Climber Profile

Sustainable Future

One of the major figures in West Australian arboriculture, Michael Byrne talks through his career and enduring passion for the industry.

Sometimes you must endure a bit of misery to work out what you really want to do with your life. For Michael Byrne, it was electroplating in a factory. “I’d look out the door and if it was nice weather I’d constantly wish to be outside and not dealing with all these chemicals,” he explained. Located in the beautiful Eastern Hills of Perth, WA, this bush location lent itself to working with the environment. Some 26 years later, he’s still up a tree every day.

“I started my business before I was qualified, just with a panel van and a ladder,” he said. “I’d be pruning cotton palms and it was a bit sketchy as I didn’t have a harness or any safety gear. I put myself through an arboriculture course at TAFE to get qualified, and the more I learnt the more I knew this was the job for me. My passion grew, and I can thank having good teachers for that.”

Michael’s given plenty back over the years, becoming a competition climber, lecturer, mentor, arbor camp host, workshop trainer and served in several roles within the Tree Guild of WA. He has been the TGWA representative on the Agrifoods Technical Reference Group assisting in the review of the Arboriculture training package, as well as a member of the Industry Advisory group for the Food Fibre and Timber Industry training council (FFTITC) and the Green Space Alliance. He was director for the WA Tree Climbing Championships over many years, and was on the committee organising the Asia Pacific Tree Climbing Championships when it was held in Perth a few years ago. Currently, Michael is a member of the Practising Arborist committee working on the Minimum Industry Standards series. Clearly, his passion remains strong for his industry.

He runs his business – CPD Tree Services – alongside his wife Sandra, who has a degree in environmental biology. “She’s the brains,” Michael said, “and we’re a small crew of us and just two others.” It’s a family business priding itself on the personal touch, with services including pruning, removals, clearing power lines, tree risk assessments, tree surveys and vegetation mapping. “We practice sustainable principles such as milling,” he said. “Whenever we encounter a decent log, we’ll slab it to get value added by-products. We usually make slabs for table tops or other furniture; it’s a good hobby.”

He said pruning and dead wooding were the most satisfying aspects of his job. “It may take you longer than a removal or dismantle, but every time you drive past a tree you’ve dead wooded, see how well it’s doing, you take pride in that. You can admire your handiwork.”

With over a quarter of a century on the job and with much competition climbing experience, Michael’s regarded as one of WA’s most competent climbers. He’s only recently retired from comp climbing, but credits it with vastly improving his skills and the correct use of equipment, and compels others in the industry to do likewise.

“When I started we really just used the English Prusik, which was fine for about 15 years and I’d do alright in the national competitions,” he explained. “My epiphany was watching a YouTube video of Joe Harris’ Spiderjackery, as I saw how easily he was climbing through the tree canopy on a spiderjack. Using social media, YouTube or whatever, has helped me learn what equipment is most relevant for what tree and when to use it. Identifying the specific tool for a job is so important.”

Michael said he went to the National Tree Climbing Championships in Adelaide around 2003 and saw how its format led to fantastic competition and skills development. He helped instigate the same sort of format for WA competitions thereafter, and champions how inclusive the tree climbing family is. “The camaraderie is so good,” he said. “Everyone’s very inclusive and helpful, and it’s invaluable to see the skills others have developed. Arborists should continue their learnings through whatever facility: TAFE, doing tree risk assessments or cross training like rock climbing, but definitely give the climbing comps a go.”

Michael’s training a staff member at the moment, particularly in the aerial rescue discipline as it’s most relevant to their work. “Without question, competency in aerial rescue ensures a better level of safety in the workplace,” he explained. Michael also believes some employers aren’t fostering the development of tree climbing. “I believe they’re fostering the development of getting their EWP (Elevated Work Platforms) in,” he said. Arborist training in WA has also been left behind somewhat, Michael explained. TAFE was the only option until very recently, but two new WA training facilities have started this year, pointing to good signs for the future. “It’s good to have a bit of competition to remove complacency,” he correctly stated.

“With over a quarter of a century on the job and with much competition climbing experience, Michael’s regarded as one of WA’s most competent climbers.”

