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.