Mary Poppins world record sparks quest to solve century-old mystery of the nanny's birth

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A global quest for the "forgotten" first Mary Poppins story - arguably the most valuable missing document in childrens literature - was announced to coincide with a successful attempt to break a world record for the largest umbrella mosaic in history with over 2,000 people creating an image of Mary Poppins big enough to be seen from space. Anyone can join the international league of literary detectives to help find the missing manuscript by subscribing at and rewards are being offered by BibliOZ The Book Search Wizard

Father-daughter team Paul & Melissa McShane on the trail of the "forgotten" first Mary Poppins story, the most valuable missing document in childrens literature

Father-daughter team Paul & Melissa McShane on the trail of the "forgotten" first Mary Poppins story, the most valuable missing document in childrens literature its own right that “forgotten” first Mary Poppins story is arguably the most valuable missing document in childrens literature.

An Australian town with strong claims to be the "birthplace" of Mary Poppins has successfully attracted more than 2,000 umbrella waving fans in an attempt on the Guinness World Records for the Largest Umbrella Mosaic and the Largest Umbrella Dance.

Bowral in the Southern Highlands of New South Wales recently formed a giant umbrella mosaic of the famous nanny - big enough to be seen from space - to celebrate the events of 100 years ago that organisers say gave birth to the fictional character in the imagination of her creator, P.L. Travers.

The world record attempt on Saturday 7th May 2011 at Bradman Oval organised by the Southern Highlands Youth Arts Council was also the occasion for launching a quest to find the "forgotten" first Mary Poppins story, possibly one of the most valuable missing documents in the history of childrens literature.

Father-daughter team, Paul & Melissa McShane, have led a campaign for some 7 years to have Bowral recognise its special connection to the creation of the Mary Poppins character and her creator, Helen Lyndon Goff, later to change her name to Pamela Lyndon (PL) Travers.

Melissa McShane first proposed a commemorative Mary Poppins statue in the town as part of a youth civic design competition when she was 12 years old, ironically about the same age as when Lyndon Goff's imagination created the no-nonsense nanny in the early 1900s.

Since then support for the Mary Poppins Birthplace campaign has swelled to the point that the 2115 people that turned out for the world record attempt was more than twice what was anticipated and should smash the existing Guinness World Record of 1026 set in Serbia in 2009, once verified by the London-based organisation.

The township has launched a fundraising campaign for a life-size bronze statue of Mary Poppins to be placed in a public park just a block from the house the author's family lived in between 1907-1917. The Bowral statue is based on a design that was originally proposed by the author herself in 1966 for Central Park in New York. This project didn't proceed, so Bowral is to now build the statue New York promised to but never did.

Now the McShanes are forming an international league of literary detectives to help solve what they have dubbed "The Case of the Neglected Nanny"

"PL Travers shrouded the origins of both herself and Mary Poppins in mystery," explains Paul McShane.

"Even most of Travers' close friends did not realise the author had been born in Australia and had lived there until the age of 24 before sailing to Britain."

"Travers was persistently asked one question in particular over the course of her long life: Where did Mary Poppins come from? She was invariably evasive, ambiguous or simply mysterious in her replies. Her stock answer when pressed, even to most of her friends, was that Mary Poppins had come “unbidden” and fully formed to her during a period of convalescence in Pound Cottage Suffolk during 1934. In fact she often made references to Mary Poppins discovering her, rather than the other way around."

"Valerie Lawson's 1999 ground-breaking biography "Out of the Sky She Came" peeled away many layers of mystery surrounding the author and her chief character, and for the first time highlighted the importance of the decade her family lived in Bowral when Lyndon was a child and teenager in the genesis of Mary Poppins," he said.

"Lawson's biography also revealed the first Mary Poppins story by Travers was actually published as a freelance article in 1926 by the Christchurch Sun newspaper in New Zealand, some 8 years before the first book and when Travers generally attributed the creation of Mary Poppins."

"Melissa and I interviewed Valerie Lawson in 2004 and she encouraged us to further research the primary sources, especially the author's collection of personal papers in the State Library.

"Based on Lawson's book and our own research and analysis, Melissa and I have concluded that Bowral was the location where Travers created the character of Mary Poppins, most probably while telling bedtime stories to her sisters."

But the most compelling reason is also now the subject of a global quest for the very first "forgotten" Mary Poppins story and also a reward bounty by quest sponsor BibliOZ The Book Search Wizard

During an interview in 1979 with Jonathan Cott, a trusted associate editor of a journal Travers co-founded, the author revealed the existence of an even earlier Mary Poppins story that was written when she was a teenager.

The mission now is to find that “forgotten” or neglected story and the McShanes are "crowdsourcing" the quest by openly seeking help from historians, readers, researchers and the general public to do so, as the search challenge is beyond their own time and resources to complete alone.

The McShanes have written an e-book "The Case of the Neglected Nanny" that advocates Bowral's claims and compiles the known clues for their league of literary detectives.

"For Bowral, it would be the missing link - or the magna carta - of our case to be known as the birthplace of Mary Poppins as her family lived here during the author's teenage years," said McShane.

"Furthermore, in its own right that first Mary Poppins story is arguably the most valuable missing document in childrens literature."

"Anyone can subscribe to join the quest to help solve "The Case of the Neglected Nanny" Given Travers lived in Australia, Europe and America and travelled and corresponded widely, who knows where the clues might be found?"

BibliOZ The Book Search Wizard is posting a range of rewards as an incentive, and these may increase over time. A free copy of the "The Case of the Neglected Nanny" PDF e-book can be requested by customers with any purchase from the BibliOZ website or else the cost is AU$9.95. The e-book also come free with purchases of the Travers biography and/or the Collected Mary Poppins stories available at the website

Email sherlock(at)booktown(dot) for more information on how to join this quest or go to

ED NOTE High resolution images are available.
PHOTO CREDITS: Umbrella Mosaic Bradman Oval 7 May 2011: Clint Crawley Photography
Paul & Melissa McShane as Sherlock Holmes & Mary Poppins: Corinne Dany Photography

For more information and interviews contact

Paul McShane
Convenor - BookTown Australia

(Paul McShane was awarded a prestigious Winston Churchill Fellowship in 2002 to undertake international research into the booktown movement. It was as part organising the 2004 Australian Festival of the Book in Bowral that his daughter Melissa became aware of the connection the town had with the author of Mary Poppins.)

Australia: 0408 659 896
International: +61 408 659 896
Email: info(at)booktown(dot)
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