The recently released Disney movie “Saving Mr Banks” starring Emma Thompson as author P.L. Travers and Tom Hanks as Walt Disney highlights the Australian origins of the creator of fictional character Mary Poppins.
The film’s flashback scenes to her childhood in Queensland that feature young actress Annie Buckley are apparently in the period before her father’s death in 1907. PL Travers was born Helen Lyndon Goff in Maryborough in 1899 but only stayed there 2-3 years before her father (played by Colin Farrell) was demoted in his role as a bank clerk / manager to Allora on the Darling Downs. After her father’s death in early 1907 the mother and three daughters relocated to the town of Bowral in the state of New South Wales, about 128 kilometres (80 miles) southwest of Sydney. The family lived here for 10 years, the longest period of residence in a single location for the family during the time P.L. Travers was in Australia. The modest Holly Street cottage they lived in was provided for by the wealthy family matriarch Great Aunt Ellie (played in “Saving Mr Banks” by Rachel Griffiths). Lyndon Goff was seven years old when she moved here and about 17 years old when she left.
This was a sad and difficult period of her life following the death of her father and her mother appears to have suffered a nervous breakdown, with an attempted suicide attempt, probably around July 1910. Research now strongly suggests it was during this period that she created the character of Mary Poppins as a bedtime story for her younger sisters, almost certainly modelled in large part on her Great Aunt Ellie. Her imagination seems to have synthesised many elements of her childhood and surroundings to create the magical nanny. One of the fears for Lyndon Goff was the family splitting apart even more so than it was and the character of Mary Poppins was a remedy for that fear. Later in life Travers admitted her time in Bowral was when Mary Poppins first emerged from her imagination, even publishing a story as teenager in a small magazine featuring the character.