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16-March-2020 (Sandra Brown)
16-March-2020 (Sandra Brown)

Photographs supplied by Roger Johnson / Sandra Brown

The sculpture commemorates the broad-axe sleeper cutters who worked in the Barmah Forest and District.

The image of the broad axe sleeper cutter will be permanently etched into Nathalia’s history on Saturday, with the unveiling of a massive sculpture at the town’s entrance. Sitting atop a 1.6 m granite pedestal, the 2 m copper-alloy statue will be unveiled at 11 am opposite the heritage centre in Blake St, Nathalia.

Sculpted by renowned artist Be´ la (Bill) Angyal, the work symbolises the 140-year history of sleeper cutting in the Barmah forest, which was a major factor in the establishment of the town.

Nathalia and District Development Corporation’s Vic Dohnt described the sculpture as a ‘‘masterpiece’’. ‘‘It’s a celebration of the history of Nathalia and district — and it’s a hell of a history,’’ he said. Mr Dohnt said sleepercutting in the Barmah forest put the area on the map. ‘‘Blokes were coming in from the goldfields from Bendigo and Ballarat because they heard there was more reliable money to be made cutting railway sleepers,’’ he said. Mr Dohnt said sleeper cutters were so important to the community, they were forbidden to go to war. ‘‘They said it’s easy to teach someone to pull a trigger, but very hard to teach someone to use a broad axe,’’ he said.

Standing 2 m tall, the monument is the latest in a long line of works by professional sculptor Mr Angyal. Having lived in Nathalia for 37 years, Mr Angyal said he was proud to contribute to the history of the area. ‘‘One of the main reasons we moved here was because I was very taken with the Barmah forest,’’ he said. ‘‘As a sculptor, it’s a gallery to me.’’

Mr Angyal, 85, said the statue represented the pioneering work of the timber cutters in the area. ‘‘I’ve studied the history of the forest and talked to a lot of people around the Picola and Nathalia area,’’ he said. ‘‘The broad axe sleeper cutters have played a significant role in the history of the Barmah forest.’’ The Hungarian-born sculptor had his first experience of the area as a Melbourne-based art teacher. ‘‘I used to come up to Barmah during the school holidays and I loved said. ‘‘The Murray to me is like my birthplace, the Danube — the flatness, the fertile soil — it’s fantastic.’’ Mr Angyal said the copper sculpture took ‘‘astronomical hours’’ to construct and he is happy with it being the centrepiece of Nathalia’s southern entrance. ‘‘It doesn’t leave the studio unless I’m happy with it.
Country News ,  By Jordan Oliver jordan.oliver@sheppnews.com.au



Address:Blake Street (Murray Valley Highway), Nathalia, 3638
GPS Coordinates:Lat: -36.060235
Long: 145.203761
Note: GPS Coordinates are approximate.
View Google Map


Monument Type:Sculpture
Monument Theme:Technology
Artist:Bela (Bill) Angyal


Actual Monument Dedication Date:Saturday 12th December, 2009
Front Inscription

"The Sleeper Cutter"

This sculpture has been formed from beaten copper by Nathalia based local sculptor Bela (Bill) Angyal.

Dedicated to the skill, strength and bush craft of the broad-axe sleeper cutters of the Barmah Forest & District.

Unveiled December, 2009

Source: MA
Monument details supplied by Monument Australia - www.monumentaustralia.org.au