“What wonderful country it is from the air.”
Those were the first words, Sheila Scott, uttered as she alighted from the tiny cockpit of her single-engine light aircraft, called ‘Myth Too’.
Miss Scott touched down in Mount Isa on June 2 1966 on the first half of her round-the-world solo flight.
On arrival at Mount Isa Airport, she delighted her many well-wishers with her observations of the country-side between Darwin and Mount Isa.
But with a friendly wink, she declined to reveal how she managed to appear so feminine and stylish in a blue floral dress and with her long blonde hair blowing in the wind, after the six hour flight from Darwin.
She had already flown single-handedly over the desert wastes of the Middle East, the jungles of Malaysia and Indonesia, as her flight plans closely followed those of Amy Johnson’s famous flight from England to Australia in 1930.
Flying a Piper Comanche 260B, she was attempting to be become the first British pilot, man or woman, to fly solo around the world.
“I have little time for sleep, on this journey, when I’m in the air,” she said.
“Because even though the aircraft is fitted with an automatic pilot, I can’t use it in the severe turbulence and there was plenty of that around the Equator.”
Her love of flying saw her hold 42 international air trophies and just prior to her world record attempt, broke 15 world-class records in Europe.
The experience gained during those earlier record attempts were invaluable as she found mid-flight to Mount Isa.
Darwin control tower called to check her high frequency radio only half an hour into her flight and alerting her to problems with the instruments wanted to recall her north.
“Fortunately, I convinced them that I could make a visual flight to Mount Isa.”
“So now I must ensure that the faulty radio equipment is repaired, here in Mount Isa, before I continue my flight to Brisbane.”
One of the first people to welcome Miss Scott was Mount Isa’s first female pilot, Mrs Sylvia (Toni) Neville a member of the Australian Women’s Pilots Association.
Although from opposite ends of the globe, both women learned to fly in Tiger Moths and went on to convert their licences to various types of aircraft allowing both of them the freedom to fly extensively in their own countries.
And both women agreed flying the latest aircraft was a lot kinder to their hairstyles than in the days of flying in the Tiger Moths’ open-cockpits and having to wear the prerequisite leather skull caps.
For Toni Neville the inconvenience of having a bad hair day, courtesy of the leather skull cap, was no deterrent to gaining her pilot’s licence.
Her interest in flying was inspired as she watched the early aircraft fly into Lawn Hills Station where she was working as the station cook.
At 14 years of age, Toni says she knew there had to be more to life than cooking for ringers, bore-men, yard workers and the station managers.
So she continued to watch the aeroplanes come and go and dreamed of the day she too could fly away.
“I thought: ‘I could do that’ ”
She did fly away some years earlier albeit to Cairns hospital, when her father accidently ran over her in his old wool bale truck but the flight was not memorable due to the pain of her injuries.
“When I turned 17, Dad let me go to Townsville to try and get my licence,” she said.
Her dreams turned into a goal when she joined the Townsville Aero Club and climbed into her first Tiger Moth wearing a leather skull cap.
Some six weeks and many bad hair days later, Toni’s dream had become a reality as she earned her prized pilot’s licence.
However she soon realised there were no immediate employment opportunities, to use her new skills, so she returned to the outback to restart as cook at Fort Constantine Station.
Once again she became disillusioned with cooking and she returned to her family in Mount Isa and closer to an airport.
As Miss Scott and Toni continued to exchange experiences, little did they realise that the Connellan Airways flight from McArthur River and Groote Eylandt that had just touched down was also piloted by another female, Christine Davy.
And just as they regaled everyone with their flying tales, Christine added another dimension to the anecdotes.
Like Toni, she too was working on a cattle station when the flying bug took hold and later gained her pilot’s and instructor’s licences in Goulbourn in New South Wales.
Christine said at the time.
“Passengers do look rather surprised sometimes when I climb behind the controls, as though they are wondering where the pilot is.
“But I haven’t had anyone ask to be let off yet.”
Both she and Miss Scott agreed that flying over the outback was a very different proposition from that of flying over the well-populated coast.
“I have been having some trouble with mechanical equipment and I hope to have it fixed here in Mount Isa.”
“Flying over the Pacific is no place to test it”, she said.
Early the next morning both Miss Scott and Christine said goodbye to Toni and Mount Isa.
Two weeks later, Miss Scott claimed the title of Britain’s first pilot, of either sex, to fly solo around the world.
Christine continued to captained Connellan Airline flights throughout Northern Australia for many years while Toni (Mrs Sylvia Neville) chose to relinquish her passion for flying in favour of her husband’s boat.
Researched and written by Kim-Maree Burton
Photograph courtesy of Mount Isa Mail and The North West Star newspapers.
Information sourced from Mount Isa Mail and The North West Star newspapers and a personal interview with Mrs Sylvia (Toni) Neville.
This article was originally published June 11, 2016.
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