A knack for tizzying up Akubras has turned into a career for Felicity Brown, fashioning fancy hats for station folk who live a long way from David Jones.

Story By Fleur Bainger

As the country racing season heats up, Felicity Brown ferociously fixes feathers, pearls and other regalia to hats and headpieces that will adorn the heads of rural women around the country. A travelling milliner, based in Broome, Felicity last year drove 3468 km in 10 days, stopping at four stations and three outback towns to create one-off pieces for rural folk – and not only the ladies. “At Yanrey Station, north of Carnarvon, everyone tried bits on, from little girls to grandmothers,” Felicity says. “The boys disappeared in between brekkie and smoko, but when they came back I brought my fedoras out, and they all wanted to put one on.”
At Yarrie Station in the Pilbara, her hat show didn’t start until 9pm, but there wasn’t a tired eye in sight. “The girls were working all day and then they had a stock-handling course,” Felicity says. “I brought champers because I remember that there’s always beer, sometimes wine, but never bubbles on stations. We finished at midnight, but everyone was up for work at 4.30am.” Every girl on the station bought a piece, parading their purchases through the homestead and even the stockyards.
As a young electorate officer working for a Federal politician, Felicity would never have imagined she’d be nicknamed “the hat hawker” later in life. Or that people living across thousands of kilometres of deep ochre earth would be wearing her bush-inspired creations. Back then, the farm girl from central NSW didn’t even know how to make a hat, let alone a fascinator – or cocktail headpiece, as she calls them.
Felicity’s migration to millinery began at 26 when she decided to make good on her many threats to drive around Australia. She threw in her job, loaded up her ute and set off out bush. The first money she earned was on a tuberculosis-testing stock camp in the Territory, where she cooked steak, ribs and more steak for 12 men in the desert. Later, she took up work at several rural outposts in Western Australia. Mandora station in the Pilbara used her as a jillaroo, she got out the apron again and cooked at Fossil Downs in the Kimberley, then became a jack-of-all-trades on Mardathuna station in the Gascoyne.

This story excerpt is from Issue #75

Outback Magazine: Feb/Mar 2011