Change for good

QAA committee member, science graduate and with tree climbing competition silverware, Mona Bruckhoff is well placed to help drive industry change in Queensland.

We’ve all known people who like a good moan and whinge about anything and everything. Some keep it up for weeks, months, even years on end. You listen, bite your tongue and think: “Well, why don’t you do something about it?” Fortunately, some people do. They try to implement change for the greater good and, with a bit of luck, improve things for themselves and others.

Mona Bruckhoff is keen to do so as a Queensland-based arborist. The 34-year-old is Sunshine Coast representative on the Queensland Arboricultural Association (QAA) committee and keen to help bring about change in a state she says takes a very old-school approach to tree work.

“Joining the QAA meant I’m not just sitting down grumbling about it, but actually doing something about it,” she says. “It’s also helping me learn about the processes out there, why it’s slow and difficult for changes to happen and the issues faced over the years. I’m lucky to learn from people who’ve been in the industry a very long time, plus be part of the new energy the committee wants to build.”

Mona acknowledges the industry won’t change overnight but wants to ensure she’s doing what she can to speed up the process. Better training, better education and a more holistic approach to tree management are key aspects she’s lobbying for.

“There’s a mentality in Queensland that anyone can grab a chainsaw and just cut a tree down, even if it’s not the best practice, and take the cash,” she says. “There are more regulations coming in and that’s great for the industry, but right now it feels there’s very little regulation and anyone can just set up a company. The result is a lot of places undercut each other and fight for money rather than doing the decent work they should be.”

Of the many arborists across Australia we’ve interviewed, a common thread is the increasing drive towards conservation alongside a more scientific approach to arboriculture. Mona’s degree in zoology with conservation shows she’s well placed to be part of this, backed up by her career working as a ranger for Queensland Parks and Wildlife and for tree care companies both large and small.

At Treesafe Australia she completed her Certificate III in Arboriculture, becoming proficient on working on large trees and bigger machinery. Mona recently started working for Bush and Beach Tree Services in the Sunshine Coast Hinterland, carrying out jobs for private clients across the region as well as councils and schools.

“I’m an all-rounder,” she explains. “I can climb, I’m on the ground, run a crew, drive the trucks and fill in the gaps. I love the outdoor, physical work and that’s something that’s going to be needed in this industry long-term.”

Mona performed strongly at the 2019 Queensland Tree Climbing Competition, winning the female throwline, placing second overall and winning the rookie trophy. Part of her prize included representing Queensland in the Asia Pacific Tree Climbing Championships, but Covid cancelled that opportunity.

“The event was great for networking and learning new skills but going forward I’m happy to concentrate on the more scientific side of things,” she says. “It was powerful to do it with other women all supporting each other. There’s solidarity there as women have gone through struggles in this industry, and to talk to women who’ve been able to help create a path for me and others has been really powerful. They’d have found it tougher than me before.”

Keen to become an AQF Level 5 arborist, Mona says opportunities to do so in Queensland are limited so is looking to find a course in VIC or NSW and study online. “Sadly, I feel in Queensland it’s more about the money rather than the education,” she explains. “I was disappointed with the Certificate III course I did. It was tick and flick really. I wanted it to be better and more engaging, so I’m grateful to be part of the QAA community now. They’re putting on more workshops and online learning.”

Mona’s keen to incorporate her science degree into her future studies and work. In her experience, the scientific side of arboriculture has been too often overlooked. “Exploring the scientific research on fungi with trees; the soil around them; how trees grow in urban areas and how to create habitat trees, it’s all engaging stuff that’s much more than just pruning or removing,” she says.

“Changing the language we use would be helpful too; I don’t think ‘tree lopping’ is okay anymore. Another term for arborists is ‘tree doctors’ but we’re rarely treated that way. You don’t go to a doctor’s surgery and suggest what’s needed, but that’s what happens when the client thinks they know what’s safest or best. The problem here is if conservation is the best option but the client wants a tree cut down, if an arborist doesn’t do so another will and take the money for the job.”

Mona looks to NSW, Victoria and overseas as better regulated places for professional arborists to operate, and says she still loves her work and encountering others in the industry keen on change, increasingly holistic approaches and embracing science.

She enjoys the physical nature of the work that helped bring her to arboriculture and says she’s mindful of how she works and how best to use modern equipment. “I enjoy working outdoors and with nature. Keeping fit is a bonus but I have noticed how others who have been in the industry for longer have so many injuries. I work hard but want to incorporate new techniques and machinery to support my body to be able to continue the work for a long time.”

Working smarter rather than harder? If science can help do so then all arborists should ultimately benefit.

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