Saturday, January 23, 2010

May Gibbs

I'm pretty sure May Gibbs is another writer of children's books...probably a classic one. Maybe she wrote that snugglepot thing. Or maybe she wrote the thing about seven little Australians? I'm not really sure.

So, Lord Wiki....what is it?

It's Snugglepot and Cuddlepie.

The first time I heard of that was after I saw The First Australians, and was obsessing over it a bit. One of the voice-over people was in the play, I think. What's her name again? She was in Australia.

Thank goodness for IMDb. I can find out right now.

Ursula Yovich. That's it! Her name sounds a bit Jewish to me for some reason. Anyway, yeah. She was in the play at the Belvoir St Theatre.

So, that's how the story first came to my attention. I haven't read it yet. I'm a little hesitant because I didn't much love the other two long-time classics of Aussie children's lit (Blinky Bill and The Magic Pudding), but maybe this snuggle one will be more to my taste.

As for May Gibbs. I guess I should start talking about her.

She was born in Surrey England, on 17 January 1877. She was the second child of her parents.

When Gibbs was about two, their family moved over to South Australia to set up a farm. Lord Wiki says they did this because Daddy Gibbs had an eye problem. Were there no farms in England? Maybe this was one of the times that Australia was pushing for immigrants. Maybe they got some great deal with the assisted migration theme?

Oh, I should have read ahead. May Gibbs did not move to Australia in 1879. That was the original plan, but she ended up getting the measles. She stayed with her mother and sibling(s?), while her father went off to Australia to work. Then in....

Crap. This is all confusing. Lord Wiki probably wrote all this when he was drunk or something. It makes no sense. And I'm almost positive, this is NOT the fault of my literacy skills this time.

Let's just leave it at May Gibbs arrived in Australia in the mid 1880's. By 1885, they were in Harvey, Western Australia. Hopefully later, another website will give me clearer information.

Around the time that the Gibbs arrived in Western Australia, May was given a pony. She named it Brownie. I'm guessing this is important for some reason. Maybe it inspired her writing.

Lord Wiki says young May Gibbs liked riding her horse, cooking, painting, and writing.

All right. I'm looking at Google Maps now. It took awhile to load. I've been having trouble with my Internet.

Harvey is about two hours south of Perth. The closest city to it, that I've heard of, is Bunbury. Harvey is about an north of there.

When Gibbs was ten, the family moved to Perth.

Wow. She was published early. Lord Wiki says that in 1889. she had something published in the Christmas edition of a local newspaper. She would have been only twelve. Although it could have been something simple like a letter to the editor, or a poem in a children's section.

According to Lord Wiki, Gibbs took many return trips to England. I'm guessing that was to visit relatives?

In 1905, she started working for The Western Mail. Lord Wiki says that newspaper is now known as Countryman. It's a newspaper aimed at a rural readership. I'm looking at it now. There's a lot of farm stuff.

Oh really. Lord Wiki is driving me nuts today. I think I'm going to leave him. I don't know. Maybe it IS me. It's just the chronology is really confusing in this entry.

I'm switching over to the Australian Dictionary of Biography. This has a lot of detail, but it looks less confusing.

Both of May Gibb's parents were artists themselves. They met at art school. They got married in 1874.

In June 1881, Daddy Gibbs and his brother (May's uncle) came to South Australia. By October, May, her mom, and her siblings joined them. There's nothing here about measles. Was Lord Wiki making that up?

They tried to farm near the Franklin River. I say TRIED, because it didn't work out.

I'm confused. I thought they moved to South Australia, but I can't find a Franklin River in South Australia. There's one in Tasmania. It's that one with the whole big dam battle.

I don't know. Maybe Lord Wiki was wrong, and the family first moved to Tasmania.

Oh. There IS a Franklin Harbour in South Australia. Maybe this is what the biographical dictionary is talking about.

Anyway, since the farm didn't work out, the family moved to Norwood. According to Google Maps, that's in Adelaide.

In 1885, the family headed to Western Australia. They did the Harvey thing for two years, and then moved to Perth. There, Gibbs attended Amy Best's Girl School.

In 1901 she went to England to study art at various schools. She would have been about twenty-four then.

