Author Archives: Paul McShane

The Centre for Independent Studies takes a jolly holiday…from the facts

The  Centre for Independent Studies has undertaken relentlessly thorough research to ridicule the 2012 grant of $26,400 towards the Mary Poppins Birthplace Statue as part of the Federal Government’s Tourism Quality Program. Not.

Sky-high grant for Mary Poppins statue was the headline and the opening sentence reads “How many spoonfuls of sugar will it take to help this news go down?”  The intellectual laziness shown in the “research” by the CIS Waste Watch was matched only by News Corporation’s coverage of the same material. In fact, not only did News Corp fail to fact check the CIS report but it couldn’t even be bothered to get the accompanying photo correct, using an image of the inferior statue from Ashfield in Sydney instead of Bowral’s elegant example of public art. Curiously the caption reads “A different Mary Poppins statue. Source: Supplied” In other words “We know this picture is wrong but we can’t be bothered to google for 30 seconds to find the correct one”. Too bad the CIS doesn’t run a waste watch report on journalistic integrity or competence.

The CIS also says “Apparently Bowral is the birthplace of Helen Lyndon Goff (pen name P.L. Travers), the fictional flying nanny’s creator.” Or apparently not. Ironically the Wikipedia hyperlink to P.L. Travers included by the CIS states quite clearly that the author was born in Maryborough in 1899 and that she lived in Bowral from 1907 to 1917. You might be forgiven for thinking the CIS would check its own source before including the reference…?

And no, News Corp, the statue is not located in the middle of Bowral but is situated in a park beside the present-day Bradman Museum, only a block from the still extant home that the author lived in with her family. This park was opened not long after the author’s family arrived in Bowral and she would almost certainly have played there with her sisters; a few years later the family of a very young Don Bradman moved into the same street only a few houses away and these two great figures of our sporting and literary history were neighbours for several years. For that reason, in part, the then chairman of the Bradman Trust Michael Ball AM led the selection panel for the sculptor and the current Trust chairman Maurice Newman AC showed support by purchasing a limited edition statuette to help with the fundraising.

Betraying its ideological bias, it appears that Bowral’s Mary Poppins statue was the only one chosen by the CIS from the 17 projects in that 2012 round of Tourism Quality funding that was held up for such gratuitous treatment; $26,400 was the  smallest grant and one of the very few, perhaps the only one, given to a volunteer-based community non-profit association: the Southern Highlands Youth Arts Council.  The other government grants in that funding round were given mainly to private (for-profit) corporations for purely commercial projects that mostly exceeded $100,000 each, but no criticism of those was forthcoming. Here is the full list  – see if you think our voluntary community project deserves the CIS and News Corp ridicule of government largesse by comparison with what many would view as “handouts” given to the private sector. When examined without the superficial bias displayed the CIS and News Corp, I suspect all those other projects would have many points of merit.

A bit more fact checking by CIS – or any at all – might have revealed the facts that this Federal grant only represented about 25% of the cost of the statue and that the remainder was raised by volunteers by public subscription via the sale of commemorative statuettes and other community donations. That’s almost three dollars from the community for every one dollar invested by the government. Or that this is the only Federal funding ever made in acknowledgment of one of the most popular Australian-born authors in our history. Or that two more copies of the life size statue have since been sold to a private collector for in excess of $200,000 and that those proceeds are being invested in much needed community facilities for youth and community arts (wanna bet our return on investment is exceeding the other private sector projects?). Or that the publicity and visitation generated by our volunteer community-based campaign over almost a decade dwarfs the grant in value expended, with more to come as it headlines a current tourism campaign . One example below that was reported nationally and internationally occurred when 2,115 volunteers gathered on Bradman Oval to break the Guinness World Record for the Largest Umbrella Mosaic in the Welcome Home Mary Poppins event. That aerial photo – again taken by volunteers – went round the world giving great tourism publicity to Bowral and Australia as many people learnt for the first time that Mary Poppins and her creator had these antipodean origins.


