10 May 2024

Arborists to show off tree climbing skills in official ACT championships

| James Coleman
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Competitive tree climbing.

One of the tree climbing competitions involves rescuing a dummy. Photo: Australian Capital Tree Community Climbing Championships, Facebook.

It starts in the schoolyard. Once the teacher on duty has been distracted – normally by a student whose express purpose is to create a diversion – there’s an informal competition held around the playground tree to see who can reach the highest limb the fastest.

But an actual group of adult professionals is doing it at Weston Park in Yarralumla next weekend.

The mission is broadly the same: the ACT Tree Climbing Championships involves qualified arborists from a range of local companies climbing trees as fast as they can, with a few tricks thrown in along the way to make it more of a challenge.

The Australian Capital Tree Community (ACTC) will present six competitions – throw line, open ascent, speed climb, rescue, work climb and masters – across six well-established trees and a crane.

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ACTC president Gye Draney says his favourite competition is the work climb where the climber starts at the top of the tree and manoeuvres down, passing certain points to ring bells hung from the limbs.

“You’ve got to get in five different positions in the tree in five minutes,” Gye says.

Telopea Park

Four ACT Tree Climbing Championships have been contested since the first in Telopea Park in 2016. Photo: Australian Capital Tree Community Climbing Championships, Facebook.

Along the way, there’s the branch toss, where the arborist has to throw three branches into a bucket on the ground. Another, the “electrical stick”, replicates a pole-mounted saw or pruner which the climber uses to ring a bell.

The rescue challenge involves climbing the tree and bringing a dummy back down within a certain timeframe. And for open ascent, the winner is the fastest person to climb 15 metres up a rope dangling from the crane’s arm.

“It’s pretty good spectator sport,” Gye says.

Competitive tree climbing

Ring a bell? Photo: Australian Capital Tree Community Climbing Championships, Facebook.

The three climbers who emerge from the challenges with the most points for speed, efficiency and technique are nominated to represent the ACT in the National Tree Climbing Championships, which next year will be held in Canberra.

The sport isn’t just for the fun of it.

The ACT Tree Climbing Championship is only young, starting in 2016 in Telopea Park. It hasn’t exactly been annual either – the upcoming event is the fourth due to COVID messing up the calendar.

But over the border in NSW, not to mention the other states, arborists wear victory in the championships like a badge of honour. It proves they know what they’re doing.

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“I’ve been in the industry a long time,” Gye says. “And people started talking about how it would be a good idea for Canberra to have its own championships as a way to teach others about the industry and attract sponsors.”

Similar tree climbing competitions are held around the world as a platform for arborists to learn about the latest in climbing techniques and innovations in equipment.

But not everyone is a fan.

Tree climbing

The championships are an opportunity to demonstrate the latest arborist tech. Photo: Australian Capital Tree Community Climbing Championships, Facebook.

“What you’ll find is that generally only about five per cent of people in the industry want to be involved, because while it’s work related, it’s all timed. And that’s not really the industry. It’s dangerous and we don’t tell people to hurry, hurry, hurry.”

On the other hand, Gye says the competition introduces the public to the sorts of skills professional tree climbing arborists must use for safe, professional tree work. This year, ACTC volunteers will also explain the ACT Government’s new tree protection laws.

“We definitely encourage Canberrans to come along and watch, and chat to us as well. We’re there to answer any questions about the industry and legislation changes.”

The ACT Tree Climbing Championships will be held from 8 am on Saturday, 18 May, and 9 am on Sunday, 19 May, at Weston Park, Yarramundi Close, Yarralumla.

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