From small beginnings, born from economic necessity and the resourcefulness of Australian rural women came the little souvenir sheep that have become synonymous with Australia’s favourite bedding company – MiniJumbuk.
In 1975, local Hynam woman Isobel Miles, running the Caves Kiosk, was eager to improve her range of souvenirs. At the Copeman’s clearing sale near Kaniva, Isobel discovered exactly what she was looking for - a distinctively Australian souvenir with a local flavour. Since the early 1970’s, Esther Copeman had been hand making and selling small sheep. Initially, these Mini Jumbucks as she called them were made using chicken wishbones, saved from dinners at the Kaniva hotel for the legs and wool from the family farm. As the popularity of her sheep increased, the chicken bone frames were replaced with pipe cleaners. Isobel offered to buy her business.
Isobel’s first employee in her new venture was friend and neighbour Betty Drury. Betty, with her knack for handicrafts, was commissioned to reproduce the Mini Jumbuks and to train more women. With tough economic times it was easy to find recruits, although with the construction requiring a high level of patience, it was a little harder to train them. Packaged in clear plastic boxes and retailing for $6.00, there were 4 breeds of sheep, the favourite being the Merino. Small and light, 12cm long and weighing 20 grams the Mini Jumbuks were a popular choice with tourists not just at the Caves Kiosk, but in the duty free shops of Australia’s capital cities.
Buoyed by the success of her handcrafted sheep enterprise, Isobel relocated to Naracoorte and expanded her business. She began making a variety of wool filled products, including a range of MiniJumbuk quilts and underlays that are still manufactured in Naracoorte today.