Industry People

Always Learning

Every day’s a school day they say, and for Julian Vickers, he’s training the next generation of arborists while furthering his own knowledge at the same time.

The Black Summer of devastating bushfires in the 2019-20 season brought untold tragedy, but also acts of heroism, incredible effort and old-fashioned Aussie mateship. Of all the people and services called into action, members of the arboriculture industry played an important role. With fires burning close to 20 million hectares across Australia, the clean-up and “make safe” work required was and still is extraordinary, with arborists called in to help assess and remove dangerous trees along thousands of kilometres of fire-affected roads.

Amongst that number was Julian Vickers, whose combined experience as both an arborist and as Lance Corporal in the Army Reserve proved indispensable. After a month of marking so-called “killer trees” (identified with a big yellow ‘K’ sprayed on their trunks) and helping with their removal, he was awarded a Bronze Commendation for outstanding efforts on Operation Bushfire Assist from the Army’s 4th Combat Service Support Battalion. Quite rightly, he’s proud of his and his colleagues’ efforts.

“They were long days with plenty of work,” Julian said. “After a whole month work was still going on, but at least the roads could safely open again. The contractors came in after us. I’m with the Corps of Transport, but I’ve got all the arb tickets, so I was attached to the Engineers during the bushfires. With my ticket in advanced tree felling, I was there to advise and remove the killer trees.”

Now practically a full-time trainer, Julian works at Arbortrim Australia Pty Ltd, a business providing arboriculture qualifications and intent on improving the quality of arboriculture work in Australia. They work closely with industry to ensure the programs offered are relevant and effective, pointing out that qualified arborists are on the list of skill shortages both at state and national levels. Imperative, therefore, that the training given is matched to the real-world work needed in the field.

“Julian was awarded a Bronze Commendation for outstanding efforts on Operation Bushfire Assist from the Army’s 4th Combat Service Support Battalion.”

It’s been a varied road for Julian to reach this point. He was raised on a dairy farm in New Zealand before moving to another in Victoria’s West Gippsland region aged 10. A relocation to the Upper Yarra Valley followed, ensuring his formative years were spent enjoying the great outdoors. “I did labouring type jobs until my mid-20s, then joined the Army,” he said. “I got out after a few years and my little brother, who was then a climbing arborist, asked me to join him at the tree company he worked for. I was dragging branches through back yards a lot, so I got a bit sick of that after a couple of years. I obviously liked parts of it, but was carrying big logs and it was very physical work.”

He decided to move to a larger company on Melbourne’s fringes, meaning council contracts. “I was doing reactive work like storm damage, and also powerline vegetation work, running a crew, all for about ten years,” the 41-year-old said. All the while Julian had kept close ties with the Army, staying in the Reserves throughout his arborist career. “I did my junior leader course within the Army, and got the equivalent of a TAE (Training and Assessment) through the Reserves. I managed to transfer these to civilian equivalents after doing a couple of extra units, and came to Arbortrim as a trainer and assessor a few years ago.”

Julian had been a student with Arbortrim in the past as he’d do annual refresher courses with his job, so when a role came up he jumped at it. Training others in a job in which you’re experienced can be a terrific career move, but it’s not for everyone. You’ve got to be organised, patient, confident and a strong communicator. Being a “people person” is damn useful too – we’ve all had teachers through our lives who are anything but, and it’s hard work learning effectively from such types. “I’m a bit of an extrovert,” Julian explained, “and good at talking to people. In a training role I could do more of that. I was getting older, my body was getting a bit worn, and arb work isn’t something you can do forever.”

Julian’s worked in the bucket of EWPs (elevating work platform) but never been a climber, so he currently teaches practically all of the arb units bar rigging and climbing. “I do a lot of vegetation management training, open chainsaw courses, Certificate III in Arboriculture and the like,” he said. “My average week could be anything; today I’m teaching people at Parks Victoria to operate a wood chipper.” This was said during our chat at about 6.30am on a chilly winter’s morning. Julian didn’t start work until 8am that day, but was already on site preparing for his lesson. It’s going that extra mile that can make the difference between a good teacher and an average one.

His students include people working in the industry who need their tickets, but on open courses he could be teaching the likes of landowners who, for example, simply want to do a chainsaw course for cutting firewood. “I’ll also train people in the SES, the CFA, grounds people, EWP operators, and from all walks of life, really,” Julian said. As expected, he’s a champion of professionals and others bettering themselves and upskilling through relevant courses. “There’s always the need for more training. I don’t think you should be doing any type of dangerous work without being correctly trained. For any type of tool or equipment we use, you must be trained on it correctly, know how to properly maintain them and know the correct PPE (personal protective equipment) to have.”

If you work in the arb industry long enough, sadly, you’ll see incidents that lead to injuries or worse. It’s something nobody likes to witness, and Julian said he’s pleased to see positive changes since he began working. “We’re quite a small industry, and people within it are talking about training and safety a lot more. Things have been positively changing, with the industry bettering itself and being more professionally recognised. You need to stay safe. Look after your mates. It’s a dangerous industry if you become complacent.”

