The Life of P.L. Travers

The creator of one of the most beloved characters of 20th century children's literature began her story in the building that would become The Story Bank on Wednesday, August 9, 1899.

In the very last years of the Victorian era, on the eve of Federation, Helen Lyndon Goff was born into a respectable and financially comfortable family.  Her father, Travers Goff, was the bank manager of the Australian Joint Stock Bank, and he and his family lived in the second storey residence of the building. The first-born child of Goff and his wife, Margaret, Helen enjoyed a typical Edwardian childhood filled with fairy tales, poetry, and astronomy, instilling in her a sense of wonder and a love of storytelling that fuelled her magical creativity for nearly a century.

After spending the first few years of her life in Maryborough, she and her family moved to Brisbane, then Ipswich, Allora, Bowral, and Sydney.  She began her career as a dancer and Shakespearean performer in Sydney in the early 1920s.  Her rich theatrical life included a hometown appearance as 'Titania' in an Alan Wilkie touring production of 'A Midsummer Night's Dream' on the stage of the Maryborough City Hall in 1922.  It was during this time that she adopted the stage name Pamela Lyndon Travers - taking her beloved father's first name as her surname and using a popular name of the time as her first name.

Travers' love of the written word soon reasserted itself and she began writing articles for newspapers and magazines.  Moving to London in 1924 to pursue her writing career, she met famous poets and writers like George William Russell and William Butler Yeats and joined their literary circle. 

Travers' most famous creation, Mary Poppins, first appeared in a story published in the Christchurch Sun in 1926, before taking centre stage in 1934 when her first book of stories was published and Travers' fame was secured.  Travers would go on to create eight distinct volumes of Mary Poppins magic in a publishing phenomenon spanning 55 years.  

In 1939, Travers adoped a son, Camillus, and during World War Two they made their home in the U.S.A.  They returned to live in London following the war, where Travers lectured extensively, undertook residencies at Harvard and Northhampton Universities, and was awarded an honourary doctorate from Chatham College in Pennsylvania.  Travers was later awarded an Order of the British Empire in 1977.

Throughout her life, Travers consistently sought to understand and write about who we are as human beings, exploring the important function that storytelling plays in our lives.  This passionate quest for meaning is reflected in her final work, published in 1989, was What the Bee Knows - Reflections on Myth, Symbol and Story.

Travers laid down her pen at the age of 96, and left behind her a magical legacy of literature translated into 16 languages which spoke to universal themes and taught key life lessons that resonated with readers near and far.