If anyone was wondering about the intellectual rigour that the Centre for Independent Studies or News Corp bring to their research, this example provides an interesting insight.

There are yet more magical surprises associated with this very special statue that make it unique.

And for the record, the erroneous image prominently splashed across News Corporation websites was of the statue from Ashfield erected in 2004. It cost a tenth of the one in Bowral and was mostly paid for by the municipal council but its quality is not high. The Bowral statue celebrating the locale where it is now believed the author first created the Mary Poppins character was indeed partly inspired by the Ashfield example but the provenance of our statue’s design, the fact it was life-size and that a national competition was held with an independent panel that eventually selected one of Australia’s finest sculptors, Tanya Bartlett, to undertake the commission puts this Bowral project in a whole different league from Ashfield. As did the official unveiling by the town’s children with the guest-of-honour, former NSW Governor Professor Marie Bashir AC CVO in December 2013 to commemorate the centenary of the author living in Bowral.

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Mary Poppins Birthplace Statue Features in Tourism Promotion

The Mary Poppins Birthplace Statue features in the just released Southern Highlands 2014/2105 Holiday Planner launched at the Bradman International Cricket Hall of Fame last night.

The planner incorporates QR codes linked to over 20 short YouTube videos of passionate locals as  “hero characters”  introducing some aspect of the region’s tourism attraction and inviting others to “visit my Southern Highlands”.

Melissa McShane in costume as our local Mary Poppins was asked to record that video beside the Mary Poppins Birthplace Statue.  You can see the clip via the link below


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Theories on Mary Poppins Statue Mystery Movement

The most entertaining explanation received so far for the mysterious transformation of the Mary Poppins Birthplace Statue from facing west to facing east was published in the Southern Highlands News. It was offered by sisters Gabrielle and Rosanna Smyth.

Grandchildren of Joan Smyth, Gabrielle (6) and Rosana (4) Smyth have an extraordinary theory to explain Mary Poppins' switch-aroo. Photo suppied

Grandchildren of Joan Smyth, Gabrielle (6) and Rosana (4) Smyth have an extraordinary theory to explain Mary Poppins’ switch-aroo. Photo suppied

SMYTH-sisters-togetherMary Dances in the Street: Southern Highlands News 7 May 2014

Their grandmother Joan Smyth wrote:

Gabrielle and Rosana  Smyth ( 6 and 4 ) , my grandchildren from Sydney, who had visited Mary when she first appeared in our park, were quite mystified by her changed position and couldn’t wait to ‘show and tell’  their parents all about it last weekend ! 
Their idea was that Mary had come to life one night and danced around the playground having fun, until the morning light was appearing, when she quickly jumped back up onto the pedestal to be ready for the first children of the day. Unfortunately she had too much fun during her adventures and too much lemonade, which made her “fizzy dizzy” and she turned the wrong way when she became still again ! 
They are sure she is not  upset though because she can see the children playing all day in the playground and that is much better than just looking out across the park. 
What do you think ??
Other explantions have tended to focus on possible human intervention:
Good morning.
I was reading in the southern highlands news that the Mary poppins statue has moved position.
My mother took my children there the other day and they noticed there were lots of other peoples children climbing all over the statue and using it as a cricket pitch. My mother said this put a lot of stress on the statue and the statue was moved out of place.
This could be the reason it has moved.
Children should be told not to treat such a beautiful sculpture, a work of art, in this way. I am an artist and if I saw children or anyone treating my art in this way I would be very upset.
Melanie Kirton
and there seems to be some corroboration for this theory:
My wife & I walked through the park, last Thursday and noticed a family playing cricket, all were dotted around Mary poppins, and the base Mary stands on was their stumps,next minute one of the children climbed to the top of Mary’s head & photos were taken, this caught the attention of others who wanted their photo with Mary. I thought they shouldn’t do that, Mary poppins stands on one foot to the base, it is dangerous to be climbing all over it. Maybe Mary needs to have an old English fence around the circle….yours Nigel Mckeown.
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Mary on the Move! A spoonful of mystery and maybe some magic

Regional Fairfax newspaper the Southern Highlands News has a front page story yesterday on a mystery that has been quietly under investigation these past few weeks. But it couldn’t stay secret for much longer.

