Ken looks back on remarkable achievments

Australian Woolshed founder Ken Mander-Jones now lives at the Carinity Brookfield Green aged care community in Brisbane.

It’s common for someone to thank Ken Mander-Jones for helping to create

wonderful memories for them and their families.

The walls of Ken’s bedroom at the Carinity Brookfield Green residential

aged care community are adorned with photos of him with sheep, koalas

and kangaroos, while the shelves hold several Queensland Tourism Awards.

Ken was the founder and owner of iconic Brisbane 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 dancing; native wildlife including koalas,

wombats, dingoes, emus and crocodiles; and amusements such as

waterslides and miniature golf.

In its heyday the award-winning tourist destination, which was located at

Ferny Hills not far from Samford, attracted thousands of visitors from

around the world each month.

At one point the Australian Woolshed hosted 1,000 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.

Ken’s vision for the Australian Woolshed – to bring the country to the city –

was somewhat inspired by his days working on the land as a farmer 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. There was 12 months

where it didn’t rain,” Ken said.

“That made me start thinking that there had to be better things in life than

running a farm in a drought. I moved into cattle, but soon that industry was

falling off the cliff too.”

After selling his farm and livestock and moving to Brisbane in 1979, Ken

and his wife Margaret started working on their vision to develop a theme

park, originally known as Rainbow Valley.

“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. It was always going to be the

main part of the business,” Ken said.

“People told me plenty of times that they thought I was crazy. We were

building it all on 22 per cent interest. It was always going to take a number

of years to be viable, and that’s exactly what it did become.”

With the Crocodile Dundee movie exposing the ‘land down under’ to a

foreign audience of millions, Ken notes “the Australian tourism industry

became quite profitable”.

After a name change to Australian Woolshed, the tourist attraction

welcomed a seemingly endless stream of overseas visitors, particularly

people from Japan, China and Singapore seeking an Aussie ‘outback’

experience. The business was an Australian Tourism Award winner.

“What I enjoyed most was reaching the international markets and the

pleasure we gave people that went there and appreciated it. That was

most satisfying,” Ken said.

“I also loved the bush dances. Most nights we would have a full house,

absolutely packed out with 300 people. It was extremely successful.”

Ken’s favourite animals at Australian Woolshed 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 held each day.

Sixteen years after Australian Woolshed closed, Ken stills meets people

who visited the tourist attraction – and he receives “always

complementary” feedback about their experiences.

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