Mary Poppins is pure camp. The prim nanny tidies a nursery with a snap of her fingers and only has to open her umbrella to fly above London’s rooftops. The only thing camper than Poppins herself is Maryborough’s supercalifragilisticexpialidocious Mary Poppins Festival, celebrating the town’s status as the birthplace of Mary Poppins author, P L Travers.
From 1 – 4 July, hordes of brolly-wielding nannies overrun the beautiful heritage city. Parasoled, pram-pushing, Edwardian childminders race through the streets in the great Nanny Challenge. There’s a Chimney Sweep Dash, and various characters from the movie come to life all over town.
P. L. Travers
P L Travers wrote eight Mary Poppins books. The author was born in 1899, in an upstairs bedroom of the Maryborough bank her father managed.
As an adult, P L Travers worked as an actress before later taking up writing. She moved to England in 1924 and published the first of her Mary Poppins books a decade later. She based the characters on people from her childhood.
P L Travers fictionalised her life not only in the Mary Poppins books but also in her personal biography. The real story of her childhood only emerged after her death. Once the story was out, Maryborough embraced P L Travers and her flying nanny.
The Proud Marys
A group of locals formed the Proud Marys, an association of women named either Mary or a derivative. In 1999, one hundred years after the birth of Travers, the Proud Marys held a Mary Poppins morning tea, the catalyst for the Mary Poppins Festival.
The Proud Marys also drove fundraising to erect a bronze statue of Mary Poppins outside Travers’ birthplace. Later, the town transformed the two-story bank into an interactive Mary Poppins museum. Then, in 2017, the home of Mary Poppins introduced themed pedestrian lights in her honour. A green nanny with an open brolly indicates it’s safe to cross, while a red nanny demands you stay where you are.
A Spoonful of Sugar
The 2013 movie Saving Mr Banks increased awareness of P L Travers and interest in her birthplace. Travers was a complicated woman deeply affected by her childhood. As a Disney film, Saving Mr Banks included generous spoonfuls of sugar. It notably ignored the author’s relationships with women. Even reviews that mentioned lesbianism did so cautiously. One described Travers as an ‘occasional lesbian’ — a strange description for a woman who wrote the first Mary Poppins book during a particularly intense decade-long relationship with another woman. Travers also, at the time, attended meetings of The Rope, a group of mainly lesbian writers.
Mary Poppins Festival – supercalifragilisticexpialidocious!
The four-day festival celebrates storytelling for all ages through all art forms. The signature event is the Mary Poppins Festival Day in the Park. The day sees Maryborough’s glorious heritage streetscapes transformed into scenes from the Poppins novels.
As one of Queensland’s oldest towns, Maryborough offers a wealth of visitor attractions, including heritage buildings, striking public art, statues, and memorials. The town is famous for its fine old classic Queenslander homes with their verandahs and excentric turreted roofs. Maryborough is also just half an hour’s drive from Hervey Bay, Australia’s whale-watching capital, and an hour from K’gari, heritage-listed Fraser Island.
QNews is attending the Mary Poppins Festival in 2021 and hopes to see you there.
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