The horrific burning and drowning of more than 62,000 sheep seems an unlikely source of inspiration for a children’s book.
But the loss of the live sheep export ship the MV Uniceb in August 1996, gave freelance writer Sally Nowlan pause for thought: imagine being a sheep caught up in the live export trade?
Unlike the thousands of sheep that perished aboard the Uniceb six days into a 16-day voyage from Freemantle to Aqaba, Jordan, Nowlan’s tale does have a happy ending.
While Jumbucks Misadventure certainly carries a message about the “the wrongness of live export for such creatures”, it is not presented in any overt political fashion.
It is the story of a pet sheep, and friendships that develop between people and their animals.
“As a former sheep farmer I recognise that we are in a time of changing attitudes and greater awareness of farm animal welfare issues, like live export,” Nowlan, who now lives in Rosebud, says.
“I also believe that young readers need books that tell them what’s going on in their world in an engaging and realistic way.”
Jumbuck’s plight – finding himself aboard a live export boat headed to the Middle East – is presented more as an adventure, albeit one that could have a disastrous ending.
He’s been a pet lamb and, of course, ending up on a ship is all a big mistake.
Nolan describes Jumbucks Misadventure as “an engaging story with a basis in reality, aimed at informing young readers in an entertaining way about this very timely, animal welfare issue”.
As a pet, Jumbuck gets involved in many unsheep-like activities – opening gates, squeezing through fences and swimming with sheep dogs.
Things go wrong with this idyllic life when Jill has to go to boarding school and can’t keep an eye on her sometimes naughty pet.
Purely by accident Jumbuck is loaded onto a truck with sheep that have been sold for the live export market. After time in a feedlot, he finds himself on a ship headed to the Middle East.
The cruise is no picnic and only ends when the boat catches fire and sinks. The enterprising Jumbuck makes it to a deserted island in the Maldives, where he’s adopted by Aju, who takes him back to his home island.
Unused to seeing such creatures on the island, Jumbuck attracts attention and eventually is put on the internet.
This exposure leads him back home to Jill, with the help of some Australian tourists.
At the subsequent reunion, Jill’s father decides to never again sell sheep for live export.
Aimed at eight to 12 year olds, Jumbucks Misadventure is illustrated by Maree Woolley.
“I wanted to share my extensive knowledge of sheep, farm life, and the live export trade in a positive way that would inform and engage this younger generation,” Nowlan says.
“I don’t preach about stopping live exports in the book, but the underlying message is that this cruel trade is not what we should be doing.
“By engaging young readers with the cheeky and nice character of Jumbuck I want them to learn that sheep are not just dumb farm animals.”
Nowlan chose the Maldives as Jumbuck’s landing place after a live export vet calculated that would be the place a sheep would end up if it survived a ship disaster in the Indian Ocean.
“I couldn’t find out much about the remote islands there – just the tourist resorts – so a travel agent friend arranged for me to go to the island of Rinbudhoo. It was perfect,” Nowlan says of her research.
“The characters in the book are real people – such as Faya, the school principal on the island – who plays a major role in Jumbuck’s story and Aju, who rescues Jumbuck. It allowed me to include some local culture and the geography of this remote place.”
The self-published (Portgirl Books) and self-marketed Jumbucks Misadventure is available at Farrells, Mornington; The Book Barn, Rosebud; and Petersons Bookstore, Hastings.