While Julian suggests more legislation and quality training is needed to improve the overall arboriculture industry, he speaks positively about the future. “There’ll be more work available, and more varied roles,” he explained. “The same factors remain: you need to be keen, want to learn and turn up on time, but there are good opportunities.

“Training others in a job in which you’re experienced can be a terrific career move, but it’s not for everyone.”

In general it can be a very physically demanding job, and you need to take care of yourself and pace yourself, but there are other roles to play. You can be an EWP operator, you can be a groundsman. As I’ve proved, you don’t have to be a climber. Just make sure you get your Cert III in Arboriculture and you’ll be a lot more desirable.”

Julian is currently working towards a Diploma in Arboriculture – he may be in his 40s, but quite rightly, we should never stop learning – and always with an eye to the future. “I’m pretty happy with where I’m at at the moment,” he said, “and it’s still a career I’d recommend to others. After all, there aren’t many jobs where you can be at a different beautiful site every day working alongside good people.”

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September 23, 2020 / by / in ,
Across The Generations

The McArdle name has been busy working on trees since the Second World War.

Based in Tamworth, current business owner Dan McArdle shares his life of experiences.

There’s nothing like old photos to show how far an arborist’s clothing, equipment and safety practices have advanced across the decades.

Two images of Dan McArdle working on trees from the early 1980s paint the picture. His “safety clothing” are a green t-shirt and long pants, with a bit of old rope around his belt as insurance. Of all the changes in the arb industry, safety has been the most welcome advance.

“I never had a serious accident in a tree,” Dan says. “I was always cautious, but I know I was lucky. I used to free climb with just a belt, chainsaw and no helmet. That was the style of climbing back then. I may have been up 50-odd trees a day; all about speed and confidence. I get in a tree now and I’m all fingers and thumbs. I really won’t go up now without a life line and harness.”

You’d have to work hard to find a name with more heritage in Australian tree care than McArdle. Dan’s grandfather was a tree lopper for North Sydney Council just after World War 2, and his dad, Jim McArdle, was a pioneer of dangerous tree removal in NSW, founding his business in 1956. Now aged 85, Jim – who Arbor Age profiled in 2013 – is still going strong. “Retirement’s a dirty word around our family,” Dan explains. “Dad can still swing his beloved Plumb axe and fetch his climbing gear if required. He’s got two big screws in his back, had hernias, two heart bypasses and has industrial deafness, but he’s still cutting and splitting firewood, probably 50-60 tonnes a year. He delivers it in his ute, and has clients who’ve been with him for 60 years. He’s a self-funded retiree: no pension and no government handouts.”

“One of his proudest achievements has been assisting Bill Sullivan in the Northern Territory in securing regulation 221 for climbers, allowing them to be attached to a crane for tree work.”

The McArdle family has followed his lead, with Jim immensely proud all his kids and his some 30 grandkids all in good jobs, including Dan operating McArdle & Sons Arboricultural Services from his Tamworth base, and his nephews running McArdle Tree Services in Sydney’s Hills District. Dan says he was destined to be in the tree industry, recalling he and his seven siblings helping his dad out once school was finished.

“Weekends in winters were not about sport but bagging firewood and loading trucks for the city wood delivery,” he says. “We were always paid. Never pocket money: it had to be earned and always a little board paid for keep. When I was a kid, dad was inspiring.”

Jim insisted his sons learn a trade – Dan picked toolmaking – but working for his old man was a given. “When I first went to work with dad there was no chainsaw used for cutting up the branches – you were handed an axe. The chainsaws were big, heavy and noisy, and only used for felling and blocking up logs into lengths. Back then smoko required a fire to be lit in the gutter to boil a billy. Same if it was St Ives or Mosman.” No such thing as hipster baristas serving iced soy lattes in those days. “There were no chippers or stump grinders either. All waste was loaded onto a truck, and stumps were dug out by hand.”

Dan ran the company in Sydney from 2000 on his father’s semi-retirement, but says he was always destined to be a bush rat rather than a city one. A tragedy compelled him to move towards consulting and risk management, something he’d been gravitating towards after completing his Arboriculture Cert II, Cert III and Diploma, and recognising there were better, safer ways than the “old” methods. Bridget Wright was an eight-year-old girl tragically killed by a falling rotten gum tree branch at her school in Pitt Town, NSW, in 2014. “I believe my experience may reduce any such loss occurring again,” Dan explains.

“If there’s one thing that rocked my boat it was this little girl’s life being lost.”

Now specialising in consulting, Dan limits his contracting to regional NSW, and uses sub-contractors for the work. “I don’t have any employed staff and I don’t want the big full contract stuff,” he says. “Since 2014 I’ve been heavily involved in school inspections, development applications and risk management for government installations.”

Following the recent devastating bushfires – the areas around Tamworth were heavily affected – Dan assessed dozens of kilometres of roadside trees that could have been damaged enough to prove a risk to road users. From there, he advised council of his recommendations.

