Who is P.L.Travers?

Mary Poppins author

About P.L.Travers

It surprises many people to learn that P.L. Travers, the creator of these stories set in London featuring an English nanny, was actually an Australian.

She was born Helen Lyndon Goff in Maryborough, Queensland, on 9th August, 1899. Her family moved to another Queensland town, Allora, when she was three. After the death of her father in 1907, the family – her mother and two sisters – moved to a cottage rented for them by a wealthy aunt in Bowral, New South Wales. The family lived there until 1917, though Lyndon did attend boarding school at The Normanhurst Private Girls School in Ashfield Sydney, from 1912 until 1916, returning to Bowral for the holidays. The family then moved to Sydney in 1917. Taking the name, Pamela Lyndon Travers, she pursued a career on the stage, touring with a theatre company through regional NSW and New Zealand during 1921-22. By this time she had begun to write and publish poetry, as well as newspaper columns. In February 1924, she fulfilled a long-held dream and sailed for England and Ireland and began her career as the writer, P.L. Travers. She only ever returned once to visit Australia, for two weeks in 1965 to visit her sisters. For more information on P.L. Travers consult Valerie Lawson’s comprehensive biography Out of the Sky She Came (1999) since republished as Mary Poppins She Wrote or Wikipedia. 

Pamela Lyndon Travers, appearing in the role of Titania in A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

“There they were, all together, up in the air”
― P.L. Travers, Mary Poppins

Valerie Lawson’s Biography

In 1999 journalist and author Valerie Lawson published her biography Out of the Sky She Came: the life of P.L. Travers, creator of Mary Poppins (Sydney, Hodder). The 380-page comprehensive work is mandatory reading for anyone interested in the life of the author and the origins of her famous character. Many of the facts that are now routinely quoted concerning Travers were revealed through this biography, although others in earlier times, such as Patricia Feltham and the late John Simons in Bowral, had already featured the author’s Australian origins. The McShanes have always endeavoured where reasonable to credit Ms Lawson’s biography for the tremendous assistance it has given them, though media outlets do not always include that credit in their subsequent reports. The biography has since been re-published as Mary Poppins She Wrote (Aurum Press) to coincide with the 2004 West End stage show in London and later the extended Broadway season in New York Design Comptetition. At the time Ms Lawson encouraged the McShanes to explore the primary research material held in the form of Travers’ collection of private papers in the Mitchell Library. The McShanes took her up on that advice over the next several years, undertaking their own review of the historical evidence. Valerie Lawson was the first person to highlight the crucial role that Bowral played in the genesis of the Mary Poppins character. The relevant extracts are quoted with permission elsewhere on this website. Lawson’s biography also points out that a number of key characters in the Mary Poppins books were derived from people living in Bowral at the same time as the young Lyndon Goff. In fact it seems these characters were imported in to the books without even a change of name. These include Nellie Rubina and Uncle Dodger as well as the forbidding sweetshop proprietor Mrs Corry and her two gigantic twin daughters. The McShanes wish to acknowledge the debt owed to Valerie Lawson’s early encouragement and to her detailed biography in helping shape their own research into why Bowral has a compelling claim to be the birthplace of Mary Poppins.

‘Mary Poppins She Wrote’ the later edition of Valerie Lawson’s biography of PL Travers. Author Valerie Lawson. ‘Out of the Sky She Came’ by Valerie Lawson (Hodder 1999)