. Photo: Adam Hourigan / The Daily Examiner
Paul Beirne admires his new rocking horse created by (back l-r) Denis Nicholl, Ed Chapman and project supervisor Greg Ryan (Bruce Sherwood Absent) - the rocking horse was made from a tree cut down in Grafton. Photo: Adam Hourigan / The Daily Examiner Adam Hourigan

Do not place bets on this horse

SHELLING out a couple of grand on a horse he knows will never win a race still comes pretty easy to professional punter Paul Beirne.

Paul, the brother of renowned bookmaker Dominic Beirne, has been coming to the Grafton July Racing Carnival for 35 years and knew he was on a winner when he decided to put down a $2000 for a carved rocking horse made by the "horseketeers" at Grafton Men's Shed.

"I saw one raffled last year and bought $100 worth of tickets and still didn't win it," he said.

The race to ready the rocking horse, destined to be a gift for Paul's one-year-old granddaughter Madeline, began late last year when Grafton's Karl Cooksley let fellow drinkers at Roches Hotel know he wanted to get rid of a huge silky oak in his backyard.

It made the ears of one Roches regular prick up.

Wood carver and Men's Shed member Greg Ryan knew all about the wood carving qualities of silky oak as well as Paul's desire to get a rocking horse.

He was also aware of the difficulties. For a start, seasoning the wood from the tree would normally take years and removing a massive tree from a backyard would require an operation of military-like precision.

But Greg was confident the ingenuity of Grafton people could overcome all difficulties.

He was right, Shane Shipman cut down the tree, Ravens Smash Repairs carted it to Spiro Notaras's mill, Spiro's men milled the tree into perfect sizes for rocking horse production and kiln dried the wood just in time for the horseketeers, Denis Nicholls, Ed Chapman and Bruce Sherwood to carve it and finish it in time for race week.

It was a sprint to the line, but with rocking horse guru Greg overseeing the work and other Men's Shed members chipping in when needed, they managed to get two horses ready.

"We thought it would be just as easy to do two as one, but it turned out not to be the case," Ed said.

The finished article is one display in More 4 Men in Prince St. Greg, Denis and Ed were on hand for the official handover to Paul earlier this week.

The new owner could not have been happier with his purchase and its symbolic value to him.

"Grafton's July Carnival is the heart of country racing and for me to get this made from a tree literally from the heart of Grafton is really special," Paul said.

"I've been coming here for 35 years, except for two years, and it's something I always look forward to.

"I've been to the Dubai Cup and the Japan Cup several times, but I never have as much fun as I have coming to Grafton."

Greg said the spare horse is also for sale for $2000.

"We had a couple of others we've made, not from this silky oak, we've been prepared to knock the price of them down to $1500," he said. "But the heart of Grafton is non-negotiable."

The DEX factor

Men's Shed rocking horse guru Greg Ryan thought turning a tree from 'the heart of Grafton' into rocking horses was a story the city would like to read about. We agreed. The paper has followed the saga from the outset. Readers have seen:

  • Veteran sawmiller Spiro Notaras hugging the living tree in Karl Cooksley's backyard to measure its volume.
  • Timbergetter Shane Shipman sawing through the base of the tree and the trunk lifted by crane out of the yard.
  • The progress of the log through the Notaras & Sons mill.


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