One of his proudest achievements has been assisting Bill Sullivan in the Northern Territory in securing regulation 221 for climbers, allowing them to be attached to a crane for tree work. “It’s one of the safest ways, although controversial,” Dan explains.

“A lot of arborists don’t realise you can now be attached to a crane’s hook with a life line and harness. When Work Cover came to watch and assess me, it was the job that probably made me the most nervous, as we’d been pursuing it for eight years.”

Now aged 58, Dan’s body has been through the wringer. Alongside his work with WorkCover, SafeWork NSW, industry training and as one-time President of Tree Contractors

Association Australia (TCAA), he’s keen to educate arborists about the toll the work can take on the body. He’s living proof. “We all think we’re invincible as young fellas,” Dan says. “When I was employing, I took blokes aside and told them what was an acceptable weight to lift, whether it was one man or two men. The biggest workers compensation claims we had were strains, sprains and twisted backs from lifting something incorrectly, or underfoot trip hazards. These injuries impact business as well as health.”

Dan acknowledges there’s a lot more machinery to help the profession these days, but there’ll always be an element of manual handling. “Machinery can’t be used for dragging branches into chippers, or chainsaw operations,” he says. “Climbing, reaching out with a chainsaw, twisting and turning, it’s given me terrible knee, back and hearing problems. My guys must have exceptional ear muffs – not ear plugs – and eye protection. All that sawdust and dust in your eyes does have an impact.” The industry has changed beyond recognition during Dan’s career, and more again since his dad began the company 65 years ago. Clearly, the wealth of knowledge and experience the McArdle family has accrued shouldn’t go to waste. Fortunately, Dan’s keen on sharing his life’s lessons, and has been working on specific training and codes of practice as an industry representative for the last decade.

“If people like me don’t get involved in these things, we could end up with a product not suited to the coalface. If there’s a heap of people involved in training only, they may not necessarily come out with the best product.”

Dan suggests more contractors like him should be involved with the decision-making process. “We need to look after our industry, so we need to put something back,” he says. After a lifetime in the game, and with the lessons his trooper of a father instilled, there can be few more relevant people worth listening to.

July 23, 2020 / by / in ,
Industry Standards For Tree Work

The arboricultural industry is an inherently high-risk profession – powerful equipment, working at heights, and unpredictable climbing conditions, all of which can lead to injury or, in the worst case, a fatality.

Despite the ever-growing dangers involved, there have been few legal initiatives to standardise and record work practices for those working in the arboricultural industry. However, a new set of industry standards have been drawn up to help inform professionals of the best practices and safe working conditions.

Setting The Standard

Joe Harris, an internationally recognised trainer and tree worker, is among a group of experts who have come together with the national peak industry body to share their knowledge and create a set of handbooks that outline new standards called the Minimum Industry Standards (MIS).

“The Minimum Industry Standards are a series of publications that describe and clarify industry consensus on safe and current skills, techniques and equipment used in arboriculture and vegetation management,” Mr Harris said.

“Each MIS book was developed by Arboriculture Australia in close partnership with the different state and territory arboricultural industry groups, and with the help of the leading technical experts on each subject from Australia and around the world.

“The Minimum Industry Standards are the most up-to-date compendium of arboriculture industry consensus on safe work practices that are available in Australia. By working with practitioners and technical experts from all around the country, we have been able to create a ‘body of knowledge’ that is shared by the top professionals in our industry.” Mr Harris said the handbooks are a great opportunity to create a unified set of guidelines and practices as well as setting a standard for universal terminology for professionals. “If it’s safe, efficient and up-to-date… we wrote it down in the books. It’s also been an opportunity to address a lot of grey areas, for example with PPE [personal protective equipment] standards or terminology, that have been used inconsistently by different cohorts within industry,” Mr Harris said.

Aim of the MIS Books

Mr Harris said that the aim of the Minimum Industry Standards was to create a reference point that can be shared between industry professionals across Australia.

This assists in a number of different ways such as helping to standardise and improve training; provide a framework for businesses to develop their own Safe Work Method Statements (SWMS) and Standard Operating Procedures (SOP); and represent an industry consensus on safe practices when practitioners need to describe the ways they conduct tasks or use equipment to authorities like WorkSafe.

“The aim is to provide easy-to-read books which can be used by practitioners, trainers, managers and other authorities as a clear statement of the industry consensus on safe practices,” Mr Harris said.

Industry Leading Equipment For Safe Practices

Comprehensive training is just part of the package to ensure safe industry standards for arboricultural professionals. Quality equipment is essential to keep risks minimised and help organisations to be more efficient, productive and profitable.

As leaders in tree care and arboriculture equipment and machinery, Vermeer has been supporting the creation of the MIS handbooks, making the valuable resources available for purchase at Vermeer parts counters in Brisbane, Melbourne, Sydney and Adelaide, as well as offering postage across Australia.