The Mary Poppins Birthplace Statue unveiled on the 8th December 2013 was facing west. Somehow at some time since then the statue has shifted orientation to now face east. It was first noticed on 21st March 2014 by George the labradoodle while on an early morning walk with his owner Terry Oakes-Ash.

The available photographic evidence and eyewitness accounts suggest the swivel happened during that week. The statue has not been damaged and there appears no evidence of attempts at vandalism. Some reports have been received of children climbing on the statue but the engineers who oversaw the installation have ruled that out as a cause.

The situation is perplexing as the statue weighs hundreds of kilograms and is set on a large granite plinth that is secured to a concrete foundation extending almost two metres in depth.

Photographic evidence that the Mary Poppins Birthplace Statue has shifted position sometime before 21st March 2014

Photographic evidence that the Mary Poppins Birthplace Statue has shifted position sometime before 21st March 2014

If you have any information on how this happened or a theory as to what might explain the rotation please leave a message below.

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Joshua Hewitt interviews Paul & Melissa McShane

Radio presenter Joshua Hewitt interviewed the father-daughter team, Paul & Melissa McShane, who have created the Mary Poppins Birthplace campaign in Bowral.

They discuss the origins of the campaign and the creation of the Mary Poppins Birthplace Statue.

You can listen to the interview directly on SoundCloud or via Joshua’s blog.

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Saving Mr Banks but at some cost to the history

Melissa and I recently saw the new Disney film Saving Mr Banks and there is much to like, especially the performance of Emma Thompson as author P.L. Travers. The story of Disney’s campaign to gain the movie rights to the Mary Poppins character is one worth telling. The script does, however, appear to have skewed the historical sequence of events and invented some new episodes. That’s understandable given the demands of compressing the narrative into an entertaining movie, as it isn’t a documentary after all.

For the record, it is worth pointing out where the film departs from the history, as best we understand it, without being critical of the choices made by the scriptwriter and director for doing so. Some of those choices may, however, impact on a true perspective on Bowral’s role in the life of the author (or Helen Lyndon Goff, nicknamed “Ginty”, as she was then known), so it is justified on a  blog like this one to try and correct them.

The following points rely upon the 1999 biography Out of the Sky She Came by Valerie Lawson, whose work was acknowledged in the film’s credits (that book has since been republished as Mary Poppins She Wrote).

#1 The opening scene set in Maryborough in 1906.

Helen Lyndon Goff was born in Maryborough on 9 August 1899. She left there in early 1902, at the age of about two-and-a-half years old and, it seems certain, she never ever returned. No doubt some elements of Maryborough remained in her memory all her life, and it seems she added lustre to them later, but she was a baby and toddler at best for most of the time she lived there. Saving Mr Banks incorrectly depicts her family residing in Maryborough in 1906 and then being transferred directly to Allora. According to Valerie Lawson’s research, Travers Goff was transferred (possibly demoted) to a new job with the AJS Bank in Brisbane in early 1902 and the family travelled south with him and then lived in a succession of places until moving to Allora in October 1905.

The family lived in Brisbane Street Ipswich but then Travers Goff had to relieve for another employee at Clifton on the Darling Downs near Toowoomba during August 1903 and then during May 1905 at the bank’s branch at Killarney, north-west of Brisbane. Lawson also says the family lived at ‘Heytor’, Lisson Grove, Wooloowin.  Shortly after that Lyndon was sent for a time to live with her Aunt Ellie in Sydney, prior to the birth of her youngest sister Cicely Margaret in July 1905. By this time Lyndon was five years old.

