Faced with dwindling farm profits, Felicity Brown and Noel Schwarz took to the skies, taking wealthy travellers to towns that typically get left off the itinerary.

Story By Emma Mulholland

Long-awaited rain has descended on sheep and wheat communities in the southern parts of South Australia and for Felicity Brown, a commercial pilot and co-owner of Chinta Tours, the downpour is both a blessing and a blow. On one hand, the drought-affected wheat farm she and partner Noel Schwarz run in Ceduna will be ready to sow. On the other, she and Noel have ploughed a good portion of their air-charter company’s budget into hosting seven European travel agents who deal in the luxury tourism market. The weather is lousy and Felicity has four days to show the agents, who have been wined and dined the world over, what makes her $1500-a-day light-aircraft tours worth every cent.
From the company’s 1981 Cessna 210, her chief pilot John Veerhuis and his four passengers can see none of the rugged Flinders Ranges below them. In their place is dark, brooding cloud that makes it impossible to land. He’ll have to fly back to Adelaide, which means Felicity will have to come up with something else to impress the agents.
Showing the resourcefulness that has made her company the success it is, Felicity lines up a minibus and limousine driver (who usually takes passengers as far as their school formals) and the agents are once again headed north. Her plan, however, is thwarted when they encounter a swollen creek south of Hawker that makes it impossible for the bus to go any further. With help from friends in the industry, Felicity manages to find eight spare beds at the Austral Inn at Quorn, about 60km south. It’s not the luxury eco-villas the agents were expecting, but it is schnitzel night.
“I hope it shows how versatile we are,” Felicity says. She’s sorted out the agents, but still has to deal with John who, aside from being her chief pilot, is also their only full-time farmhand. He’s now stranded in Adelaide, which means that Noel, who is in Ceduna with their six-year-old twins, has 4000 hectares to sow and only one casual employee to help him do it.
“It’s not a get-rich-quick scheme,” Felicity says. “One piece of advice that we got given early on was from someone who said, ‘It’s taken me 15 years to be an overnight success’.” This is a particularly challenging day, but with Felicity’s bubbly personality and wicked sense of humour, it’s difficult not to enjoy her misfortune.
If there’s one thing she and Noel have learnt since they launched their company in the luxury-adventure market back in 2003, it’s the value of having a laugh and good relationships with other tourism operators. Not to mention the importance of what Felicity calls ‘tractor time’. “In any farming relationship somebody needs to spend some time on a tractor to think things through,” she says.

This story excerpt is from Issue #72

Outback Magazine: Aug/Sep 2010