Showing how right he was to escape factory life, Michael’s career has seen him tackle some fascinating assignments. For the last three years he and his crew have been working on the trees at Perth’s Parliament House – a grand 1904 building set in magnificent grounds – and has been doing a lot of local black cockatoo survey work. “That’s very satisfying,” Michael said. “I go up into the canopy, trying to identify what might be suitable habitat, and investigating if anything’s there.” A varied job that never gets boring it seems.

The profession has been good to Michael, and of all the things he values in his career, it’s the working environment – both the location and the people – he still enjoys. “If you’re in the right crew and all working hard together you develop a better bond,” he said. “Your safety is sometimes in somebody else’s hands, and that adds to it all. I never got that bond working in any other job.”

For more information on Michael, Sandra and CPD Tree Services visit www.cpdtrees.com.au

December 25, 2019 / by / in , ,
Sharing The Skills

Zac Shearer shares his world-class climbing skills with TAFE NSW Yallah students.

The way TAFE NSW teacher Zac Shearer can leap around in the tree tops could put chimps in an Attenborough documentary to shame. The former nationally-competitive tree climber has a swag of medals hanging from his harness, having won the Victorian Open Grade Tree Climbing Championship, was ranked fifth in Belgium and in the top 10 in the Australian Competitive Tree Climbing Championships.

Having proven his skills in competition, Mr Shearer is now sharing his experience with Certificate III in Arboriculture students as an arborist teacher at TAFE NSW Yallah.

He started teaching last year and his advanced standing in the industry is becoming a drawcard for budding arborists from across the country.

The timing is good for his students who are learning from one of the industry’s best and becoming qualified in a sector experiencing a growing demand for employees.

Garden services are forecast to grow over the next five years due to an ageing population, growth in housing and a trend in businesses outsourcing non- core services.

TAFE NSW Certificate III in Arboriculture students gain the skills to work in a broad range of roles in the horticulture and garden services sectors.

“My students learn plant identification, assessment of tree health, learn how to climb safely using aerial rigging, use specialist machinery and safe chemical use,” Mr Shearer said.

In my peak, when I was subcontracting, I was often given the most difficult trees to work on. At one point I was spending about 30 hours a week in a harness.”

“It’s an enjoyable career, it pays well. and, when qualified, graduates will have skills that can be used all over the world. I have ten years climbing experience working in Australia, Belgium, Germany and London.

“In my peak, when I was subcontracting, I was often given the most difficult trees to work on. At one point I was spending about 30 hours a week in a harness.”

As well as completing the theory, students are required to undertake 400 hours of practical hands-on training in order to gain their qualification. This includes TAFE NSW Yallah Arboriculture students helping schools in the Illawarra with tree-hazard management.

TAFE NSW Horticulture Head Teacher Ben Garnero said local public schools often comment on the professionalism of the students and teachers when working on-site.

TAFE NSW Yallah is a centre of excellence for horticultural, agriculture, animal studies, permaculture, conservation and land management.

For more information visit www.tafensw.edu.au. Or Call 131 601.  

November 17, 2019 / by / in , ,
Jamie Boston – Unbroken

From dislocated shoulders and knees to a fractured spine, Jamie Boston proves you can’t keep a good climber down.

Injuries are a sportsman’s biggest enemy. Give in to them and your career is doomed, but find a way to returnstronger from each physical setback and you can reach the very top. Competition climber Jamie Boston has a body “held together with tape” after a string of injuries and accidents, but by defending his Queensland Tree Climbing Championship and placing top ten on debut at the World Championships this year, he demonstrates a ferocious will to win.

The hits have been tough. Jamie broke his back after being struck by a car while at the Asia Pacific Tree Climbing Championships in Singapore, fracturing his L2 vertebrae, damaging his right shoulder, suffering internal bleeding and slicing open his elbow. “It was the worst pain I’ve ever had,” Jamie said, whichis saying something from a man who’s fractured his skull, broken bones, needed left shoulder reconstruction and snapping the ACL in his right knee, all through motocross and adventure sports.