#2 Allora

Like Maryborough, Lyndon’s time living in Allora was relatively short, about 16 months. They arrived in October 1905 and left following her father’s death in February 1907. The significant difference to Maryborough was that she was older now, just having turned six, and would naturally remember more. In addition, she would remember these months more intensively later as the last period of time while her father was still alive. For her, this time in Allora came to represent the happiest year of her life, though her father’s decline must have made the final months more stressful. As Lawson indicates, there is a sense that many of her happiest memories were, perhaps retrospectively, assigned to this single period of her life as a kind of golden age.

In Saving Mr Banks, the flashback scenes to the “wild west” town of Allora are contrasted sharply to the opening scenes in Maryborough for dramatic purposes. Maryborough is depicted as a bustling  “civilised” town with European style parks and attractive houses, replete with a retinue of servants. On arrival in Allora, the family has traipsed through dry dusty paddocks to find a run-down house sitting forlornly on a hill – with no other civilisation to be seen to the horizon – and definitely no servants.

In fact, the house the Goff family lived in at Allora was far from derelict being attached to the impressive bank branch premises in Herbert Street, the main street of the township,  apparently with stables and possibly servant quarters and a large backyard as big as a paddock. There were streets and buildings all around Herbert Street unlike the desolate location in the film. The family did have domestic help at the home in Allora it seems, at least a maid, a cook and a stablehand. Of course there would have been bank staff around during the week in the business premises of the building so the loneliness experienced in the film by the mother Margaret Goff seems unlikely.

The contrast between Maryborough and Allora is meant to emphasise the sudden change in circumstances of the family due to the father’s unreliability and drinking. Ironically, the change for the family really did happen in Bowral rather than Allora. Following the death of Travers Goff, all the household effects were sold at auction and the family were moved 1,000 kilometres south into a different state to a very modest cottage on the outskirts of Bowral.  This cottage was rented for them by Aunt Elle, and this time there were definitely no domestic servants. There in Bowral they were to live for a decade, the longest period the Goff family resided anywhere during  the time Lyndon lived in Australia, from about the age of seven until she was almost eighteen. It was also here in Bowral that she began to use her imagination and storytelling ability to create a character that would become an emotional response to the death of her father and the threatened break-up of her family.

#3 The mother’s attempted suicide by drowning 

This scene is based on a pivotal moment in young Lyndon’s life, and the creation of the Mary Poppins character, certainly as remembered by her in later writing.  Her biographer Valerie Lawson has also emphasised its significance.

But it did not take place in Allora prior to the death of her father as depicted in Saving Mr Banks. It took place several years later in Bowral, most probably based on our original analysis of daily weather records, sometime during the period Tuesday 19th to Thursday 21 July 1910. The author later said she was a little older than either ten or eleven years when it happened. The dramatic episode did not involve Lyndon mounting a white horse and riding after her mother and then entering the creek or the lake to save her. Rather her mother appeared to have some kind of nervous breakdown in Bowral, possibly triggered by a massive rainstorm outside, and she rushed out of the house threatening to drown herself in the creek at the back of the property. Lyndon’s response was to draw her sisters in front of the fireplace, wrap an eiderdown around them and tell them a story to comfort and distract them from the crisis. Fortunately the mother returned safely of her own accord, and to the great relief of her daughters, but the relationship between Lyndon and her mother had changed forever from that point.

#4 Aunt Ellie

The character of Aunt Ellie, played by Rachel Griffiths in Saving Mr Banks, is shown as arriving in Allora to bring order and relief to the household when Travers Goff fell ill . Lawson’s biography indicates this didn’t happen but instead Aunt Ellie only arrived in Allora for the first time after Travers Goff had died, and that was to whisk the family back with her to Sydney within a few days and then eventually to Bowral to the cottage she rented for them for the next ten years. There is little doubt Aunt Ellie was probably the major archetype for the Mary Poppins character but her involvement in their lives, especially Lyndon’s, deepened after the death of the father.

