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The tellers are different at Australia’s oddest bank

by Bernard O'Shea

Blank cheques don’t have any currency at The Story Bank in Maryborough, but how about a penny for your thoughts? 


There’s something peculiar about the transactions at the impeccably painted bank on the street corner. Want to make a deposit? Use your imagination! Thinking of going into bitcoin? Coin your own phrases! Want a redraw facility? The pencils and rubbers are on the table. Making margin calls? Don’t write so close to the edge. Looking for fixed interest? Well, your narrative had better be consistently good!

Welcome to The Story Bank in Maryborough, Queensland. Once upon a time, in an upstairs room, P. L. Travers, the author of the Mary Poppins books, was born here. Not that you’ll find ‘Pamela Lyndon Travers’ written on her birth certificate. She came into this world on August 9, 1899, as Helen Lyndon Goff, but ditched the H.L.G for the fictitious P.L.T when she embarked on her acting and writing career.

Back then, in Maryborough’s mercantile heyday, the building on the corner of Kent and Richmond streets was the Australian Joint Stock Bank and Mary’s father, Travers Goff, was the bank manager. Fast forward to more recent times, though, and the building had become sadly rundown. So the Fraser Coast Council, channelling P. L. Travers’ fertile imagination, stepped in to weave a little magic of its own. A $poonful of its $ugar helped the medicine go down, and in June 2019 The Story Bank was born in the most delightful way.

Step in time, step in time

The Story Bank is a fun, interactive museum where children and adults alike can delve into the art of storytelling. It’s perfect for children who have outgrown their coloured crayons phase and are dabbling in purple prose. Upon entry to the bank, they’ll be given an account number and their balance will grow as they deposit story notes. Before you know it, they’ll be precocious teenage prodigies writing to their literary agents and publishers wanting to know when their next royalty payment is due. Visitors can raid the groovy green safe in the vault to see what treasured tales lie within. Put your story at the top of the pile!

It’s an enriching experience for adults too, particularly those who have read the Mary Poppins books or seen the famous Disney 1964 film starring Julie Andrews as Mary Poppins. Step in time, step in time! Never need a reason, never need a rhyme, step in time … You’ll be transported back to your childhood and the joie de vivre that went with it. Those good old days when you could feed the birds for just tuppence a bag. Just be careful when you slide down the bannisters.

Before entering the museum though, do your best Mary Poppins impersonation using the brolly and carpet bag mounted on the wall at the museum’s entrance in Cherry Tree Lane. You’ll probably want a selfie at the Mary Poppins bronze statue near the corner too. Point your cameras at the nearby traffic lights – the pedestrian signals incorporate umbrella-clutching Mary Poppins figures in both green and red. They must be the most photographed traffic lights in the country.

Fly in for the Mary Poppins Festival

The best time to grab your umbrella and carpet bag and visit Maryborough is its annual four-day Mary Poppins Festival. Usually it takes place in early July but this year, because of complications with COVID outbreaks, it’s August 26-29. The city streetscapes are transformed into scenes from the Poppins novels and Mary Poppins characters leap out of the pages and into the streets. Which character are you?

Top events include the Great Nanny Challenge – a race for nannies pushing prams – while the men will be brushing up their skills in preparation for the Chimney Sweep Dash. Chim chiminey, Chim chiminey, Chim chim cher-ee! One sweep will be as lucky as lucky can be. If your name is Mary, make sure you mingle with the city’s Proud Marys. It’s an exclusive club.

There’s a lot more to Maryborough than the Mary Poppins connection, which was short but has proved sweet. Helen’s family moved on to other parts of Australia when she was three, and the adult Pamela lived most of her life in England, where she rose to fame. The Story Bank is not, therefore, a peek into a famous family’s long-standing home, but a convincing period replica. What’s more important is revelling in the way that P.L. Travers and her fictional characters have been brought back to life, and the joys of storytelling.

Maryborough’s raucous past

Today, Maryborough – population about 27,500 – is a neat, tranquil town on the banks of the Mary river, but don’t presume it was always sleepy and sedate. In the latter half of the 19th century it was Australia’s busiest port, the industrial powerhouse for what was then the crown colony of Queensland. Here the local sugar, coal, timber and agricultural industries found an outlet for the distribution of their goods, and more than 22,000 immigrants came to the region, eager to cash in on the boom. There was a roaring trade in rum and opium (which was legal in those days). The Gympie gold rush, sparked by English prospector James Nash’s finding 75 ounces in a gully near the Mary River in 1867, brought even more wealth to the region.

As ships grew bigger, the wharves of Maryborough about 15km from the Mary River estuary became too difficult to reach, and the city’s influence waned. The Maryborough of today prides itself on being Queensland’s “Heritage city”, boasting a collection of elegant colonial buildings that would be the envy of many of its peers. The Bond Store in the Portside Heritage Precinct is where to go for an entertaining blast from Maryborough’s past.

If you’re interested in ANZAC and military history, there are two places where you should report for duty. One is the Maryborough Military and Colonial Museum, rated by many as the best military museum in the country outside of Canberra. The other is the Gallipoli to Armistice Memorial in Queens Park, the city’s best green space overlooking the Mary River. TTW

Main photo: Visit Fraser Coast. Other photos: Bernard O’Shea. The writer travelled a guest of Visit Fraser Coast.

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