It’s not uncommon for someone to thank 85-year-old Ken Mander-Jones for helping create wonderful family memories.
The walls of Ken’s bedroom at Carinity Brookfield Green aged care community are adorned with pictures of him with sheep, koalas and kangaroos, while the shelves hold several Queensland Tourism Awards.
Ken was the founder and owner of Brisbane’s iconic tourist attraction, the Australian Woolshed, which operated from 1982 to 2006.
Based on an outback sheep station, it featured ram shows; sheep shearing; billy tea and damper; bush dance; native wildlife including koalas, wombats, dingoes, emus and crocodiles; and entertainment such as water slides and miniature golf.
In its heyday, the award-winning tourist destination, located in Ferny Hills, not far from Samford, attracted thousands of visitors every month from around the world.
At one time, the Australian Woolshed hosted 1,000 ram shows a year, attracting 75,000 overseas tourists; served 100,000 meals a year in the on-site restaurant; and was the third largest user of Polaroid film in the state.
Ken’s vision for the Australian Woolshed – bringing the countryside to the city – was somewhat inspired by his days working the land as a farmer in the Queensland region.
“I ran a sheep farm in Dirranbandi and in the 1960s we had the most shocking drought I was associated with. There have been 12 months of no rain,” Ken said.
“It made me start thinking there must be better things in life than running a farm in a drought. I turned to livestock, but soon that industry was falling off the cliff too.
After selling his farm and cattle and moving to Brisbane in 1979, Ken and his wife Margaret began working on their vision to develop a theme park, originally known as Rainbow Valley.
“I started a tourist attraction with a waterslide to start – the first waterslide in Brisbane – to get some cash. I always had the idea of a wool hut because I knew the sheep industry. It was always going to be the main part of the business,” Ken said.
“People have often told me they think I’m crazy. We were building everything on 22% interest. It was always going to take a number of years to be viable, and that’s exactly what it is. ‘became.
With the film Crocodile Dundee exposing the “lower country” to an overseas audience of millions, Ken notes that “Australia’s tourism industry has become quite profitable”.
After a name change to Australian Woolshed, the tourist attraction has seen a seemingly endless stream of overseas visitors, particularly Japanese, Chinese and Singaporeans seeking an outback Australian experience. The company was a winner of the Australian Tourism Award.
“What I appreciated the most was reaching international markets and the pleasure that we gave to the people who went there and enjoyed it. It was very satisfying,” Ken said.
“I also loved the bush dances. Most nights we had a full house, filled with 300 people. It was extremely successful.
Ken’s favorite animals at Australian Woolshed were the koalas that crawled up his leg and sat on his shoulder, which “people couldn’t believe was possible”. He also liked the rams “who walked alone on stage” for three shows organized each day.
Sixteen years after the Australian Woolshed closed, Ken continues to meet people who have visited the tourist attraction – and he receives “ever complementary” feedback on their experiences.