In addition to the handbooks, Vermeer’s parts counters stock all the latest arbor climbing equipment, including harnesses, ropes, accessories and protective wear. Most Vermeer dealerships also feature a specialised zone where customers can try out the latest devices and harnesses before purchasing, ensuring quality equipment that is backed by Australia-wide servicing and availability of parts.

Further supporting the growth of industry knowledge and learning, Vermeer Arborist Seminar Series presenter, Joe Harris, will join fellow professionals at the Arboricultural Australia National Conference running from May 14-19, 2020 on the Gold Coast. The conference will feature both theory and practical sessions in addition to the trade show and popular Australian Tree Climbing Championships.

For further information please contact Vermeer via [email protected]

April 20, 2020 / by / in ,
Everything Is Possible

Lincon Logistics is a proud family owned and operated Australian company. Since the beginning, they have had a main goal; to deliver safe, quality height access Truck Mounted Platforms.

Lincon Logistics’ mantra of “Nothings out of reach, everything is possible”, has resulted in the company becoming a national leader in hire and sales of plant and equipment. Lincon Logistics has a variety of unique equipment available for hire, including their access platforms ranging from 12m to 103m. Their remarkable fleet range represents the professionalism and capabilities to suit every customer’s needs. Achievement of a true national network, through living the values of ‘Honesty’, ‘Reliability’ and ‘Punctuality’, has created long-term partnerships with customers and the local community.

The Palfinger state-of-the-art machinery is built and maintained to the highest of standards (OEM), meaning customers are assured of the very best the industry has to offer in terms of safety and fit for purpose equipment. They have seen a large investment in getting the right equipment for the right industries that operate in Australia. Many of these new standard add-ons are the result of continuous customer feedback that they seek on a regular basis.

Lincon Logistics is recognised within the Palfinger EWP world as the leader in access platforms, due to the consistent standards and experience that Lincon Logistics maintains.

Their back of house support is available 24/7, with factory trained technicians in each state of Australia. This capability allowed them to diversify in many areas, and has led to many contracts with government agencies. They are also a certified service agent for many world-class manufacturers of various makes and models. Therefore, Lincon Logistics have you covered for all aspects when it comes to EWPs and cranes.

The company believes that their equipment is the very best and perfect for the vegetation industry. Some of their most popular units to this industry have been the P130 (13m – ute mounted EWP), P200 (Truck Mounted EWP, that can be driven on a car licence) and the P280 (28m – truck mounted EWP).

Whether you hire, lease or buy from Lincon Logistics, you can be assured of one thing: the aftersales and ongoing support is the best in the industry.

When people think quality truck mounted EWPs, they think of Lincon Logistics.

For more information on the Lincon Logistics’ range of platforms call (07) 3712 0780.

April 14, 2020 / by / in ,
To The Next Level

Dunedin Arborist Mark Roberts is an ISA Certified Arborist and Tree

Risk Assessment Qualification (TRAQ) trainer, as well as owner of Roberts Consulting Ltd. The 51-year-old has recently been named a True Professional of Arboriculture by the International Society of Arboriculture (ISA), and while he’s at the very pinnacle of his profession, chances are he’ll be the one to lift the perceptions and aspirations of that profession even further.

At 51, Mark Roberts could be said to have had an impressive career. He qualified as an arborist and began hands-on work in 1989 – most of that work in Australia and England – then returned to New Zealand and earned a science degree.

“At that stage I’d been climbing for about 15 years,” he remembered. “I started my degree because I was broke and thought I needed to do something.”

Just weeks after beginning the study, a local college phoned and asked if he could ‘do some tutoring’. Tutoring at the college needed particular qualifications, so, while continuing with the science degree, a Cert IV was knocked over – on the side.

“At the same time, I was working with ISA on their qualifications,” explained Roberts, “so I was a bit of a guinea pig for getting the Cert IV transferred into the ISA program.”

It must’ve been a hectic period for a bloke who ‘needed to do something’. Over about five years he became the program manager at Otago Polytechnic – the local college mentioned earlier – locked up his science degree, obtained a National Certificate in Arboriculture and became an ISA Certified Arborist. While all that was going on, he was elected to the board of the New Zealand Arboriculture Association, became its President and was the Kiwi member of the ISA’s Council of Representatives.

“Being awarded for what I’ve done is really nice, but for me, I need to carry on doing it at that level. What I’ve done is what I’ve done. It’s what I will do that’s important to me.”

Branching Out

The next interesting opportunity to present itself was an invitation to be involved in a private training organisation, Thoughtplanters, now also an RTO in Australia.

“What happened with Thoughtplanters was, there was a bunch of people, industry leaders running large companies, who weren’t getting what they wanted from industry training. They approached me as a trainer and asked me to join the Thoughtplanters group. It was a no-brainer. I leapt at the chance.

“Lots of people could teach climbing, chainsaws and all the practical aspects of arb, but there weren’t many arborists willing or able to teach the theory subjects like soils and botany and of those, there weren’t many who could make it interesting.”

As a director of the company Roberts embraced the challenge so he could deliver the training and do the work. “I actually discovered I quite liked it,” he pondered. “I found I quite liked learning and I kind of got excited about the science of arboriculture.”

