Mary Poppins, the magical nanny, is a fictional character created by author, P.L. Travers. One question pondered by many readers of the Mary Poppins books and fans of the movie has been: Where did Mary Poppins come from? The question was frequently put to the author during her lifetime, but she invariably offered a vague or evasive reply. It is a mystery that may finally now have an answer, thanks to detailed biographical research by Sydney-based journalist/author Valerie Lawson and the flash of insight by a 12 year-old girl Melissa McShane. And the answer? Well, the place with the strongest claim to be the “birthplace” of Mary Poppins – both in a symbolic and literal sense – is a town called Bowral.
Yes, strange but true! Bowral, an Australian country town in the Southern Highlands of New South Wales, has a compelling claim to be considered the birthplace of Mary Poppins. Why this is so is explained on this website. And the real-life story of Mary Poppins’ origins are as dramatic and magical as any fictional tale, revealing much about the author’s motivation in creating the character as well as the underlying themes in her later stories.
Of course, claiming to be the birthplace of a fictional character is a little quirky, to say the least. The author of Mary Poppins, PL Travers (who was christened Helen Lyndon Goff), was born in Maryborough Queensland in 1899. But just as cricket’s greatest batsman, Don Bradman, was born in Cootamundra and moved to Bowral as a child, so did Lyndon Goff move from Queensland. And just as Bowral was the place that Bradman was to learn his cricket and develop the prodigious talent that was to make him a sporting icon, so did Lyndon Goff begin her life as a storyteller and create the essence of a fictional character that was eventually to become an icon of childrens literature.*
Appropriately enough, the town of Bowral is the heart of the Southern Highlands BOOKtrail and Australia’s first booktown project. The district can also lay claim to being home to both the author of the first book for children published in Australia (A Mother’s Offering to Her Children 1841) and also the first work of fiction written by an Australian-born woman (Gertrude the Immigrant 1857). So the association that PL Travers and Mary Poppins has with the region enjoys an excellent literary pedigree.