Best known as the birthplace of P. L. Travers, author of the Mary Poppins books, Maryborough has a fascinating history as one of nineteenth-century Australia’s busiest ports.
With its fine architectural heritage, thriving public art scene and imaginative use of its storybook connections, this riverside town in the Fraser Coast region of Queensland (30-minutes’ drive inland from Hervey Bay) turns out to be just the place for a jolly holiday!
Here are ten of the best things to do in Maryborough.
Helen Lyndon Goff, who grew up to rename herself Pamela Lyndon Travers, was born in 1899 above the Australian Joint Stock Bank on Richmond Street (where her father was the bank manager). Writers’ birthplaces often become literary museums, but what makes The Story Bank different is that it treats visitors not just as fans of a famous author, but as potential storytellers themselves. In this brilliantly curated museum you’ll encounter the unflappable, gravity-defying nanny of the beloved books and films, and learn about her strong-willed and eccentric creator. But you’ll also be encouraged to think bigger — to explore your own creativity and its place in the wider world of imaginative storytelling.
Brightly painted scenes from the Mary Poppins books cover a brick wall across the road from The Story Bank. This is one of thirty-four murals dotted around Maryborough, each of which tells a story or celebrates a character from the town’s history. Collect a Mural Trail map from the Visitor Information Centre and head off to meet Anzacs and astronomers, a daring dog, and some energetic entrepreneurs. You’ll find tales of courage and sacrifice, and discover some surprising connections between this small Queensland town and the history of our nation.
Named for the wine and spirit merchant whose nineteenth-century warehouse it occupies, Gatakers Artspace is a fabulous community art gallery that showcases the creative talent of the Fraser Coast region. With a changing program of solo and group exhibitions, pop-up displays linked to events such as NAIDOC week, and an array of affordable small-scale artworks for sale, the spacious gallery has something to delight all art and craft lovers.
Maryborough’s Portside Heritage Precinct sits by the Mary River and features two excellent and very different museums. The Military and Colonial Museum is crammed with memorabilia offering a human-scale view of how this community experienced the 20th century’s various wars. Directly opposite on Wharf Street stands the cavernous Bond Store, which cleverly uses its 1860s architecture to conjure up a vanished world of commerce, industry and immigration. You might even score a free tipple of port — the drink that once brought great profits to the merchants of Maryborough.
If Portside has put you in the mood for a waterfront meal, The Deck & Anchor on Wharf Street has a large dining deck with the prettiest river views. Bask in the sunshine and be mesmerised by the rhythm of boats bobbing at anchor as you savour the simply imagined but well-executed menu. Breakfast and lunch are served every day, and dinner is offered from Thursday through to Saturday. There’s live music at the ‘Saturday Serenade’ (evening) and ‘Sunday Session’ (lunchtime).
Nearby in Queens Park, the multi-sensory Gallipoli to Armistice Trail is an immersive memorial to the experiences of Australians caught up in the horrors of World War I. It centres on the story of Maryborough citizen Lt. Duncan Chapman — the first man to go ashore at Anzac Cove on 25 April 1915. Inscriptions, soundscapes and statues poignantly communicate the costs of war to everyday citizens, while the park’s serene setting is a reminder of the priceless gift of living in peacetime.
Another dark chapter from the past is marked at the edge of the Mary River Parklands on Richmond Street. A stone and brass monument commemorates the Pacific Islanders who powered the establishment of Queensland’s sugar industry. ‘Blackbirded’ — that is, in many cases, lured, coerced or kidnapped — from New Caledonia, the Solomon Islands and Vanuatu, around 60,000 of these intended labourers arrived in Australia between 1863 and 1904. Many of them entered the country through the port of Maryborough, before being assigned to work in the hinterland cane fields in appalling conditions. The split boulders that form the memorial represent the Islanders’ ruptured families and communities, while the brass symbols reference their ancestral spirits and homeland memories.
Keep an eye out for traditional ‘Queenslanders’: high-standing, white-painted timber houses that proudly display deep verandahs adorned with lavishly carved wooden balustrades, rails and screens. This classic form of Australian domestic architecture evolved in the 1800s to suit Queensland’s tropical climate, and you won’t find better examples than in the residential parts of Maryborough. Just head towards Anzac Park and Ululah Lagoon to admire the beautiful old homes in the heritage areas of Cheapside, Pallas, Ann and Queen Streets.
Maryborough has lots of options for those who love browsing for antiques and vintage wares. Another Life receives new stock weekly, including furniture, vinyl records, vintage games and posters; they also carry a good range of Mary Poppins merchandise. Mrs Banks Antiques specialises in vintage glassware, while Lily’s Antiques is the place to find old kitchenware, fine porcelain, lace, hats and jewellery.
The glorious heritage buildings of Maryborough’s town centre include many iconic public houses. In its heyday, the town boasted more than forty pubs, several of which still operate today. One of the most handsome is The Post Office Hotel on Bazaar Street. It’s still going strong as a dining and entertainment venue behind its original façade, while The White Lion on Walker Street maintains a 150-year tradition of hospitality in a renovated setting.
For further information, visit www.visitfrasercoast.com/maryborough/.
Do you have any suggestions to add to our list of the best things to do in Maryborough? We would love to hear from you. Please leave a comment below.
Cover image: Alamy. Additional images: Bigstock
Roslyn Jolly is a freelance travel writer whose work has appeared in Escape (News Limited), Mindful Puzzles, Vacations and Travel, and Mindfood. In her former career as an English Literature academic, she studied and taught the work of great travel writers, such as Henry James, Herman Melville and Robert Louis Stevenson, and became fascinated by the history of travel and tourism. Two years at school in Wales and three years at university in England allowed Roslyn to travel extensively in Europe and North America, which she continues to do.