Once that passion for learning and discovery had been ignited there was no looking back. He gained his Diploma in Teaching, spent six years working on the New Zealand government Approved Code of Practice for Safety and Health in Arboriculture and has been the document controller for the New Zealand Industry Best Practice Guide for Safety and Health in Arboriculture since its creation in 2005.

While this was going on, Roberts progressed from the ISA’s Council of Representatives to the ISA Board of Directors and became president of the ISA.

Over Time

With several decades of hands-on climbing and training behind him, we wondered what were the big changes Roberts had seen in arboriculture.

“Big advancements in safety and equipment,” he replied without hesitation, “and big advancements in the attitudes to qualified staff.”

A few reminiscences of his early days in the industry illustrated the thoughts.

“My first harness was fundamentally just a pole belt, something a linesman might use to climb a power pole. Harnesses have changed greatly since then, with back-support ergonomics and so forth.

“Advances in climbing have been huge, too. Climbing lines have changed, and theway we climb has changed dramatically.” Roberts also remembers a time when qualified people weren’t well accepted within the industry.

“I worked in Sydney when I was a newbie, and I was one of the few qualified climbers on staff. There was quite a bit of animosity toward anyone who’d been to college. There was an attitude that if you’d been to college you clearly weren’t a real arborist.

“Now it’s how qualified you are that makes you an arborist.”

He’s has also seen big changes in how we care for trees.

“How we pruned and what we pruned really didn’t change much right up into the early 2000s,” he explained. “It’s only recently, in the last four or five years, we’ve gone, ‘Actually, crown thinning can be bad, and deadwooding is not a necessary requirement’. Many things we used to do, and all the things I used to teach, aren’t necessarily considered the best practice any more.”

Still To Come

Having been named a True Professional of Arboriculture and with a truckload of qualifications and achievements to his name, it might be fair to think this New Zealander has set himself up for early retirement. Probably not.

He explained, “Being awarded for what I’ve done is really nice, but for me, I need to carry on doing it at that level. What I’ve done is what I’ve done. It’s what I will do that’s important to me. The industry doesn’t need more arborists talking about what used to be able to do.”

There weren’t many arborists willing or able to teach the theory subjects like soils and botany and of those, there weren’t many who could make it interesting.”

So what’s coming up for this industry icon? And for the industry in general?

“I’ve done a bit with the United Nations and I’ve become involved with an American group called the Arbor Day Foundation. Both entities are functioning on a global level. The pressure on land from urbanisation is only going to increase as more and more people move into our towns and cities. As arborists we’re going to have to rethink how we manage our trees.

“For years a fundamental premise of tree management was ‘the right tree in the right place’. I don’t believe that’s true anymore. A tree might live 70 or 80 years, but there’s no way we can assume the buildings and land use around that tree will stay the same. So the idea of the right tree in the right place is almost the wrong thinking. The ‘place’ a tree grows in will most likely change, so we have to adjust what happens to our trees to fit the place that happens around them. That’s what I think the industry needs to be aware of.”

For Mark Roberts within the industry? “I’ve been purely in consultancy for the last three years and I’m loving it,” he smiled. “I’m getting really interesting jobs and meeting really interesting people, and I’m in a position where I can pick and choose the jobs I do. I’m very grateful for that.”

November 10, 2019 / by / in , ,
President of VTIO Leading The Way

Shane Hall is a voice worth listening to in the ever-changing arboriculture industry.

“Anyone who stops learning is old, whether at twenty or eighty,” Henry Ford once said. We’re often reminded about the importance of continued learning and skills development, but many of us neglect to “better ourselves” due to being too busy and, let’s be honest, the belief that we know enough all ready to do the job right.

The arboriculture industry has developed massively in recent decades, however, and those working in it should strive to evolve to reflect how the industry has matured. These are the thoughts of Shane Hall, well known as President of the VTIO (Victorian Tree Industry Organisation), senior investigations arborist at Bayside City Council in Victoria and, from 2011-2013, Chairperson of Council Arboriculture Victoria (CAV), a networking body for tree workers employed by Local Government.

“There have been significant changes in arboricultural practices in the last 15 years or so,” he says. “We’re continuing to see significant advances in climbing techniques and equipment. There’s a lot of tired old bodies out there with busted shoulders that would have loved to have started using the kind of gear being used now.”

Shane’s a man with a wealth of experience and champions professional development, collaborative learning, respect for your peers in the industry and getting involved with industry organisations, such as the VTIO.

It’s easy to neglect such things, but those hoping to thrive in a rapidly-changing industry will surely benefit from Shane’s advice. “Having a strong industry organisation in your regional area is really important for the professional development of people there,” he explains. “Strong organisations come from having people putting time into it, so even if you’re only going to do it for a short period or on an infrequent basis, stepping up and giving your time is going to be appreciated. And you can learn a lot. Your professional development will increase, it’s a great networking opportunity and a great way to improve your business practices and activities.”