#5 Walt Disney’s flight to London

The scriptwriter and director have invented this scene where Disney follows Travers to London in a last ditch attempt to secure the movie rights. Again, it is done to serve the dramatic narrative but the device does underscore Disney’s desire to land this project for his studio, even if the visit to her home didn’t happen in reality. There may be other unknown liberties taken with the facts relating to her stay in Los Angeles but to repeat, this isn’t a documentary but a  well-crafted film with an ensemble of brilliant actors who produce an entertaining and engaging story.

The Saving Mr Banks producer Ian Collie was responsible for a documentary in 2002 titled The Shadow of Mary Poppins, directed by Lisa Mathews, that eventually led to this feature-length biopic. The documentary is due to be aired again in early February 2014, possibly with some updates. The Australian team that partnered with the BBC and Disney to produce Saving Mr Banks deserves to be highly commended for bringing this story to the big screen, despite the historical shortcuts and narrative tweaks that resulted. Hopefully Bowral’s essential role in the genesis of the Mary Poppins character won’t be overlooked and other opportunities will arise in the future to highlight the part our town played.

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“Saving Mr Banks” movie highlights Australian origins of PL Travers and Mary Poppins

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.

Disney's movie "Saving Mr Banks" highlights the Australian origins of PL Travers and Mary Poppins

Click to see trailer for  Disney’s movie “Saving Mr Banks” which highlights the Australian origins of PL Travers and Mary Poppins

Bowral’s Mary Poppins Birthplace Statue is now unveiled!

On Sunday 8th December 2013, Mary Poppins was welcomed back to her “birthplace” in the Australian town of Bowral where the author P.L. Travers lived as a child and teenager and a century after the character of the famous flying nanny first emerged in her imagination and storytelling.

Appropriately, the fictional character of Mary Poppins is now immortalised in the town she was created as the finale event in Bowral’s sesquicentenary (150th) celebrations with the unveiling of an exquisite life-size bronze statue. Mary Poppins is now a “permanent resident” of Bowral in Glebe Park, adjacent to the Bradman International Cricket Hall of Fame and Museum, only a block from the cottage in Holly Street where her family lived from 1907 – 1917.

The statue was crafted by well-known sculptor Tanya Bartlett, who was also responsible for the nearby statue of Sir Donald Bradman “The Final Salute” that stands in the museum’s courtyard.

The unveiling of the Mary Poppins Birthplace Statue was performed by dozens of children and supporters, sponsors and dignitaries tugging on three long ropes. The unveiling was done in the presence of the Governor of New South Wales, Her Excellency Professor Marie Bashir AC CVO, who gave the command signal by raising an umbrella.

It was a 12 year old girl, Melissa McShane, who originally suggested the statue for Bowral in 2004 and has campaigned for it in partnership with her father, Paul, for almost a decade. Melissa was given the honour of officially cutingt the ribbon around the black calico covering the sheet prior to the unveiling with the assistance of sculptor Tanya Bartlett and Rose Treadwell, the grand daughter of the late Sean Crampton, a British sculptor whose 1966 sketches for a statue proposed for Central Park in New York were used as design inspiration for the Bowral project.

The Mary Poppins Birthplace Statue was then welcomed by the singing of a Mary Poppins medley by a choir from the Southern Highlands Youth Arts Council (SHYAC) and an “umbrella dance” to the tune of the Hokey Pokey by the audience.

Other dignitaries attending with the Governor included the Hon Bob Baldwin MP Parliamentary Secretary Assisting the Minister for Trade and our local MP for Throsby Stephen Jones; the State Government was represented by the Hon Pru Goward MP for Goulburn and Mr Jai Rowell MP for Wollondilly. The Mayor of Wingecarribee Shire Clr Juliet Arkwright accepted the gifting of the statue to the community from the President of the SHYAC Allen Cupitt.

Visit these links to the photo gallery from the Southern Highlands News and the footage from HighlandsTV for how events unfolded on the day.

Photo Gallery of Mary Poppins Statue Unveiling

Photo Gallery Southern Highland News by Emma Biscoe










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