Roaring through the sky with the rich red of the outback unfolding beneath me, I spotted the billabong and prepared for landing.
A bush pilot, I was flying over Birdsville, an isolated town on the edge of the Simpson Desert in far western Queensland, for the very first time.
It’s a whole new world from up here, I smiled.
Parking the plane and going into the Birdsville Hotel across the way, a cold beer and hot meal was just what I needed while the plane was refuelled.
Aged 21, I’d just got my pilot licence and couldn’t wait to spread my wings and explore the great Aussie landscape.
I’d landed a job as a pilot in William Creek, a tiny town with a population of just six in outback South Australia.
Spending my days in the air, there was always lots of work to do, including mustering cattle and sheep!
Fast forward seven years, and I was still living in William Creek, taking tourists on scenic flights over Lake Eyre, in South Australia.
At 29, I met Courtney, then 35, who ran an outback tourism company with his brother.
Clicking, we bonded over our shared love of the bush.
Once, I flew us to North Queensland for a date and we stopped at Birdsville for lunch.
‘It’s pretty handy having a pilot girlfriend,’ Courtney chuckled.
Falling in love, we married in August 2016, in Broome, and settled in Aubrey, about 300km north-west of Melbourne.
Still, we’d regularly fly the 1800km to the Birdsville Hotel for a sundowner!
And when our family grew, we’d take our five kids!
Sitting on the hotel porch with Courtney, red wine in hand, watching the sunset while our brood played, we often dreamed of one day owning the pub.
Home to just 140 people most of the year – except for September when tourists converge for the Birdsville races – the little town has a big heart. And we’d fallen in love with it.
Chatting with the owners of the hotel in October 2019, we discovered it was up for sale. I couldn’t believe it.
The pub, which was built in 1884, hadn’t been on the market in 40 years!
By February 2020, we became the proud new custodians of the old girl.
Around the same time, we bought a 2428-hectare farm in Berrigan, NSW, to raise sheep and grow wheat, barley and canola crops.
‘It’s pretty handy having a pilot girlfriend,’ Courtney chuckled.'
We moved there with the kids, Alexandra, then 17, Sophie, 15, Harry, 12, Sierra, three, and Jonty, one.
Still, our pub was a 20-hour car ride away on dirt roads, so we had to fly our plane to work!
We had a wonderful manager at the pub, so decided to let him run it day to day, while we’d make the 4½-hour flight in our 14-seater light aircraft once a month, sometimes staying on for a few weeks.
When the kids aren’t at school in Berrigan, they are in Birdsville, running around the pub like they own the place.
‘Mummy flies us to town in her plane,’ Sierra proudly tells everyone she meets.
Strangers often ask if Courtney flies too.
‘Tay does the flying, I hand out the snacks and have a nap,’ my hubby will reply with a laugh.
Raised a little differently than most, our kids treat going in the plane just like others might a trip in the car.
Only our ‘car’ has wings!
Stopping to refuel, we sometimes get some funny looks from other pilots when the kids pile out.
Often I’d be changing nappies in the shade of the wings, or even pumping breastmilk while flying!
‘Tay does the flying, I hand out the snacks and have a nap.'
Flying to Sydney for a family holiday recently, the little kids were confused when I sat in the plane with them.
They thought it was silly I wasn’t the pilot!
With wide open spaces, rural small-town living is the upbringing we always wanted for our kids.
Meeting local Indigenous elders in the beer garden recently, Sierra was gifted a cattle whip and we learned she had a real talent for it!
That’s my little girl! I smiled.
While being a pilot might sound glamorous, between the farm, the pub and a bakery we also run in Birdsville, there’s lots of work to get done.
And the kids are quick to get their hands dirty.
Collecting wood for the pub fire pit, raking the footpaths and serving hot meals, they earn their keep.
And when we get the chance, we like to take them to the Simpson Desert, with its endless red sand dunes, and watch the sunset.
Sitting on the pub’s porch, chatting with tourists about their outback adventures, we don’t often tell them we run the place.
But we still pinch ourselves that we get to be a part of their memories.