Gibbs returned to Perth in 1904. This is when she worked for The Western Mail. The website says she got restless. She returned to England in 1909. There she did illustrations for a publishing company called George G. Harrap and Co; and she had her first book published. This was called About Us. I can't find it online, so I'm guessing it's very much out of print. Or I'm looking in the wrong places?

In 1913, Gibbs started to have health issues, so she moved back to Australia. Did she move back for the weather, or to be with family?

Well, it might have been for the weather because she didn't go to Western Australia. She went to Neutral Bay in Sydney. Although maybe her family had moved there? In Sydney, Gibbs made money in various ways. She drew sketches of soldiers leaving for World War I. Oh, that's a bit of a melancholy thought. I'm sure a lot of those men never returned.

She did illustrations for various publications. I was going to list them all, but I've changed my mind.

In 1916, she published Gumnet Babies. This book brought Gibbs a fan base, which made 1918's release of Snugglepot and Cuddlepie an instant success.

In 1919, Gibbs went off to visit Perth; I'm assuming she went there to visit family. In Perth, she met her future husband. The two of them moved back to Neutral Bay.

The autobiographical dictionary says that Gibbs collected Spode. I had no idea what that was. Now I've learned something new! It's dishes made in the UK. Here's the Spode website.

Besides collecting Spode, Gibbs also enjoyed gardening, camping, music, and theater.

Spode is not a very pretty least I don't think so.

She wrote more books. Then in 1924, she started doing a newspaper comic called Bib and Bub. It ran until 1967. Gibbs was a bit sneaky. She also had another comic running in a rival newspaper. This was Tiggy Touchwood. Gibbs did that using the pseudonym Stan Cottman.

Despite her publishing success, Gibbs had financial struggles during The Great Depression. Then her husband died in 1939. I'm guessing that was a rough decade for her.

She published her last book in 1954....I think I'll look at her books on another site, maybe.

In 1969, she died. Since she had no children to pass her stuff on to, she willed her writings and estate to the New South Wales Society for Crippled Children, The Spastic Center of New South Wales, and UNICEF.

Here's a May Gibbs website. This will probably give me a good opportunity to see all her books. Maybe. It looks like it's a museum site. It's a place called Nutcote. It was Gibb's home in Neutral Bay. They provide various classes and events. Have any of you Sydneysiders attended them? On 22 January, they're going to have an Australian Animals Origami thing, and then on Sunday there's a family picnic.

Their website has some biographical stuff. I'll read it and see if there's anything exciting I haven't read previously.

Her youngest brother was born on the journey to Australia. I actually got that fact from Lord Wiki, but I didn't mention it because I wasn't fully trusting him at the moment.

The website describes Gibb's idyllic childhood....riding her horse, swimming in waterholes, fishing, frog hunting, and sailing on the river in the laundry tub. It sounds fun.

She helped her mother with cooking.

She drew and she wrote.

It was an illustration that was published in the newspaper when she was twelve. That makes sense.

Gibbs has characters called the Banksia men. The idea came to her when she was walking with her cousins. They saw Banksia trees, and Gibbs saw ugly little wicked men. I'm not sure what the website means by SAW. Are they trying to tell me that there truly are Banksia men in Australia? I'm gullible; I'll believe it. Maybe she had a hallucination? Although I'm betting they mean she imagined it.

I'm looking up Banksia tree, because I'm not familar with it. This travel website has a photo. Yeah. I CAN imagine little evil men sitting on it. There's these little growths on the tree. Flowers maybe? That's what Gibbs imagined to be the men. This blogger provides pictures of the men, and the real trees.

The website gives some information about her first book, About Us. It was published in the UK and US, but not in Australia. It was about chimney pot people.

Gibb's famous Gumnet babies first appeared in another author's book. They were used for the cover of The Missing Button by Ethel Turner. Oh! Ethel Turner wrote The Seven Little Australians. I should add her to my list. I don't think she's there yet.

This page of the museum site talks about how they obtained the house. Gibbs had wanted to will her house to UNICEF, but at the time UNICEF couldn't hold property. I'm not sure what that means. But anyway, the house was auctioned off. Later, wicked folks wanted to demolish the house and redevelop the area. People got together and saved Nutcote. Good!

