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11 June 2009
RICK POOL: (Manager and Curator of Nutcote) May Gibbs was born in England in 1877, and came to Australia as a 4 year old child. Both her parents were competent artists, and she soon developed an interest in art, but particularly in relation to the Australian bush with all its unique plants and animals.
Over a good many years she developed her talents in the bush, and three times she went back to London to study art at various art schools, and on her last visit to London in 1911, she was successful in having her first book published. That was titled 'About Us'.
May established herself in Neutral Bay district, and soon she had a little studio over on Bridge Street. So she'd take the ferry over to Circular Quay and go up to Bridge Street where she worked. But it wasn't until 1924 that she purchased some land right on the bay and built a little house upon it. Her and her husband moved in here at Nutcote in 1925, and this extraordinary and charming little house, she lived in for another 44 years, and created an enormous amount of work from here.
Her work was very popular with all, young and old, but of course children in this country for generations were brought up with her work, particularly Snugglepot and Cuddlepie, and then for the adults there was (sic) the Bib and Bub comic strips. So these were produced throughout the land, and the books sold right across Australia, and in fact in New Zealand and Papua New Guinea and some of the islands.
What made May's work very popular with Australians of course was the way she captured the everyday occurrences of life here. Here we see a scene on the beach, very much something that all Australian people can recognise.
And again, another beach scene. And we can see the gumnut babies joining forces with some of the animals on an expedition in the surf.
Here we see a whole collection of gumnuts out racing, and gumnut audiences in the gumnut trees.
The work was very popular with Australian people because it identified with the local landscape, the trees, the bushes, the flowers, the unique quality of the Australian animals.
May Gibbs's most famous book is Snugglepot and Cuddlepie. When you think it was first published in 1918 and is still in print it's quite incredible. This is a 1948 version of the book.
Just inside the cover of Snugglepot and Cuddlepie there's one of May's most famous drawings. This depicts two gumnut characters climbing up to make a little notice, public notice, asking humans to be kind to all animals and plants, and not to pull up plants by the roots, and very much epitomises May's concern for nature and the Australian bush.
May developed her Bib and Bub series in the late 20s, and produced almost 2000 of these little strips, basically as a weekly comic strip. Two little characters who interacted with the Australian animals. These particular scenes are actually related to the house. You can see vestiges of Nutcote in them, like the balcony and some of the rooms.
She died in 1969 at the age of 92.
The house has been furnished in the 1930s period, very much as the way May had it, and there's also many depictions of her work and life around the house.
The garden on the water side still contains original stands from May's day, the banksia and the Port Jackson fig. The garden to the front is the more formal cottage style garden, and that gave birth to May's final book, Prince Dandelion, and in the garden, we've still been able to recreate various features relating to that book.
As a woman artist, and as a woman illustrator, she spent many years struggling with publishers to try and obtain equal rights and payment for her work. She never received any official accolades as such. But the people of this nation in supporting her work, through generations and generations of children continuing to read the work of May Gibbs.