In the Red Bull Branched Out event he had to pull out of the final after dislocating his shoulder, while the same injury almost proved his undoing at the 2018 Australian Nationals when he twice dislocated his shoulder in the Masters event. “It popped out twice and I had to put it back in, butI wasn’t going to give up,” Jamie said. “I needed a first or second place to go to the World Championships in America, so I pumped through it.” He secured therunner’s-up spot to book his ticket, but just before heading to the Worlds he popped his knee out playing netball.

“It’s funny, but every time I’ve been injured, when I’ve come back to climbing I’ve got better,” the 29-year-old said. “It must be a drive I have.” Only six months after fracturing his spine and being laid up in a Singapore hospital bed, Jamie made the Masters of the 2016 Australian Tree Climbing Championships and finished an incredible second.

This competitive drive must stem in part to his upbringing. Raised in Mullumbimby, NSW, Jamie and his younger brother Terry were forever trying to outdo each other, including tree climbing. “There was a tree house we built down the road with 27 different levels,” he said. “Terry and I are only two years apart and best friends so there was always competition between us.” It continues to this day, with Terry also one of Australia’s finest competition tree climbers.

Jamie’s arboriculture career began after becoming disenchanted with the on-off nature of building work. “A friend was tree climbing, asked if I wanted to try it and I quickly fell in love with it. I did six months on the ground learning the ropes, then got the opportunity to climb and got a job for Terry doing the same a year later.”

Due to his raft of injuries, Jamie is currently training manager at Treescape Australasia in Brisbane. “I’m off the toolsfor now, but I love sharing my knowledge with the next generation,” he said. “My big passion is helping, training and teaching climbers.” He can look to the man who originally trained him, 2017 World Champs bronze medallist Mark Gistitin, for this inspiration. “In my opinion he’s the best climber in Australia, and from day one I was on the job he was telling me all about the competitions and I wanted to be part of it.”

Success came quickly for Jamie, taking the NSW title in just his third ever event. Although punctuated by injuries, his honour roll today includes the aforementioned results plus Queensland champion in 2017 and 2018, Ascent winner at the 2017 and 2018 Red Bull Branched Out, Ascent and Throwline winner at the 2017 Asia Pacific Championships, and Ascent World Champion 2018.

Watch clips on YouTube or witness him live at a climbing event and it’s clear Jamie’s a prodigy at the Ascent discipline, arguably the world’s best. But how’s he so good? “My muscles lend themselves well to the ascent, and I’ve worked out a technique that I feel is fastest,” he said.

“I have the foot loop very loose on my left foot; it annoys others when they try the same because it always falls off, but as I’ve always done it this way my co-ordination makes it work and I’m able to get continuous momentum up the rope. Lots of practice has helped too.”

It was a dream to make the World Championships in Ohio this year. “It was a life goal and I did really well to finish tenth out of 75 climbers, with only one little mistake preventing me going into the Masters,” Jamie said. “It was really cool to see the best climbers in the world, you meet people you know from social media and past competition coverage, but I was totally calmed once I’d nailed the Ascent event. I thought the climbs would be harder than they were. I think that’s because the level of climbing we have in Australian, New Zealand and the Pacific region is so high, and harder than at the Worlds.”

Only six months after fracturing his spine and being laid up in a Singapore hospital bed, Jamie made the Masters of the 2016 Australian Tree Climbing Championships and finished an incredible second.”

Now he’s got a taste for the world stage, could he one day see himself as international champion? “I know I can make the Masters at the Worlds, but to win at that level you have to have a perfect run. The top guys like (current World Champ) James Kilpatrick are silky smooth and hard to beat. But absolutely I could win it.”

As with most competitive climbers, Jamie is a huge champion of the sport. “People shouldn’t be put off because it’s competitive,” Jamie said. “You help your fellow competitors and they help you; it’s all about the development of the industry and the people in it. At competitions you learn new techniques and see the problem solving, which really help with your work climbing.”

Now that he’s scratched his World Championship itch, this summer Jamie could endure both shoulder and knee reconstruction to help his broken body. If, as before, he comes back stronger than ever, 2019 could be a very special year indeed.

December 15, 2018 / by / in