Popping in to Maryborough
IT PAYS to take your imagination with you when you visit Maryborough on the Fraser Coast. You're likely to run into a magical, mysterious nanny who can fly, with the help of an umbrella, or who can suddenly disappear into pavement art.
You see, this was the birthplace in 1899 of Pamela Lyndon (PL) Travers, creator of the world's most famous nanny, Mary Poppins, who could do those things - and more.
Mary Poppins is the unique, stern, dependable, businesslike and magical nanny of six books and the award-winning 1964 Walt Disney movie with Julie Andrews and Dick Van Dyke.
"Mary Poppins is the story of my life," Travers once said.
Although Travers left Maryborough as an infant and lived most of her adult life overseas, there are curious links between Maryborough and Mary Poppins.
The eternally loveable Travers characters inhabit the city streets and buildings.
We're being shown some of them by a modern-day Mary Poppins, the grand-motherly Carmel Murdoch who brings the books' fictional characters to life for the thousands of visitors who visit Maryborough each year for a Mary Poppins experience.
"I'm not nearly as stern as Mary Poppins in the novels or as sugary as the Julie Andrews film character. I'm somewhere in between," said Carmel who dresses in costume of the period and carries the magic umbrella with the parrot head handle and an "empty" bag.
She plays two characters - Mary Poppins or Mary Heritage to show visitors two sides of this historic city (she's not beyond breaking into a Mary Poppins song and dance, either.)
The present-day Mary Poppins leads us on a Tea With Mary tour through streets crammed with references to characters from the books.
We visit the old Richmond Street bank building in which PL Travers was born (as Helen Lyndon Goff). Outside is a life-size bronze statue of Mary Poppins, complete with umbrella and bag.
The statue is evidence of how serious Maryborough people are about Mary Poppins. As a community, residents worked together to raise more than $60,000 for the statue in a campaign driven by the city's Proud Marys Association.
The association was formed in 1999 to celebrate the 100th birthday of Travers. Connecting the name Mary with the town's name and history, the group set out to research and honour anyone with the name of Mary.
The association has members worldwide.
They document and collect notable Marys, both real and fictional, from throughout history.
The annual Mary Poppins Festival grew out of the association's annual Mary Morning Tea held in honour of author Travers.
Speaking of artwork, local artist Willie Paes each year creates some pavement art - just like the pavement art Mary Poppins leads the Banks children (Jane and Michael) through into one of their many adventures (the art is preserved for year-round viewing).
There's more art outside the Maryborough Town Hall. Mary Poppins characters are etched into steel on brick plinths. Ideal for pencil or crayon rubbings.
We also meet Admiral Boom who daily fires a cannon to let the residents of Cherry Tree Lane know the time.
But there's more to Maryborough than Mary Poppins.
Settled in 1847, Maryborough was one of Australia's busiest ports in the lead-up to Federation. It was second only to Sydney as Australia's immigration point for 30,000 new settlers.
Tall ships docked almost every two weeks from Britain, Germany and Scandinavia. Kanaka labour for the sugar plantations was also brought in at the port from the South Sea islands.
It's worth a walk around the dockside streets where commerce once thrived. Stately buildings, including bond warehouses, and grand hotels reflect a booming old-time community.
At the Bond Store Museum, we learn more about the port's underbelly at a time when sly-grog running was rife and it was legal to import opium.
Across the road in Wharf St is the privately-run Maryborough Military & Colonial Museum.
It's regarded as one of the best community museums in Australia and is a retirement passion for owner John Meyers.
It has more than 3000 items of military and colonial memorabilia.
Then there's the Maryborough Heritage Centre which houses the Maryborough Family Heritage Institute which holds one of the largest collection of genealogy records in Queensland.
Although you can easily take a self-guided tour (walking or driving), it's fun to join the 19th century-costumed Mary Heritage for a guided walking tour of portside.
These run Mondays to Saturdays at 9am.
Maryborough is noted for having some of the best examples in Queensland of the unique 19th and 20th century house style known as The Queenslander.
Built high above the ground to allow the circulation of air and with wide verandas, they were designed for the hot Queensland climate.
Take a drive to see some fine examples.
Oh, and if you are into ghosts, join the Saturday night ghostly tour of Maryborough's haunted sites.
Costumed guides tell stories, with great wit and charm, of love, betrayal, tragedy and unspeakable crimes of times past. You'll also get to see inside some of the wonderful examples of heritage-listed buildings.
By lamplight, you can also visit the pioneer cemetery.
* The writer was a guest of Tourism Queensland.
GOOD TO KNOW ABOUT MARYBOROUGH
Maryborough is a three-hour drive north from the Sunshine Coast along the Bruce Highway on the Fraser Coast.