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Mary Poppins: three statues

Tributes to little-known author

In what country was the author of one of the world's most-loved children's books, Mary Poppins, born? Since it tells the story of a London nanny, most people would promptly reply "England." But they'd be wrong.

The book, published in 1934, shows the author's name as P L Travers, but her earlier name was Helen Lyndon Goff, and she was born on August 9, 1899, in an upstairs room of a stately bank building in Maryborough, Queensland (Australia).

People who have read the book or seen the 1964 Walt Disney film (starring Julie Andrews and Dick Van Dyke) will recall that the children's father was named Mr Banks, who also worked in a bank.

On August 9 next year, a life-size bronze statue will be unveiled on the footpath/sidewalk outside the bank building. It will show Mary Poppins alighting from a cab, closing her umbrella and looking at an upstairs window of a room where a new baby has arrived, which she will soon look after.

Maryborough residents, including the Proud Marys, raised more than $40,000 to pay for the statue, and the Queensland Government and the Maryborough City Council each chipped in $5500.

When Pamela Travers was three, she moved with her family to Allora, a small town near Toowoomba, Queensland, where they lived in a house attached to the bank. Allora too is erecting a memorial to Travers, on the road leading into the town.

The bank manager died when his daughter was only seven, and the family moved to New South Wales. Helen/Pamela was educated in Bowral and Sydney, where she lived with her mother and sisters before leaving Australia for ever in 1924.

"In her long life, spent in London, the United States and Dublin, Travers kept her Australian origins hidden, but when she died in 1996, much of her Australian life was revealed," said her biographer, Sydney journalist Valerie Lawson.

In an ABC radio broadcast on May 7, 2003, Rachael Kohn questioned Lawson about a period when Travers lived in New York, saying: " Well, she had hoped also to be memorialised in Central Park, but that didn't work."

Lawson replied: " No, there was a public subscription for raising money for a statue there, drawings were done, two beautiful drawings, but not enough money was raised, which was odd, because it was after the Mary Poppins movie, so it was quite a well-known thing. But funnily enough, all these years later, the Ashfield [a Sydney suburb] Council is raising money for a Mary Poppins sculpture, because she lived briefly in Ashfield."

Later, in the Sydney Morning Herald of March 13, 2004, Lawson wrote:

The towns in which she grew up, Maryborough, Allora [Queensland], and Bowral, all claimed Travers as part of their cultural history. But Summer Hill schoolgirl Gracie Drew, 13, is behind the first major Poppins and Travers memorial.

Four years ago she was thrilled to discover that the author of the Poppins books had lived near her home, in Ashfield. With her mother, Gracie campaigned for years to have Travers honoured in that suburb.

A bronze Poppins statue, funded by Ashfield Municipal Council and the Ashfield RSL, will be unveiled this afternoon at Ashfield Park.

Mary Poppins is shown as she appeared in the original 1934 book by Travers, in her sensible pleated skirt, overcoat, straw hat, carpetbag and umbrella, with her feet in a turned-out ballet position. Poppins is modelled on the Mary Shepard drawings of the book, and not the Disney version of the nanny played in the 1964 musical by Julie Andrews.


Nancy Bates, editor of Maryborough's Fraser Coast Chronicle, became patron of the Proud Marys after the newspaper ran a campaign to raise funds for the life-size bronze statue now being created in Brisbane by Dr Rhyl Hinwood. Asked about the Proud Marys, she told us:
The Proud Marys was formed to promote the connection of the name Mary to Maryborough. The city was named after Lady Mary Fitzroy, wife of the Australian governor, who in 1847 was killed in a carriage accident at Government House, Parramatta, when hubby decided to take the reins of the carriage on their way to a wedding. The high-spirited chestnuts pulling the carriage bolted and hurled Lady Mary out, killing her and the equerry.

[It is said that Lady Mary's body was removed from the accident scene on a chaise lounge, whereas the body of Lt. Charles Masters... was removed on an old door. - Parramatta website.]

The distraught Governor then ordered that the village settlement on Wide Bay River in Queensland would be named Maryborough and the river Mary after his dear departed wife.

The Mary Ann, the first steam engine built in Queensland, was built in Maryborough and a full-size replica now runs in Queens Park. We have also Mary Heritage, a costumed lady who conducts daily tours in Maryborough and attends all official functions.

Information about other famous Marys is being collected with the intention of having a Mary Room in the city.




Mary Poppins by P L Travers
Out of the sky she came by Valerie Lawson

Story first posted November 2004

Copyright 2004

Eric Shackle

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