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Country life takes flight

A PLACE TO CALL HOME: Steph and Ben Smart, of Smart Air Services, couldn’t imagine raising a family anywhere other than Dalby.
A PLACE TO CALL HOME: Steph and Ben Smart, of Smart Air Services, couldn’t imagine raising a family anywhere other than Dalby. Meg Kummerow

A LOVE of a rural upbringing has inspired Ben and Steph Smart to give that opportunity to their children.

Ben's childhood years were spent on a sheep, cattle and cropping property in the one-pub town of Wirrabara at the base of the Flinders Ranges in South Australia.

Steph, on the other hand, grew up on a cattle station on the sunburnt land at Cloncurry in north-west Queensland.

Now, they call the Darling Downs home for their three children - Joshua, 7, Archie, 5, and Ella, 16 months.

"We both loved our rural upbringing and were determined to give that opportunity of a rural lifestyle to our children," Steph said.

"I still find it hard to get used to the tree-less black soil plains of the Darling Downs.

"The landscapes are a complete contrast.

"We have made Dalby our home and I love the community.

"It's great to live in a town that is big enough that you don't need to go anywhere else for things, but still small enough that there is still that small-town community feeling.

"We are also involved in our local rugby union club - the boys are keen junior Wheatmen, so most of our weekends during winter are spent on the sidelines, watching them play."

The couple met when Ben was helicopter mustering on Steph's parents' property where she was also helping after returning from overseas.

They now live in Dalby and operate their aerial agricultural business Smart Air Services from its three major bases - Cecil Plains, Pittsworth and Janerin, near Brookstead.

Moving to Dalby was a logical decision.

"Being an agricultural pilot, the work is generally seasonal, so when we were planning a family, we started looking for somewhere that offered the lifestyle we wanted," Steph said.

"But more importantly, had enough work so that Ben wouldn't have to travel away as the Darling Downs is one of the few farming areas that usually has a winter and summer season.

"We moved to Dalby 12 years ago and Ben was the chief pilot for Cropair, which is the business we bought out two years ago and have renamed Smart Air Services."

The family owned operation employs local residents and specialises in aerial agricultural applications and offers a range of additional services, such as fire bombing, fire incendiary work, farm inspections and aerial photography.

It's those additional services that have kept the family busy year-round.

"Ben is usually on call in the fire season and summer months as a fire bomber," Steph said.

"The turbine agricultural aircraft that are used are very fast and effective in combating fire.

"A couple of years ago, we had a very large fire that came close to Dalby and threatened homes.

"They had five planes working off the Dalby town airstrip and it took close to a week for them to put it out."

For Ben, saving people's homes is a rewarding feeling.

But if there was one downside to running a successful and in-demand business, it's the lack of spare time for Ben to pursue his passion for campdrafting.

"Unfortunately, this isn't something he has much time to do at the moment," Steph said.

"We have a wonderful group of friends, who campdraft, from Dalby and they are such fun family weekends competing and camping together - it's a great thing to do as a family."

Smart Air Services is a member of the Aerial Agricultural Association of Australia Ltd, is Operation Spray Safe accredited and has recently implemented the Aerial Improvement Management System, which ensures its systems-based, safety management program is the best in the business.

"It ensures that those accredited meet the highest level of professionalism, best practice for product application and environment management, as well as a safe workplace for employees," Steph said.

"It was quite an achievement for the business to receive this accreditation as it involves a rigorous independent auditing process and we are the only aerial agricultural operator on the Darling Downs with this accreditation."

Visit smartair.net.au.

Topics:  agriculture aviation dalby