There is a May Gibbs Children's Literature Trust. They provide assistance to Australian children's book authors and illustrators. The writers and illustrators can sign up for fellowships where they stay a month in a studio apartment, and concentrate on their work. They get paid. This sounds theory. I'm just not sure how it works. If the writer has another job, how do they get away from that? I guess they could use their holiday time? Or I guess if they're inbetween jobs, they can use that time.

Let's say for example that Tim has decided to be a children's writer. And well, we'll also pretend we live in Australia. How awesome! So he signs up for this fellowship. But I don't think the people he works for would be that happy with him taking a month off. And if he used his vacation time, I wouldn't be that happy. I guess I'd make the sacrifice though....especially if I believed he'd be successful. But I'd make the sacrifice grudgingly. Plus, would there be room for all of us in the apartment? I'm guessing only the illustrator/writer is supposed to live there.

Here's some books that were made by writers gifted with the fellowship.

I'm now going to see what Lord Wiki has to say about Snugglepot and Cuddlepie. Then I might do quick searches for the other books. I'm only going to mention the books that I find information for.


Snugglepot and Cuddlepie are both gumnut babies. Their enemies are the Banksia men. I think it's cool that she invented her own type of creatures. Lord Wiki says the gumnet babies are modeled after gum tree nuts. Well, at least the boys are modeled after them. The girls are modeled after gum tree flowers. This blogger provides photos of Eucalyptus tree flowers, but I'm not sure whether or not each type of Eucalyptus has it's own unique flower.

There's a Snugglepot childcare centre in Western Australia. Their website provides a photo of gumnet babies. Their very cute creatures. I wish they were real. I want to play with them, and cuddle them.

It would be so cute to decorate a baby's nursery with a May Gibbs theme. Do people in Australia do that?

In the same year that Snugglepot and Cuddlepie came out, Gibbs also published book about Wattlebabies. Ebay has a copy of the book. I'm not sure how long that link will be valid.

Here's another childcare center inspired by May Gibbs. In 1919, she published a book called Boronia Babies. At Nan's Childcare center, in the ACT, the children are divided up and given names based on Gibb's books. The babies are Boronia Babies. They really annoy me with their information about baby bottles. They mention formula, soy milk, and cow milk, but there's no mention of human milk. What the hell? Do they really not allow breastmilk? Or are they just embarrassed to mention it on their site. Maybe they don't allow breastmilk in bottles because Salma Hayak is there to breastfeed all the little Boronia Babies.

This Lactivist blog has a great post about child care centers and breastmilk. Basically the argument about breast milk in daycare centers is it's a bio hazardous material. Lord forbid someone else touch some other mother's boob milk!!! The blogger reminds us that there are many other bodily fluids running rampant in a typical daycare center. I love what the blogger says here. Now, I'm wondering...since the day care center claims to be charging this fee and taking all these extreme precautions to "protect" children from that dangerous, bio hazardous breast milk... Are they also charging fees to the parents of children who poop while there? Maybe a "poopy diaper" surcharge at the end of each day? How about the ones that haven't learned to cover their mouth with a tissue when they sneeze? Or who might drool on a toy. Are they charged per sneeze?

Now just to clarity...She's not referring the the daycare in the ACT. I just want to make sure no one is confused about that. I'm sure there's many centers that are uptight about breastmilk. Unfortunately.

Let's get back to the books.

In 1920, Gibbs published Little Ragged Blossom. It's a sequel to Snugglepot and Cuddlepie. This website has a copy of the book.

In 1921, she published Little Obelia. This was another Snugglepot and Cuddlepie story.

I think I'm going to stop this. I'm pretty much just finding auction and antique book shop listings. I'm not sure how long any of the links will be valid.

I'm going to quit, and go over to Powells to see what May Gibbs stuff they have. Really. I mention Powells so much. They should pay me...or at least give me a discount. I'm joking! Don't worry.


  1. I have worked at Nans for eight years now. We are fully supportive of all breast feeding mothers and happily give bottled breast milk. We support mothers who also may need to feed before work. We are a great centre and if you visited us you would see first hand.
    From Jem

  2. Jem,

    Thank you so much for commenting. And I'm very happy to hear Nans supports breastfeeding!