Helen Lyndon Goff, known within her family as Lyndon, was born on 9 August 1899 in Maryborough, Queensland, Australia. Her mother, Margaret Agnes Goff (née Morehead), was Australian and the sister of Boyd Dunlop Morehead, Premier of Queensland from 1888 to 1890. Her father, Travers Robert Goff, was of Irish descent and born in 1864 at Queens Road, New Cross in the Borough of Deptford, south-east London, England. He was unsuccessful as a bank manager due to his chronic alcoholism, and was eventually demoted to the position of bank clerk. The family lived in a large home with servants in Maryborough until Lyndon was five years old, when they relocated to Allora in 1905. Two years later, Travers Goff died at home at the age of 43.
Following her father's death, Goff, along with her mother and sisters, moved to Bowral, New South Wales, in 1907, living there until 1917. She boarded at Loreto Girls School in Normanhurst, a suburb of Sydney, during World War I.
Travers greatly admired and emulated J. M. Barrie, author of the 1911 novel Peter and Wendy. Her first publisher was Barrie's ward Peter Llewelyn Davies, one of the five Llewelyn Davies boys who were the inspiration for Peter Pan.
Helen Goff began publishing her poems while still a teenager. She wrote for The Bulletin and Triad and during that time began gaining a reputation as an Actress under the stage name "Pamela Lyndon Travers." She toured Australia and New Zealand with Allan Wilkie's Shakespearean Company, before leaving for England in 1924. There she changed her name to Pamela Travers, keeping only the middle name Lyndon, in order to act and dance on stage, a career move opposed by her family. In 1931, she and her friend Madge Burnand moved from their rented flat in London to a thatched cottage in Sussex. It was here, in the winter of 1933, that she began to write Mary Poppins.
While in Ireland in 1925, Travers met the poet George william Russell (who wrote under the name "Æ") who, as Editor of the Irish Statesman, accepted some of her poems for publication. Through Russell, whose kindness towards younger Writers was legendary, Travers met W. B. Yeats, Oliver St. John Gogarty, and other Irish poets who fostered her interest in and knowledge of world mythology. She had studied the Gurdjieff system under Jane Heap and in March 1936, with the help of Jessie Orage (widow of Alfred Richard Orage), she met the mystic George Gurdjieff, who would have a great effect on her, as well as on several other literary figures.
Though Travers had numerous fleeting relationships with men throughout her life, she lived for more than a decade with Madge Burnand, daughter of Sir Francis Burnand, a Playwright and the former Editor of Punch. They shared a London flat from 1927 to 1934, then moved to Pound Cottage near Mayfield, East Sussex, where Travers published the first of the Mary Poppins books. Their friendship, in the words of one biographer, was "intense," but equally ambiguous.
Goff was born in Maryborough, Queensland, and grew up in the Australian bush before being sent to boarding school in Sydney. Her writing was first published as a teenager, and she also worked briefly as a professional Shakespearean Actress. Upon emigrating to England at the age of 25, she took the name Pamela Lyndon Travers. In 1933, she began writing the novel Mary Poppins, the first of eight Poppins books, under the pen name P. L. Travers.
Published in London in 1934, Mary Poppins was Travers's first literary success. Seven sequels followed, the last in 1988.
She returned to England, making only one brief visit to Sydney in 1960 while on her way to Japan to study Zen mysticism.
Travers so disliked the Disney adaptation and the way she felt she had been treated during the production that when Producer Cameron Mackintosh approached her years later about making the British stage musical she acquiesced only on conditions that English-born Writers alone and no one from the original film production was to be directly involved. This specifically excluded the Sherman Brothers from writing additional songs for the production. However, original songs and other aspects from the 1964 film were allowed to be incorporated into the production. These points were even stipulated in her last will and testament.
In a 1977 interview Travers remarked, "I've seen it once or twice, and I've learned to live with it. It's glamorous and it's a good film on its own level, but I don't think it is very like my books."
Travers was appointed Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) in the 1977 New Year Honours. She lived into advanced old age, but her health declined toward the end of her life. Travers died in London on 23 April 1996 at the age of 96.
The 2013 motion picture Saving Mr. Banks is a dramatised retelling of both the working process during the planning of Mary Poppins and also that of Travers's early life, drawing parallels with Mary Poppins and that of the author's childhood. The movie stars Emma Thompson as P. L. Travers and Tom Hanks as Walt Disney.