Feb 012017

Julie Andrews as Mary Poppins


When the Walt Disney movie “Mary Poppins” came out in 1964, it was a tremendous hit.  It was based on a book written at the beginning of 1933 by an author called PL Travers.  Most people may think that the author is English because Mary Poppins is about a nanny and family that live in London, England.  Actually, PL Travers was Australian and her real name was Helen Lyndon Goff.  She did emigrate to England when she was 25 years old and lived there until she died in 1996 at the age of 96 years.  She lived with a woman for a decade and her biographer stated that it was a very “intense” relationship.  She never married, but adopted a son.  This was a complicated woman who despised Walt Disney’s movie version of her book.  She travelled to learn Zen Mysticism, Native American Mythology and wrote poems, novels and non-fiction books.

House Sitting in “Mary Poppins” Town

Maryborough of author of Mary Poppins

Maryborough statue of Mary Poppins

Helen Goff or PL Travers was born in Maryborough, Queensland.  This is the town where we are currently house and pet sitting.  This is a well- laid out town with some old colonial buildings, parks and a river.  It is filled with friendly Aussies.  Close by is the Bruce Highway that runs north to as far north as tropical Cairns and south to Brisbane.  Now in the month of January, the temperatures are in the high 30s.  We are lucky to have a pool to cool off.

The family owners are at a country musical festival in Tamworth; it is a very popular event.  We are currently enjoying two cute little Maltese dogs called Puppy and Lucy.

P L Travers Father was a  Bank Manager!

The author grew up in Maryborough where her father was a bank manager.  It is sad to relate that her father suffered from alcoholism and was demoted to a bank clerk.  He died at the early age of 43 years of age.  She was seven years of age. In her growing up years, Helen lived in a home complete with servants. Her aunt was married to the Premier of Queensland.  After her father’s death, she was boarded Normanhurst Girls School in Ashfield, a suburb of Sydney.  I add this piece of detail because when my wife, Trish, did a teacher exchange, we lived in Ashfield.

P L Travis as a young actress

P L Travers – The Young Australian Actress

 As a teenager, Helen published poems in magazines.  Later, she adapted the stage name “Pamela Lyndon Travers”. She toured Australia and New Zealand with Allan Wilkie’s Shakespearean Company, before leaving for England in 1924. 

Living in England/USA

Most people may not know that Mary Poppins is part of a series of Poppin books (see below).  During WW2 (1939-1945) PL Travers, who was called by her second name Lydon, worked for the British Ministry of Information in New York City.  

The Love of Mythology

Many people may not know that Lyndon spent two summers studying mythology with Native Americans: Navajo, Hopi and Pueblo.  After the war (1939) she spent time as a Writer-in-Residence at Radcliffe College and Smith College.  Travers had an inquisitive mind and travelled to Japan to study Zen mysticism.  During her life, Lyndon wrote novels, poetry collections and non-fiction.

Why the name “Mary Poppins”? 

Lyndon revealed that the name “M.Poppins” was a name that she invented when telling her young sisters made-up stories.  She also said during a radio interview that her great Australian aunt, Helen Morehead, used to say, “Spit spot, into bed.” (Mary Poppins says these words in the book/movie).

Lyndon Never Totally Liked the Disney Version

Lydon was such a critic that she never received an official invitation to the movie’s opening night, until she demanded one.  She never liked the character of Mary Poppins – her book had a harsher life.  She absolutely hated the animation – (Where Mary and Bert dance with penguins, ride a carousel, etc ).  In fact, at the premier of the film, she shouted “The Animation Has to Go!”

Walt Disney with P L Travis

 Walt Disney is reported to have said, “Pamela, the ship has sailed,” and walked away.  Lyndon also disliked some of the songs.

Personal life

Though Travers had numerous fleeting relationships with men throughout her life, she lived for more than a decade with Madge Burnand, daughter of Sir Francis Burnand, a playwright and the former editor of the magazine, Punch.

 They shared a London flat from 1927 to 1934, then moved to Pound Cottage near Mayfield, East Sussex. There,  Travers published the first of the Mary Poppins books. Their friendship, in the words of one biographer, was “intense,” but equally ambiguous.  She never married or seemed to live with a man.

Lyndon belonged to a group of writers called “The Rope.”  It was mainly composed of lesbians.  jessie Orage was a member and is quoted as being Travis’ lover.

The Adoption:

Lyndon with Camillus

At age 39, two years after moving out on her own, Lyndon adopted a twin boy.  Joseph Hone, the first biographer of the poet W.B. Years was raising seven grand children with his wife.  He offered Lyndon both twin boys.  She was determined to have just one and consulted an astronomer as to which twin to take.  It was some 17 years later that he adopted son Camillus sudden became aware of his true parentage and the fact that he had an identical twin brother.  His twin, Anthony, suddenly turned up drunk at Lyndon’ s home and demanded to see his brother. The Queen’s Gift

Jessie Orage: One of PL Travers’ Lovers, Travers adopted a baby boy from Ireland whom she named Camillus Travers Hone.


Travers was appointed Officer of the Order of the British Empire in 1977. She lived into advanced old age, but her health declined toward the end of her life. Travers died in London on 23 April 1996 at the age of 96.[

Her son Camillus died in London in November 2011.

Again, Lyndon Travis was a complicated woman.  She lived in a time where lesbian affairs were not openly discussed.  In the movie, “The Return of Mr. Banks” – many women critics think that she was undeservedly portrayed.  She was a strong woman who objected to having a large company like Disney portray her book in a way that she did not want.

Lyndon in later years



Mary Poppins, London: Gerald Howe, 1934

• Mary Poppins Comes Back, London: L. Dickson & Thompson Ltd., 1935

• I Go By Sea, I Go By Land, London: Peter Davies, 1941

• Aunt Sass, New York: Reynal & Hitchcock, 1941

• Ah Wong, New York: Reynal & Hitchcock, 1943

Mary Poppins Opens the Door, London: Peter Davies, 1943

• Johnny Delaney, New York: Reynal & Hitchcock, 1944

• Mary Poppins in the Park, London: Peter Davies, 1952

• Gingerbread Shop, 1952

• Mr. Wigg’s Birthday Party, 1952

• The Magic Compass, 1953

• Mary Poppins From A to Z, London: Collins, 1963

• The Fox at the Manger, London: Collins, 1963

• Friend Monkey, London: Collins, 1972

• Mary Poppins in the Kitchen, New York & London: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1975

• Two Pairs of Shoes, New York: Viking Press, 1980

• Mary Poppins in Cherry Tree Lane, London: Collins, 1982

• Mary Poppins and the House Next Door, London: Collins. 1988.

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