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December 16, 2013

MARY POPPINS: FROM BOWRAL TO HOLLYWOOD AND BACK

 

David Ellis

 

SHE'S doubtless the most-famous nanny ever, and as we roll into next month the name Mary Poppins will be on the lips of the world from Bowral in the picturesque Southern Highlands of NSW where she came into being in 1910, to Hollywood where she filled-up her famous carpetbag with five Oscars in the mid-1960s and within a year became one of the highest-grossing stars of her time.

 

And while Bowral will unveil a life-size, opened-umbrella and carpetbag-tottin' bronze statue to her in a park adjacent to its equally-famed Bradman Museum on Sunday December 8, around the same time Hollywood's Disney Studios will release world-wide a multi-million dollar movie about how the original movie Mary Poppins came about in 1964.

 

And that latter proved anything but an easy spoonful-of-sugar between a strong-willed Walt Disney, and an equally strong-willed, prickly and pragmatic PL (Pamela Lyndon) Travers, the Australian creator of the flying nanny.

 

Travers, whose real name was Helen Lyndon Goff, came up with the Mary Poppins character in bizarre circumstances as a young 12 year old one night in July 1910. Her bank clerk father, Travers Goff had died prematurely some five years earlier when the family was living at Allora in Queensland, and her mother had moved Lyndon and her sisters to Bowral where a formidable, no-nonsense Aunt Ellie provided them with a house free of rent.

 

On that July night as a massive storm swept Bowral, Lyndon Goff's mother, who had been struggling emotionally and financially since the death of her husband, suddenly ran out into the storm and, in an attempt on her own life, jumped into a flooded local creek; failing, she returned bedraggled to the house – to the horror of the young Lyndon and her even younger sisters.

 

As their mother retreated to her bedroom, to get their minds off what they had seen, the quick-witted Lyndon gathered her siblings around the fire and started telling a fanciful story of a magical white horse that would float down from the heavens and perform amazing deeds… making-up the story as she went along, and until the younger girls eventually slipped into deep sleep.

 

For months afterwards she told more stories of the magical white horse, but having in her mind how the no-nonsense Aunt Ellie "somehow always seemed to be on hand to fix things," she slowly moved her tales away from the magical white horse to an equally magical Aunt Ellie-like nanny who could fix the insurmountable – giving her the name Mary Poppins, and several years later as a young adult, finally putting her tale on paper and selling it to a British publisher.

 

In 1964 Walt Disney cobbled together the tale of "the flying super-nanny" with parts of some of Lyndon Goff's other PL Travers' stories, so creating the musical Mary Poppins starring Julie Andrews and Dick van Dyke and which today is still a hit almost 50 years on.

 

The Disney Studios' movie to be released in December, Saving Mr Banks is the story of how Mary Poppins came to be made, the friction between Walt Disney (played by Tom Hanks) and PL Travers (Emma Thompson,) how the pragmatic Travers loathed aspects of the film as "ghastly" (particularly the animations and sentimentality,) cried during its premiere – and how it had taken Disney years to get Travers to even talk with him, only agreeing to do so when sales of her books had virtually dried-up, leaving her financially strapped.

The tale of Bowral's bronze Mary Poppins statue is a far happier one, having been largely inspired a decade ago by a Bowral teenager, Melissa McShane with the help of her dad Paul and the Southern Highlands Youth Arts Council, of which he is Secretary.

Since 2009 they've raised nearly $100,000 through limited-edition statuette sales, donations and government grants for the statue that has been crafted by Newcastle sculptor, Tanya Bartlett using the ancient lost-wax method.

 

It will be publicly unveiled (entry free) at 2pm on December 8 by NSW Governor, Marie Bashir in Bowral's Glebe Park, and interestingly is within sight of another Tanya Bartlett-created statue – that of Sir Donald Bradman who coincidentally lived just a block from Lyndon Goff, making its location, as Mary Poppins would doubtless like to observe, "practically perfect."

 

Further reading: www.mary-poppins-birthplace.net  

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PHOTO CAPTIONS:

 

[] MARY Poppins author, PL Travers with contentious script for the 1964 Disney movie

   Mary Poppins. (Southern Highlands Youth Arts Council)

[] Teenage Lyndon Goff (PL Travers, left) with younger sisters at the creek that helped

    inspire the book and movie classic. (Southern Highlands Youth Arts Council)

[] NEWCASTLE sculptor Tanya Bartlett (right) and Bowral's Melissa McShane with

   Tanya's wax model of Mary Poppins ready for bronze casting. (Paul McShane)

[] Melissa McShane who has been working since a teenager towards Bowral's statue

   of Mary Poppins, up-close with Tanya Bartlett's wax model. (Paul McShane)

[] IN 2011 Bowral created a world-record size human mosaic as part of fund-raising for

  the Mary Poppins statue in this town where Mary Poppins was "born," with 2115

   umbrellas raised Poppins-like.  (Clint Crawley Photography)

 

 


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