04 January 2023
Daredevil tree surgeon Albert Selway specialises in climbing and felling some of Australia’s tallest timber. Down on the ground, though, a Defender Td5 130 double cab is as vital to his work as a chainsaw
At an altitude that most of us only experience in a plane or a skyscraper, Albert Selway – Albie, as he’s universally known – swings nonchalantly on a rope between two sections of tree trunk, an idling chainsaw swinging from his tool belt. He looks across to the trunk he’s just departed, assesses where to cut next, then sails gracefully back across the void.
Head for heights: Albie Selway is a specialised climber
One-handed he revs up the chainsaw, slices off a four-foot length of heavyweight timber, then steers it with his other hand as it falls into the garden beneath, missing the homeowner’s lovingly tended plants. The chainsaw’s revs soar once more, and another hefty section of tree falls to earth.
Devon lad, Albie Selway
Back on terra firma, Albie – a Devon lad who now lives near Melbourne, Australia – strolls across to his specially modified Defender Td5 130 and cracks open a bottle of water: lumberjacking is hard, hot work. The inside of his double cab is littered with tools of his trade and dusted liberally in sawdust, testament to the fact that despite its trendy looks, this Defender is a genuine workhorse.
In Australia Albie’s Defender is a rarity. Most ‘tradies’ – a huge sector of the Aussie workforce engaged in all manner of practical trades – drive double cab pick-ups from Toyota, Ford, Isuzu and Great Wall, enticed by their refinement and equipment levels, and most of all their reliability compared with a Land Rover. LRM readers may have a level of tolerance for green oval ‘foibles’, but Down Under the tradies prefer the certainty of reaching their place of work without incident.
Albie, however, is one of us. “I grew up on a farm in Devon. My old man always had Land Rovers all the way back to the Series models when we were kids. I remember going out with dad and my siblings checking the sheep and we’d be on the bonnet holding onto the windscreen wipers and he’d be turning fast, trying to knock us off. I’ve always liked the design, how basic they are for working on and it’s probably the most iconic shape of a vehicle ever built. I learnt to drive on old Land Rovers and quad bikes.
Winch, ’roo bar, snorkel, CB aerial and big wheels and tyres – hallmarks of just about every 4x4 you see on Aussie roads
“My first Land Rover was a 90 single cab pick-up 200 Tdi. It had been owned by an old farmer who moved cattle with it – it had a big bull-bar on the front and he used to nudge the cows with it, so all the wings were dented in. It wasn’t in good shape but for me as a first car, back when I liked going off-roading and stuff, it was great. So I put a big lift kit on it, mud tyres, and didn’t care too much if I scrubbed up against trees in the woods.
“Then I had one of my brother’s old Defenders – he’s a tree surgeon and the reason that I’m in the business – a 300 Tdi with a tipper that had a big wood chip body. Then I had a little car for a bit, when I was in between Land Rovers and commuting quite far for work. After that I bought a 2008 Puma 110 dual cab – that was the last one I had until I moved over to Australia four years ago.”
Inspired to head 10,000 miles south by YouTube videos of Aussie tree feller Graeme McMahon working on the towering mountain ash trees in the Dandenong Ranges on the fringes of Melbourne, Albie initially took full-time employment with the company that sponsored his visa application, before setting himself up a sub-contractor tree climber. He had a brief fling with a Toyota Hilux ute before coming to his senses…
“Having never owned a Td5 I was quite keen to have that engine in a 130. It took me three months to find the right one. It was a dual-cab but on the back had a flat steel tray with short sides – the previous owner had a fifth wheel in the tray to tow a camper van. The rest of the vehicle was completely standard.”
Rear tray and canopy handmade to Albie’s spec and allow him to keep his work gear safe and neatly stowed
In Albie’s hands it didn’t stay standard for long. Bigger wheels and aggressive off-road tyres were an immediate mod. A Warn winch and winch bumper complete with ’roo-bar came shortly after. The biggest changes were work-specific and hand-built to Albie’s requirements – a new tray with drop-down sides, short, lockable stainless steel canopy for his chain saws, axes, pry bars, harnesses, tow straps, etc, and several locking toolboxes beneath the tray. Australia is awash with pick-ups with a similar setup, but seldom, if ever, do you see it on a Defender.
“I was absolutely stoked when I first saw it,” enthuses Albie. “It was exactly as I’d pictured it. So much more accessible and ordered than a standard Hi Cap body, a lot more friendly to use day in, day out.”
Drop-down sides and back give versatlity and easy access
The 130’s suspension remains fairly basic. “Because of the weight of the winch and bumper I’ve put two-inch spacers at the front but left the springs alone,” explains Albie. “The rear has heavy duty coils and then helper coils – there are airbags, too, that help when towing. Front and rear locking diffs would be nice, but for work I don’t really need them – if I get into a sticky situation I just use the winch. I also use the winch to pull trees down.”
Mostly, though, Albie cuts trees down, starting at the very top where few of us would dare to venture. “There’s definitely a thrill to my job most days,” he confesses, “putting yourself where some people wouldn’t go. I do work on trees that other climbers turn down – trees that have been dead 15 years or more and are unstable in the ground. You have to have confidence in yourself, reduce the risks, and just make it happen.
“You can’t think too hard about what you’re doing – if you did, then you probably wouldn’t end up doing it.” Which sounds a little bit like owning an old Land Rover…
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