Step back in time and travel to the birth place of Mary Poppins!


While we were based in Point Vernon, on the northern end of Hervey Bay, our brother-in-law Phil told us that we simply had to visit Maryborough, a town that in the past we had only ever driven through. Since he lived locally, he volunteered to be our guide.

We were more than happy to take him up on it, since we had always thought it to be such a pretty town. Maryborough, 35 kilometres from Point Vernon, was one of the busiest ports on the east coast, second only to Sydney. Settled in 1847 and moved to its present location in 1855, it was an immigration port and imports an  exports flowed across the wharves and bond stores in a constant stream.

We had our first surprise driving into the town. We were surrounded on both sides by enormous, ornate, beautifully kept Queenslanders. These large, beautiful houses demonstrated the wealth of the old town, but we were also delighted with the picturesque nature of the smaller cottages, all with timber and wrought iron decorations. We found out later that there is a yearly open day to celebrate these architectural treasures. The festival is in September or October yearly. Events included are; an Open Gardens event; Archaeological excavations and renovation and restoration presentations, making for a packed weekend.

The next stop was the City Hall where we were to pick up walking maps at the Information Centre. It was a jaw dropper; massive and beautiful. Guarded by enormous colonial style columns with glowing red brick outside and red cedar inside, it was built in 1908 and still serves the city. It was ringed by market stalls, as it is every Thursday when the town rocks with activity.

We were intrigued to discover that P. L. Travers, the author of Mary Poppins, was born in Maryborough and many of her characters and story lines were based on her early life.

The buildings everywhere were stunningly lovely and perfectly kept. Ghost tours are wildly popular – taps turning on mysteriously, people tripping over nothing and plenty of screams.

We hit the pavement armed with maps for the; Magical Mary Discovery Trail, Discover Maryborough, and the Achievers Walk. Just outside we found some fellow campers from our caravan park and others who were free camping just south west of Maryborough. They’d all come to town for Heritage Market Day. We met Town Crier Stephen R. Ballye in the market and he proudly showed us the wares on sale. We have to concede that he is the perfect person for the job – he has a mighty voice!

RVers are a jolly lot and after a chat to Mr Ballye the guys decided amongst themselves that they would like to go to Husband Daycare and let us ladies explore unfettered. This sounded OK to us until we saw the sign. Daycare was free but it was in the Post Office Hotel and we would have to pay for any drinks consumed. The guys insisted that, seeing the hotel was built in 1889, they would actually be soaking up history as well as beer but sensing financial ruin we dragged them on with us to the Portside precinct around the old wharf area.

The guys saw steam, and we heard a train whistle, time to take a ride on the Mary Ann! A replica of a train built in the town in 1873, the Mary Ann runs along the riverside on tracks laid to take goods to and from the town’s wharves.

The guys yelled happily as we sped through the parklands; steam enveloped us and we wiped soot from our faces. We saw the old wharf area and the public art, celebrating the cultures that made the town what it was.

Then it was up the hill to the Bond Store Museum. We had purchased a pass for several museums and this was interesting. First up we saw what looked to be a ghost – a lady in a huge blue dress sailed across the floor and introduced herself as Mary Heritage. She posed for photos and invited us to a cannon firing on the lawn at 11am. This doesn’t happen to us every day, so we couldn’t say no!

The Bond Store Museum hosted a sound and light show that shone a spotlight on immigrants who landed just nearby after long voyages to a new land. They weren’t the only imports: wine, beer and opium were once legally imported through this place. Exports included gold from the Gympie gold fields, produce from up the Gayndah Road, wool and coal.

Across the road we visited the Military and Colonial Museum in the J.E.Brown warehouse circa 1879. Nearby was the Former Custom House Hotel, used in the Kylie Minogue film ‘The Delinquents’. RVs drove past us in a constant stream the whole time; confirming what we had suspected – Maryborough is popular with our crowd!

Then it was time for the cannon firing. Mr Ballye was in charge of the fire, ably assisted by Mary Heritage who told a crowd of interested onlookers the history of the time cannon. Originally cast in 1750, it was fired daily at 1pm so that people could set their clocks. It was all very atmospheric but OH&S has caught up with the cannon – there is an exclusion zone around it, marked out with witches’ hats, and instead of being lit with a wick, the cannon is lit with a Bic! We were all shown how to shield our ears from the terrifying blast. We survived OK, but several visiting kindergarten children and a dog on a lead had to be comforted afterwards. The blokes loved it. A bit of smoke and a loud noise is all it takes.

Much to the dismay of the men, it was Mary Poppins time. We discovered that the next-door neighbour in Mary Poppins, Admiral Boom, let off a cannon daily for time keeping purposes so it was here the parallels began. We walked through streets lined with beautiful historic buildings to the Australian Joint Stock Bank Building where author Helen Lyndon Goff was born. She was a very private person and hence her pen name of PL Travers for the Mary Poppins stories. Travers was her father’s name and he was the bank manager at the time – hence the Banks family in the novel!

We all had our pictures taken with Mary Poppins who stands frozen in time on the corner opposite the bank. Geoff insisted I take a flying lesson from Mary and trade my broomstick in for an umbrella but I reminded him that I wouldn’t be able to take off because I didn’t have a parrot’s head handle on my umbrella.

Running down the renamed cherry tree are lovely public artworks of characters in the Poppins novels, drawn by local children. Below the lane are the parklands where there was once a zoo. In the Mary Poppins story, she took the children to the zoo in the park where the animals were free and the people were caged. I rather liked that flight of whimsy.

Every year around the first week in July the Mary Poppins Festival is held. It’s a celebration of art, culture, supercalifragilistic food and fun. It is possible to take a “Tea with Mary” tour, unlocking the links with the novel and days gone by – you can book at the tourist information centre. And there is Sunday in the park held on the last Sunday of the month in Queens Park… a lazy day of food and music and train rides.

At the Customs House Museum, Mary is the focus and you’ll find a register of other famous Marys too. The 1893 building was a customs house til 1988 and features a two-storey, beautifully built cabinet full of historical artefacts. The guys were most impressed with the workmanship.

Nearby is the gracious courthouse. It sits next to the park and was built in 1877. Long, graceful verandas give it a peaceful air but it is still is full use and is anything but peaceful on court day!

We had a day to remember in Maryborough and we have resolved to go back to see what we missed. One day is just not enough.

Earlier I mentioned meeting up with RVers staying at free camps. I learned that there are plenty within easy reach of Maryborough, at Tiaro and Bauple, both historic towns with their own interests.

Tiaro was settled in 1867 and is 25 km southwest of Maryborough down the Bruce Highway. There are two free camps there. The Memorial Park right in town next to the information centre is a two-nighter with toilets and showers. The hotel is next door and you can enjoy a coffee and a snack at a bush café. Petrie Park free camp is a great place to explore the Mary River. It has a boat ramp, toilets and BBQ and is named after Andrew Petrie who discovered the River in 1842. This is a koala habitat so there may be screaming in the trees. Koala watching is fun, too!

Finally, there’s Bauple, 12 km southeast of Tiaro. Nestled under its own mountain, this is the home of the Bauple Nut, later named the Macadamia. The Bauple Rest Stop in the centre of town welcomes self-contained RVs and is an overnighter. There’s a great museum and Bauple Nut trees grow outside in their original form.

Rossendale Park is a 24-hour, selfcontained free camp near Bauple Village.

The whole area is a must-see. Visit and take a look for yourself. I’m sure I won’t be the only one vowing to go back for more fun and games!