May 24, 2019, 03:00 AM
Hummel Liu is no ordinary arborist. At 38, the Canberra-based apprentice is defying age as much as gravity in his new career as a tree-climbing ‘arb’ with our Parliamentary Triangle team.
And it’s already paying dividends for the fearless trainee, who last month scooped 4th place in the 2019 ACT Tree Climbing Championships.
For Hummel, age has never been something to hold him back. “My teacher recently told me that most people in this industry are retiring at my age rather than starting off,” he jokes.
“But I think being a bit older actually helps me learn faster!”
As Australia faces a continuing shortage of qualified arborists, Citywide’s 30-strong national team has earned a reputation as one of the best in the business.
But senior arborist Pat Bourke says finding someone with Hummel’s commitment and maturity remains a rarity.
“After 23 years in the business, it’s inspirational to see someone of his age embrace the job with open arms,” says Pat.
“We look after 16,000 trees in Canberra, so there’s always going to be work to do – and it’s great to be doing it with someone with so much enthusiasm and dedication.”
Hummel began his Certificate III in Arboriculture in early 2018, and since February has been training alongside Pat, dismantling trees from a truck-mounted work platform.
“We’ve been felling some larger trees, and the last one he scored a direct hit onto a witch’s hat,” says Pat.
The Canberra team has so much faith in Hummel’s ability that they entered him into the recent ACT Tree Climbing Championships, where he tested his climbing, line-throwing and rescue skills among some of the nation’s finest arborists.
“It was very daunting,” admits Hummel, “All the competitors had been climbing for years and half of the gear they used I didn’t even recognise!”
But despite his inexperience, Hummel scored a respectable 16th place nationally and 4th in the State.
“Next year I’m aiming for 12th nationally,” he says.
A lifelong career
Hummel says he can see a long-term career at Citywide, where he’s been smitten by the “rare and encouraging” work culture.
“In this industry I think it’s quite common for new staff to be teased and harassed, but I’ve only experienced support and encouragement from my teammates at Citywide,” he says.
“This is really appealing for me. When you’re climbing a tree with chainsaws, you don’t want to be worrying about your relationships with your colleagues!”
Hummel’s story is one that should encourage anyone who wants a change of career – whatever their age.
While working as a recruitment consultant in 2017, he was conducting a post-placement review at a tree services company when he had a life-changing moment.
“I saw my client up a tree and I just thought, ‘Wow that’s really cool!’ I used to do rock climbing 20 years ago, and that moment brought back some great memories. So that’s basically what led me to enrol in arboriculture – and then led me to Citywide!”
Brendan Birks, who leads the Canberra grounds crew, says Hummel’s journey should give faith to anyone interested in arboriculture.
“Young people tend to think of it as an unskilled physical job, but nothing could be further from the truth,” says Brendan.
“The science of arboriculture is constantly changing, and you need a lot of knowledge about different species, how they grow, how they react to pruning. It’s a highly skilled job that can lead to all sorts of interesting work in tree management.”
It’s also a job you can start immediately, with 20 current vacancies at Citywide – and hundreds more around the country.
“Arboriculture is in demand everywhere,” says Brendan.
“If you’re committed and can climb, you’ll find a good job wherever you go.”
“There are so many facets to this business, and it’s a great career to get into if you’re keen to learn like Hummel,” adds Pat Bourke.
“It’s a fun job with good people… but more than that, it’s just so rewarding to look after trees and make them safe and beautiful for the public.”
Simon Mossman - Group Corporate Communications
M 0427 307 216