One of Dr Frances Miley's knitted sheep on display at the Gungahlin shops.

One of Dr Frances Miley's knitted sheep on display at the Gungahlin shops. Photo: Supplied

Real sheep in flocks are a little lacking in mystique but there is some woolly mystery about the sudden appearance of individual knitted sheep in Gungahlin shops. What is going on?

Probing and investigating (dreaming it may earn a Walkley Award), your columnist discovered they are part of a local church's ecumenical-minded and community-minded Sheep Nativity Trail.

Sheep-knitter Frances Miley explains the idea came from the Messy Church movement (messychurch.org.uk), which last year led to knitted sheep appearing with much success in shops in Liverpool in England.

The idea is to show the church reaching out into its community and to encourage people to shop locally as they look for the messy sheep.

With her sheep-making, Miley had in mind a whole cluster of ideas, including that our region is prime sheep country (sheep once safely grazed where Gungahlin is now growing), and that Father Mark Croker, the priest at Holy Spirit Catholic Church in Gungahlin, is a former shearer. Father Croker liked the idea of the knitted sheep, Miley reports, because it was a great relief to him to work with some sheep he didn't have to shear.

He and Miley hope that Gungahliners, following the knitted sheep trail in their shops, will - as well as enjoying the hunt - be encouraged to shop locally.

Pioneering Gungahlin (it has no swimming pool, no cinemas and not a great deal of anything most Canberrans think of as standard facilities) really would like more of its residents to shop locally instead of making expeditions to those distant but cinema-rich malls.

The sheep all have names given them by parish children, Miley tells us. There is an inevitable Shaun the Sheep, but generally, the children chose to name them after themselves. And so, for example, the dispersed flock has a Ben, Bob and a Josh.

There are especially child-friendly Nativity Trail-explaining leaflets at each Gungahlin shop where one of these hand-knitted monarchs of the paddock is displayed.