Shane’s seen all aspects of the arb industry from one end to the other, starting out as a casual labourer for a mate with a tree cutting company, right through to his influential roles at council and VTIO. His early career saw him ultimately being told he “needed to get a piece of paper” to keep working, so in 2004 finished a Cert IV in horticulture (arboriculture), finished his Cert V the following year and transitioned into consultancy in 2006. He was working for local government by 2007, became vice president of VTIO in 2011 and president in 2013, before attaining a graduate certificate in arboriculture in 2014.

Certificates in frames are one thing, but Shane’s taken his learnings, and now in his numerous positions works hard to advocate greater professionalism in the industry. “I’m keen on increasing the industry standard,” he says. “We’re a legitimate industry, and legitimate industry needs professional development. You can’t go to school one day and then not learn anything for the next 30 years. We need to keep ourselves up to date with current information, so professional development days and distribution of information is vitally important.”

So how is this done? The VTIO is a not-for-profit organization run by volunteers for Victorian tree workers. It runs professional development days, including Arbor Camp, works closely with registered training organizations, and also TAFE to encourage students to attend. In addition, it runs the Victorian Tree Climbing Championship, a feeder to the Nationals.

The Arbor Camp is particularly interesting, a weekend-long event where industry colleagues get together to talk about things in a relaxed atmosphere and hear from experts across different job roles. Key for the next generation of arborists, the Thursday before the main event is for students only, with costs covered by the VTIO. Looking at last year’s event, experts were on hand to discuss things like soil science, technology in arboriculture, exercises for tree workers, the latest arb gear, creating artificial hollows and bolting trees. A chat with Australian Tree Climbing Champion Rebecca Barnes also added to the occasion.

Shane says the camaraderie at Arbor Camp and development days is akin to climbing competitions, ideal for morale and shared learning. He is very conscious of the importance of such things in any industry, as well as some of the more complex issues that are being addressed more in society as a whole. Mental health and gender equality being prime examples.

“Having a strong industry organization in your regional area is really important for the professional development of people there.”

“As an industry, it’s something we need to talk about more,” Shane says. “I’ve been encouraging people to be aware of and engage with people in the industry for mental health. We promote the R U OK? Day, wellbeing documents, and let’s face it, me posting a couple of social media posts every now and then isn’t a load of work. We want people to have conversations about this, so us putting the phone number of somebody useful out there is obvious. Our industry is like a lot of others, especially male-dominated ones, where there are higher rates of suicide amongst people involved.”

Acknowledging International Women’s Day, Elimination of Violence against Women Day and Movember all show progressive steps, alongside key aspects relevant to arb life such as information from a physiotherapist about exercises to look after the body while at work, skills for climbing and professional writing classes for consultants.

These are very positive signs. They show an industry taking itself very seriously as it expands. “The industry as a whole around the world is growing up,” Shane says. “People are putting time and energy into designing better workplace practices and equipment that’s better for the individual. We’re continuing to mature, but there’s still a lot of opinion in arboriculture. It’s always been part art, part science, but we need to reduce the amount of art and increase science. We need to back opinion up with actual physical evidence to support that point of view.”

An industry that takes itself seriously is bound to be taken more seriously by others, be that private business, councils, governments or the man in the street. “I’ve always seen training, gaining skills and knowledge and professional development as core functions,” Shane says. “And be respectful of all people in the industry. We’re a whole community.” Wise words indeed.

Wrapping up our interview, Shane’s thoughts went to two members of this community: “As President of VTIO I would like to take this opportunity to pay our respects to two people that have greatly influenced the skill development of many arborists in Victoria. The recent sad news of the passing of Clive Sorrell was quickly followed by that of Leigh Stone. Both will be missed.”

Readers seeking support can contact Lifeline Australia on 13 11 14, Beyond Blue on 1300 22 4636 or MensLine Australia 1300 78 99 78. Donations in support of Beyond Blue will be greatly appreciated.

For more information on VTIO visit

July 10, 2019 / by / in ,
Outside Of The Box

Imagine being roped up halfway down landslide-ravaged batters, cutting out 4-ton rootballs with a high-pressure water knife.

Sometimes on a job site you can face uncharted hurdles that require some improvised and inventive solutions. Arborist Campbell Brooke runs PowerClear where they specialise in large-scale work in the utility, local government and construction sectors.

A recent clean-up project of a cyclone-devastated stretch on the Gold Coast saw his crews tackle some particularly precarious situations which called for some creative thinking.

Since being established 15 years ago, PowerClear has grown to become much more than your standard tree service company. Now running up to 70 full-time staff and boasting over 130 heavy pieces of machinery in their fleet, they focus on big projects and can offer a full suite of services to their clients all over Australia. So whether it be general arbor work, tree surgery, stump grinding, landscaping, planting, watering, fencing, turfing, maintenance, right through to large-scale clearing, vegetation management, hard-access removals, sensitive transplanting and even concreting footpaths and curbs, PowerClear can do it all. It’s not only satisfying for the company to see a job all the way through, it’s also easier to manage and more reassuring for the client.

