April 25, 2011


David Ellis

THE delightful little town of Bowral, population around 10,000 in the NSW Southern Highlands, has taken a jump on New York City, population 8.2-million, to erect a life-size statue to a design by one of England's finest sculptors of the world's most popular super-nanny, Mary Poppins.

And coincidentally it's a Bowral teenager who is behind it all – just as it was another Bowral teen who gave the world that no-nonsense nanny way back in 1910.

As well, next month Bowral's Melissa McShane, with the help of her dad Paul and the Southern Highlands Youth Arts Council of which he is Vice-President, is organising what she hopes will be the world's Largest Umbrella Mosaic – in the shape of the nanny who famously floats down from the sky under an open umbrella, trusty carpetbag at hand.

The mosaic attempt, to draw attention to Bowral's links with Mary Poppins and to raise funds for the statue of her, has been registered with the Guinness Book of Records, and will be held on Bowral's Bradman oval – just a block from where Mary Poppins' creator, Lyndon Goff lived as a teen.

And if the more-than 1000 umbrella-toting Mary Poppins fans turn up that Melissa McShane is hoping for, the mosaic will be large enough to be seen from space, and will break the existing record of 1,026 set by a town in Serbia in 2009.

Which, if she was around today, would no doubt have Mary Poppins reflecting on it as being "practically perfect."

But just how Mary Poppins came about is not as happy a story as in the books Lyndon Goff later wrote under the name P.L. (Pamela Lyndon) Travers.

In fact rather than blow in on a favourable east wind as Miss Poppins did into the Banks' family home at Number 17 Cherry Tree Lane, the original Mary Poppins came about after Lyndon Goff's mother moved the family to Bowral from Queensland following the premature death of their bank clerk father, Travers Goff.

Unable to make ends meet, Lyndon's mother attempted to drown herself one torrential night in a flooded local creek, and failing in this ran bedraggled back into the family cottage – to the horror of Lyndon and her younger sisters.

To get their minds off what they'd seen, the 12-year old Lyndon gathered her siblings around the fire and started making-up a fanciful story of a magical white horse that could float down from the heavens and perform amazing deeds, talking into the night until eventually her younger sisters fell asleep.

Lyndon already knew that a kind Aunt Ellie in Sydney was paying the family's rent in Bowral, and once commented on how this benevolent aunt "always seems to be on hand to fix things." By the time she had reached her teen years, Lyndon had turned her "magical horse" into an equally "magical nanny who could fix the insurmountable" in the stories that she was now creating nightly for her siblings.

Later, unable in adult life to fulfil a wish to become an actor, Lyndon Goff used the name Pamela Lyndon Travers to write a book about the nanny she'd spun so many stories about those many years before for her sisters.

Walt Disney in 1964 turned this and parts of seven others into a Hollywood musical starring Julie Andrews and Dick van Dyke, a classic that's proven a near-50-year success.

Artist Mary Shepard drew the pictures of Mary Poppins for Lyndon's books, and Lyndon herself posed for the image of the unflappable nanny floating down with umbrella up and carpetbag at hand for renowned British sculptor Sean Crampton for his proposed statue for New York City.

But New York was unable to raise the funds for the work, and when the idea lapsed Paul McShane got permission from Crampton's family to use his sketches for the life-size bronze of Mary Poppins that Bowral now hopes to unveil in Spring or Autumn 2012.

(If you're interested in taking part in the human mosaic at 1pm on Saturday May 7, and so possibly becoming part of history, take your brightest umbrella to Bradman Oval, Bowral; see www.shyac.org.au or phone 02 4801 0622. A free open-air screening of Mary Poppins will follow on the oval that night, together with a fireworks show.)




[] BOWRAL teen Melissa McShane as Mary Poppins. (Photo courtesy Corinne Dany Photography & Design www.corinnedany.com)

[] HOW the human mosaic of Mary Poppins will look on May 7 in Bowral.

[] AUTHOR P.L. Travers (Lyndon Goff) reviews the script for Disney's 1964 movie based on her Mary Poppins books.

[] LYNDON Goff watches her younger sisters in the creek behind their Bowral home in which their mother later attempted suicide, leading to the creation of Mary Poppins.

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