Proud Marys members Mary Lange and Gloria Chay at the Mary Poppins statue discuss the annual Literary Awards open to Fraser Coast students.Photo Boni Holmes / Maryborough Herald
Proud Marys members Mary Lange and Gloria Chay at the Mary Poppins statue discuss the annual Literary Awards open to Fraser Coast students.Photo Boni Holmes / Maryborough Herald Boni Holmes

MARYBOROUGH PROUD: Our special Mary Poppins connection

BEFORE Mary Poppins became synonymous with Maryborough, the delicate, feminine name was still an important part of the city's history.

The city's first Mary was Mary Fitzroy, for whom the city and river were named.

The tragic story behind the naming of the city has long been the stuff of legend.

Mary Fitzroy, a British aristocrat, met her future husband Charles while on a trip to Paris in 1819.

The couple married the following year and moved to Australia in 1846.

Sir Charles held governorships in several British colonies before being becoming the 10th governor of New South Wales and then, the first governor-general of Australia in 1850.

She was killed in a carriage accident in Parramatta in December 1847.

Devastated by her death, Sir Charles named several areas and landmarks in her honour during his trip to the Fraser Coast.

Almost a century and a half later, an enterprising group of women would discover another special Mary connection for the Heritage City when it was revealed the author of Mary Poppins, PL Travers, had been born in a building on the corner of Kent St and Richmond Lane.

The building, which is owned by the Fraser Coast Council, is undergoing the final stages of repairs before it opens to the public ahead of the city's Mary Poppins Festival later this year.

Next year will mark 20 years since the Proud Marys were formed.

The world-renowned author was born in one of the rooms of the two-story bank building where her father had worked on August 9, 1899.

The family lived upstairs and PL Travers, whose real name was Helen Lyndon Goff, lived there for the first two years of her life.

Proud Marys member Gloria Chay said someone had read about PL Travers' Maryborough connection while reading an article on a plane and two women, Ann Miller and Sandra Armstrong, set their sights on putting the city on the map as the author's birthplace.

A birth certificate confirmed it and a small group of women, calling themselves the Proud Marys, banded together to make sure the world would know about Maryborough's ties to the world's most famous nanny.

The group has a stunning number of achievements - the bronze statue of Mary Poppins standing next to the iconic Kent St building was made possible by the efforts of the group and the fundraising endeavours of the people of Maryborough.

It was erected in Richmond St in 2005.

The group has raised the profile of Maryborough, putting the city's Mary Poppins connection on a world stage.

The group also holds the Proud Marys Poetry and Literary Competition each year, offering the largest children's literature prize in Australia.

While the Mary Poppins Festival is now run by the council, the group is still involved and is proud of how far it has come.

Each year it offers two weeks of celebration, including a parade, visits from authors, dress up competitions and much more.

Last year Fraser Coast councillor Paul Truscott came up with the idea of having Mary Poppins silhouettes on traffic lights around the city's central business district, enchanting residents and tourists alike and making headlines across Australia and the world for the unique idea.

Mrs Chay had been baking for the fundraising stall for the Proud Marys for years before she became a member.

"Finally when I got a bit of time I joined," she said. "It's my fifth year coming up."

Being a Proud Mary reflected her love for the city, Mrs Chay said.

"I do enjoy being part of the Proud Marys, mainly because I love Maryborough, I love everything about Maryborough.

"I feel very lucky to be in Maryborough. I've been travelling overseas and I come home and kiss the ground.

"It may be a little city, but it's my city."

Proud Marys patron Nancy Bates said the women involved in the Proud Marys over the years have achieved significant things for the Heritage City.

"They are a magic group of women," she said.

Mrs Bates said Mrs Miller drove the idea of making the Mary Poppins link to Maryborough a cause for celebration and had established valuable links to London in order to promote the author's most popular works.

The group also oversees the Mary Register, a list of local, national and international women whose name is Mary or a derivative of Mary.

Mrs Bates said the group was looking to reinvigorate the Mary Register in the coming months, making it better than ever.

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