“We do the whole lot, start to finish with our own staff,” reiterated Campbell. “By doing it all in-house we can maintain a quality service that we can control. That’s what we’ve been able to offer our clients now – that holistic approach. This has just been developed over time and that’s one reason we’ve been so successful in the council work; we’re able to self perform everything.”

This holistic approach is further exemplified with PowerClear’s strong regeneration and planting drives and their sustainable use of the timber they collect.

“So the trees we remove, we then mill them,” continued Campbell, “so anything that’s salvageable for construction timber or furniture doesn’t go to waste. And then if it’s not good enough grade, we turn them into tree stakes and use them to plant new trees. We do thousands of them a year. It’s just renewable and it just makes sense.”

Even though he manages the whole business as the company Director, Campbell is an arborist first and foremost, through and through. He still gets on the tools to give the fellas a hand. At the same time, he also gives major credit to his highly professional staff.

“The guys we’ve got on board are really knowledgeable and from various backgrounds,” he affirmed, “and then we also put them through their arboriculture certification as well. We’ve got a lot of staff with experience, not only with trees but also all the civil stuff. We run a really small management structure. Underneath that are the crews and each crew has a leading hand. Actually, on a lot of our crews we’ve got several lead hands with a lot of guys that are just as experienced as each other.”

With a long history in the game and through his heavy involvement in the multitude of interesting and complex projects that PowerClear undertakes, Campbell has seen his fair share of crazy things. Still to this day he’s surprised, and excited, by the different jobs he continually encounters. The aftermath and clean-up of severe tropical cyclone Debbie in 2017 saw he and his team face new challenges that required some thinking outside of the box.

One of the deadliest storms to hit the South East Coast of Australia in recent times, cyclone Debbie resulted in 14 deaths and caused $1.7 billion in damages, primarily as a result of extreme flooding. Campbell remembered it “like an apocalypse had gone through and just completely wiped everything out”. It was a busy time for PowerClear who were contracted for several clear and repair operations.

“Because of the huge rain dump trees were down and there were landslides everywhere,” recalled Campbell. “There were proper, full-on, big slips. We started off by doing a lot of the civil stuff; cleaning up all the slips with the excavators and skid steer loaders and tippers. We had four 30-ton excavators and a 20-ton long reach just to clear the roads.”

Once they were able to open the roads back up, the flow-on work after that lasted for almost a year. They were tested with some painstakingly difficult tasks in hard-to-access disaster zones. Attacking one matted mess at a time, they wouldn’t just hit a snag, they would hit a mountain of snags all tangled together.

“We did some really interesting work with some gnarly trees where the batters had slipped. There was a lot of high-to-access work where we were removing the trees, and then also a lot of rock scaling, so getting big boulders that were loose off these unstable batters so crews could come in and start to excavate underneath. It was something we had some experience in, but not to that scale.”

At the same time, Campbell had other crews working further inland at Lamington National Park where the cyclone had decimated the pristine rainforest. “We did a heap of crazy winching and really remote stuff where these walking tracks were just completely blocked. We had to uncover them with manual winching and get all the rootballs, rocks and trees out of the way. And then we had to move it all away from the tracks. A lot of that stuff was over cliffs and through some gnarly terrain.”

“We decided to get the guys to use the water knife unit to actually cut the rootballs off the batters.”

It was during the perilous clean-up that Campbell and his team came up with a unique solution to a tricky problem. Some of the situations saw car-sized rootballs of trees overhanging off the slippery slope of the batters. They had to work out how to get them down without damaging the surroundings or getting things more tangled.

“So we’d go in and take the trees out, but there would still be the massive rootballs left there,” explained Campbell. “We’re talking 4-ton rootballs and there was no way of getting any machinery to them. So we decided to get the guys to use the water knife unit to actually cut the rootballs off the batters. They were roped up, 20 to 30 meters up the batters, and they had to cut the rootballs out and then winch them down to the road below. That was something really different. We did it on six or seven different sites. You couldn’t have done it any other way.”

“That would be one of the more interesting jobs where we had a piece of equipment we used for something completely different.”

Even though it was somewhat of an experiment, it worked very effectively; like a surgeon removing a giant tumour. They used a DenJet water knife; a stand-alone unit with a 4-cylinder diesel engine that can go up to 9000 psi.

“It’s like a huge, high-volume, high- pressure gurney,” Campbell described it. “It will cut through just about anything. It’s a very dangerous bit of equipment and you’ve got to wear Kevlar boots, Kevlar pants, the whole lot. We normally use it on flat ground.

“That would be one of the more interesting jobs where we had a piece of equipment we used for something completely different.”

So successful was this original technique that PowerClear continues to use it. When they needed to transplant some big cycads from the side of cliffs at Springbrook they went up on a boom lift to neatly cut them out, again using the water jet knife.

Even after all these years Campbell knows there’s always something new around the corner. Like many, that’s what he loves about the job.

