The brains behind an iconic Ferny Hills tourist attraction still gets compliments about the joy it brought visitors more than 15 years after it closed.
Australian Woolshed founder and former Samford Village resident Ken Mander-Jones now lives at the Carinity Brookfield Green residential aged care community, but he has fond memories of more than a decade spent giving people a taste of the Australian Outback just 14 km from the Brisbane CBD.
Based on an outback sheep station, it featured ram shows, sheep shearing, billy tea and damper, bush dancing, native wildlife including koalas, wombats, dingoes, emus and crocodiles and amusements such as waterslides and miniature golf.
In its heyday the award-winning destination attracted thousands of visitors from around the world each month.
At one point the Australian Woolshed hosted 1000 ram shows annually, drawing 75,000 foreign tourists, served 100,000 meals a year in the on-site restaurant and was the third-biggest user of Polaroid film in the state.
“What I enjoyed most was reaching the international markets and the pleasure we gave people that went there and appreciated it,” Ken says.
|“I also loved the bush dances. Most nights we would have a full house, absolutely packed out with 300 people.”|
Drought takes its toll
Ken’s vision for the Australian Woolshed – to bring the country to the city – was inspired by his days working on the land in regional Queensland.
“I was running a sheep property at Dirranbandi and in the 1960s we had the most shocking drought that I’ve been associated with,” Ken recalls.
“There was 12 months where it didn’t rain.
“That made me start thinking that there had to be better things in life than running a farm in a drought.”
Ken moved into cattle, but that industry also took a plunge.
Ken and wife Margaret sold up and moved to Brisbane in 1979 to begin working on their vision to develop a theme park, originally known as Rainbow Valley, which operated from 1982 to 2006.
“I started a tourist attraction with a waterslide for a start – the first waterslide in Brisbane – to get a bit of cash flow.
“I always had the idea of a woolshed because I knew the sheep industry.
“People told me plenty of times that they thought I was crazy,” he says.
“We were building it all on 22 percent (bank) interest.”
Right place, right time
With the Crocodile Dundee movie exposing the “Land down under” to a foreign audience of millions, Ken says “the Australian tourism industry became quite profitable”.
“It was always going to take a number of years to be viable, and that’s exactly what it did become.” After a name change to Australian Woolshed, the tourist attraction welcomed a stream of overseas visitors, particularly people from Japan, China and Singapore, seeking an Aussie “outback” experience.
The walls of Ken’s bedroom are adorned with photos of him with sheep, koalas and kangaroos, while the shelves hold several Queensland Tourism Awards.
Ken says his favourite animals were the koalas that would crawl up his leg and sit on his shoulder, which “people couldn’t believe was possible”.
He also loved the rams “which would walk on stage by themselves” for three shows each day.
Sixteen years after Australian Woolshed closed, Ken stills meets people who visited the tourist attraction, sharing “always complementary” memories about their experiences.
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