They are soft and cuddly, made by hand, each is unique, and they are so popular the demand for them cannot be filled.
Prince George has one, Prince George has one, gifted to him by the people of Queensland during the royal visit in 2014. Meghan and Prince Harry’s baby – his royal cousin-to-be – will be getting one too.
They are Tambo Teddies, born as a drought effort in the tiny central western Queensland town of Tambo, population 380, and now loved and cuddled all over the world.
“Needs must” is an old saying that is being applied more and more often in drought-stricken central Queensland, and it was applied back in 1992 when Tambo was not only suffering from drought but the price of wool, the region’s major industry, had crashed.
It was at a government-organised think tank held in the town that the idea of making sheepskin teddy bears with personality was first mooted as an opportunity to increase employment in the struggling town. Although its success seemed an outside chance, the idea was adopted.
A year of designing and trial and error followed. The first bears to be completed were sewn by hand, which was incredibly hard. Then a cup seam overlocker was bought and suddenly Tambo Teddies were not only being talked about but were all the go. The little bears everyone wants to cuddle had arrived.
Today, koalas, echidnas and possums have joined the bear family, along with clothes for the bears and other sheepskin accessories.
The overlocker in the pretty little cottage showroom that doubles as part of the workshop in Arthur Street, Tambo, buzzes busily as the animals are cut out and sewn. There are even bears for babies, called Bickie Bears. These are not stuffed but are soft and incredibly comforting.
Being hand made, none of the animals, and especially the bears, are quite the same. Each is named after a different regional property and each has its own identity card.
Nowadays the company is owned by two locals, Alison Shaw, who came to Tambo as a jillaroo 30 years ago, and her friend Tammy Johnson.
They are proud that Tambo Teddies have not only helped put Tambo on the map but are now seem as quintessentially Australian; the beautiful toys were recently accredited with the Australian Wool Industry Woolmark.
“In one way they have almost outgrown their little town as demand has grown so much we are going to have to open another workshop,” Allison said.
“We will still make Tambo Teddies here in Tambo, but we are also opening a workshop in Toowoomba where we will be working with Multicultural Queensland. It is a marvellous opportunity.”
Tambo, as the oldest town in the central west, gazetted in 1863, has been through many ups and downs, and the current drought is entering its eighth year, but the Teddies are helping it get through.
Visitors love the pretty town and being able to see the Teddies made as well as buy them there is the icing on the cake, as one tourist put it.
“When the Tambo Teddies were first dreamed up as a way of trying to help the town and its wool industry through tough times, it could never have been conceived just how successful they would become,” Alison said proudly.
“But then, made out of such a marvellous product as good Australian wool, how could they not be loved?”
Details – tamboteddies.com.au