There’s something about Mary

MARY POPPINS dropped out of the sky and into the imagination of millions when P.L. Travers first penned the famous character in 1934.

And it seems everyone has a claim to the no-nonsense nanny and her creator, Travers (born Helen Lyndon Goff).

The Highlands’ story starts like this:

One cold rainy night in the Highlands, Holly Street to be exact,

11-year-old Pamela Travers (then Helen Goff) huddled under a duvet with her two sisters, watching the flames dance over logs in the fire.

With the rain thundering down on the tin roof, and their mother trying to drown herself in a creek down the road, Travers told her sisters of a magical white horse to chase away their fears.

It’s that white horse that Travers is believed to have said ran underground and came up eventually as Mary Poppins (as written in a biography by Valerie Lawson entitled Out of the Sky She Came).

This is what Paul McShane believes is not only the birth of what would eventually become the iconic flying nanny with carpet bag in tow, but the birth of Travers as the incredible storyteller she would become.

“In the Mary Poppins story Mary was a magical creature. She danced with constellations, visited a zoo, wasn’t quite human even,” Mr McShane said.

“The horse she’s taken away [from that night in Bowral] was obviously an important character to her and has a belief that this horse became Mary Poppins.”

Travers and her family moved to Bowral with her mother and sisters when her father died in 1907.

It was with these few facts that the McShanes started an investigation to pinpoint down to the date, the night Travers created the magical white horse.

“She said she was 11 or a bit younger, which places it about 1910-11,” Mr McShane said.

“She mentions a fire and eiderdown (duvet), which suggests winter and we thought could we identify it with the storm?”

So the MsShanes buried themselves in the shelves of the Mitchell Library, requesting weather records from the Bureau of Metrology and located other documents from the Berrima Historical Society.

They found out 1909-10 were two of the driest years with a spike of rain around June and July.

“Circumstantial evidence said 1910 was the go and rain peaked in July 1910 – like a flash flood reported on in the newspaper on 18th then it spiked on the 19th and slowed on the 20th.

With a firm belief in their evidence, there are a range of Mary Poppins centenary events happening around the Highlands this week as Bowral stakes its claim in the Poppins festivities.

But Bowral isn’t the only one – Maryborough in Queensland also has a story to tell.

The town has long celebrated the 1899 birth of Travers in their region.

Maryborough resident Carmel Murdoch, aka Mary Heritage, has been donning the conservative suit, clutching the parrot headed umbrella and bringing the nanny to life for 11 years.

“Since 1999, when we discovered she was born here, we decided we would celebrate her,” Ms Murdoch said.

In its humble beginnings, the festival was a Mary Morning Tea hosted by a group called the Proud Marys, who celebrate women named Mary or any derivative of Mary.

“It just grew to such an extent we had to make it a festival,” she said.

Murdoch said many believe characters of Travers’ later novels were inspired by local personalities from her childhood in Maryborough.

“There are stories around that there used to be a lady who lived in Maryborough with a parrot umbrella,” she said.

Also on the stroke of 1pm every day, Murdoch said, they used to fire a canon, which inspired Admiral Boom.

“We lay claim to the fact she was born here and part of her stories as well,” she said.

“She wasn’t living in Bowral when she wrote the stories, she was in England, and you can live in many towns and cities but you can only be born in one.

“I think she’s taken little bits of all her life.”

Perhaps just as the way Poppins flies in and out of towns clutching her magical umbrella, it’s possible she doesn’t actually belong anywhere, but can be celebrated everywhere.

As Fraser Coast Regional Council executive manager in customer service, marketing and tourism Lisa Stephenson said, “we welcome the opportunity to work together on co-operative marketing initiatives with Bowral to allow lovers of Mary Poppins to explore the childhood of Pamela Travers and possibly discover more about the inspiration for her novels.”

“She was born in Maryborough, no doubt about it, and certainly took influence, but no doubt Bowral has a special place in her story,” Mr McShane said.

The story There’s something about Mary first appeared on Southern Highland News.

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