Call PowerClear (07) 5568 0541

For more information about PowerClear go to

May 13, 2019 / by / in
Value Packed With Key for Treeincarnation’s

Sustainability and sticking to values are key for Treeincarnation’s success and growth.

To run a successful business you have to be in touch with customer needs and expectations. Some aspects never change. We all want a high quality of work, diligence, punctuality and value. The modern world has a few more expectations too, with sustainability and reducing our carbon footprint increasingly at the forefront of clients’ minds.

Why should the tree industry be any different? If a customer has the choice between firms and only one has a sustainability ethos, in today’s informed times, plenty will most likely pick the more eco-aware business.

Talking to Nick Peardon, owner of Treeincarnation in Melbourne’s Malvern East, it’s clear his drive to have a 100 per cent sustainable arborist firm has reaped rewards. Aged only 27, he fronts a team of seven carrying out tree removal, pruning and arborist reports predominantly for private clients. “We aim to be genuine, to be fun, to be the best,” he explains, while sticking rigidly to the company’s core values and focusing on having a growth approach where learning is key.

The mission, a noble one, is to make tree removal less wasteful in Melbourne. Once a tree is removed or pruned the wood is up-cycled for furniture to give the tree “a second life,” rather than just used as firewood or mulch. Highlighting the variety of work, besides more typical furniture jobs, the team is currently putting together a coffin with timber from a removed tree.

“What makes us different is what we predominantly do with the by-product of tree related services,” Nick said. “As much of the timber gets up-cycled as practically possible and the mulch goes to a soil farm. So rather than it just being spread around a garden it’s actually used and decomposed in a perm cultural process in the most efficient and sustainable way.”

Most would agree that minimising waste is for the greater good, but is it always practical in the real world of work? “The majority of comments and questions are on the logistics side of it,” Nick explained. “If another tree company becomes familiar with what we do and asks questions we point them in the right direction, like connecting them with a timber up-cycler for instance. We’re an advocate of other companies jumping on to collectively minimise waste.”

It’s commendable that Nick and his team aren’t only thinking about growing their own business, but being part of and inspiring others to look at the arb industry a bit differently for the common good. “We’re not going to significantly minimise waste if it’s just us,” he said. “A rising tide lifts all ships.”

It’s obvious Nick is a clear and impressive thinker with noble values and a strong business brain. And his concepts haven’t just been dreamed up in a classroom with his head in a book. He grew up on a farm– his mother had a poplar nursery and his father a sawmill – and had labourer roles at arborist firms before deciding to strike out on his own. “I saw there was opportunity in the industry to do things a little differently,” he explained.

With a Cert III in arboriculture and mainly working as a contractor, Nick “started to identify there was a gap in the market as some customer needs were not really being serviced or touched on,” he said. “This wasn’t about the actual work that was being done, but around the way the businesses were conducting themselves.”

This takes us back to good old-fashioned work practices, something Nick identifies as core to attracting and maintaining customers. “Simple things like rocking up to a quote on time,” he said. “Just sticking to your commitments really. Pretty much every business I worked for or with were dropping the ball majorly on that one. The whole customer journey and specifically communicating what was going on and when they can expect the problems to be solved.”

Nick was doing his own work on weekends and getting called back time and again for more work, citing his attention to detail as key. “It’s one thing to be an arborist, but it’s a completely different thing to run a business,” he explained. “A lot of companies have ‘values’ but it can just be writing on walls. Having values is one thing, it’s another thing to live in and have your standards align with your values.”

So Treeincarnation was formed with its own core values. Safety is the priority; be outcome orientated; be a team player, be ‘Wow’; have fun; take initiative; have a growth approach. Having such defined values makes it clear all working at the company are swimming in the same direction. “Culture is very much aligned with safety, and as we work in the third most dangerous job in the country (behind commercial fishing and mining) if we focus on the culture, workplace incidents are going to be significantly reduced,” Nick said.

The fun aspect is championed, which is refreshing at a time when so many people seem trapped in jobs they don’t enjoy. “What’s the point if you can’t have fun,” Nick said. This is exemplified with him naming his ‘Be Wow” value ‘The Owen Wilson Factor’. The actor is famous for his use of the word “woooow” and Nick wants to produce the same reaction from clients. This means exceeding expectations in every area; not just the job itself, but presentation and also providing a perfect clean-up after work is done.

Nick hopes other businesses will follow Treeincarnation’s sustainability drive, but says if others aren’t open to recycling more waste then “the onus is on us to get bigger, get more work and make more of a difference ourselves,” he said. “When we’ve taken on new recruits they’ve been impressed that we genuinely live up to our values. We’d love to see more arborists out there working for genuinely solid companies.”

If the phone keeps ringing and jobs keep coming in, a company must be doing something right, and clearly Nick’s focus on sustainability and sticking to his values is proving successful. Unselfishly, he wants other Australian arborists to follow suit and enjoy the benefits too.

“Having values is one thing, it’s another thing to live in and have your standards align with your values.”

For more information visit

March 4, 2019 / by / in