May Gibbs

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May Gibbs
May Gibbs.jpg
1916 photographic portrait
Born 17 January 1877
Kent, England
Died 27 November 1969 (age 92)
Sydney, Australia
Pen name Stan Cottman, Blob
Occupation Author, illustrator
Nationality English Australian
Period 1913–
Genre Children's literature


Cecilia May Gibbs MBE (17 January 1877 – 27 November 1969), publishing under the name May Gibbs, was an English Australian children's author, illustrator, and cartoonist. She is best known for her gumnut babies (also known as "bush babies" or "bush fairies"), and the book Snugglepot and Cuddlepie.


Cecilia May Gibbs was born in Sydenham, Kent, in the United Kingdom,[1] to Herbert William Gibbs (1852 – 4 October 1940) and Cecilia Gibbs, née Rogers (c. 1851 – 26 March 1941), who were both talented artists. She was their second child, and as she was named after her mother, had the nickname "Mamie".[2]

The family planned to move to South Australia to set up a farm in 1879 due to Herbert's failing eyesight, the result of a boyhood injury.[3] However, as May had caught the measles, her father and uncle George Gordon Gibbs (c. 1860 – 24 August 1921) went to Australia, leaving her mother in England to care for the children.[4]


On 1 June 1881, the Gibbs brothers arrived in South Australia, and began to look for the land arranged for them by a relative of theirs. Over the next few months, the brothers became disillusioned with the land.[5] Cecilia discovered that she was pregnant again, and decided to make the voyage to Australia with her children. Despite her parents' dismay, Cecilia and the children left, and her third child, Ivan, was born at sea.[6]

A drought in the area caused the family to move again, to Norwood.[7] In 1885, the family moved again to a farm property in Harvey, Western Australia.[8] When May was eight years old, she was given a pony by her father.

A "Banksia Man" abducting Little Ragged Blossom, from Snugglepot and Cuddlepie.
Nutcote, in Neutral Bay (Sydney), where May spent much of her life.[9]
A replica of the Stirling Cottage, Harvey (Western Australia), in which May Gibbs lived.[10]
Derry, Neutral Bay, where May Gibbs lived for a time before she lived at Nutcote.

May enjoyed exploring the bush riding her pony, Brownie, and began to paint and write about the bush at this time.[11] This period of her childhood, and her imaginative interpretation of the bush, was formative in the development of the anthropomorphic bush setting found in her work.[12] When May was 10, the family moved to Perth,[13] and in 1889 May was published for the first time – in the Christmas edition of the W.A. Bulletin.[14]

A number of return trips to England found her absent from that state, but in 1905 May was working for the Western Mail.[12] After finishing school, Gibbs spent seven years studying art in the UK. While overseas, she published her first book, About Us. In 1913 she returned to Australia, and took up residence at Nutcote, in Neutral Bay, in Sydney.

1913 also marked the first public appearance of the gumnut babies, on the front cover of The Missing Button, by Ethel Turner, which Gibbs had illustrated. She produced postcards depicting gumnut babies in uniform to support Australia's role in World War One at this time.[15] Gibbs' first book about the gumnut babies, appropriately titled Gumnut Babies, was published in 1916. It was soon followed, in 1918, by her most famous work, Snugglepot and Cuddlepie. Gibbs wrote many books on the theme of the gumnut babies.

Gibbs married Bertram James Ossoli Kelly, a mining agent, on 17 April 1919, whom she met during a visit to Perth.[16] They returned to live in Sydney, building a house in Neutral Bay.

Gibbs continued to write and illustrate children's books, publishing Little Ragged Blossom in 1920 and Little Obelia the following year. In addition to her work illustrating and writing, Gibbs also maintained two comic strips, Bib and Bub 1924–1967 and Tiggy Touchwood 1925–1931, in opposition newspapers. Tiggy Touchwood appeared in the Sunday Sun under the signature 'Stan Cottman'. The comic strips were published in newspapers in most Australian states and also in New Zealand. In 1923 she published Nuttybub and Nittersing and in 1929 Two Little Gum-Nuts. All her books have been reprinted numerous times and five cartoon books of Bib and Bub have been published.

May Gibbs died in Sydney on 27 November 1969, and was cremated at Northern Suburbs Crematorium, Sydney.[17] Her legacy to children lives on. Gibbs bequeathed the copyright from the designs of her bush characters and her stories to Northcott Disability Services (formerly The NSW Society for Crippled Children) and Cerebral Palsy Alliance (formerly The Spastic Centre of NSW).[18] The residue of her estate was left to the United Nations International Children's Emergency Fund.[16]

In 1985 a postage stamp honouring Gibbs, or her best known creations, was issued by Australia Post as part of a set of five commemorating children's books.[19]


  • About Us (1912)
  • Gumnut Babies (1916)
  • Gumblossom Babies (1916)
  • Boronia Babies (1917)
  • Flannel Flowers and Other Bush Babies (1917)
  • Wattle Babies (1918)
  • Tales of Snugglepot and Cuddlepie (1918)
  • Little Ragged Blossom (1920)
  • Little Obelia (1921)
  • Nuttybub and Nittersing (1923)
  • Chucklebud and Wunkydoo (1924)
  • Bib and Bub: Their Adventures (1925)
  • The Further Adventures of Bib and Bub (1927)
  • More Funny Stories about Old Friends Bib and Bub (1928)
  • Bib and Bub in Gumnut Town aka Two Little Gum-Nuts (1929)
  • The Complete Adventures of Snugglepot and Cuddlepie (1940)
  • Scotty in Gumnut Land (1941)
  • Mr and Mrs Bear and Friends (1943)
  • Prince Dande Lion (1953)


  1. ^
  2. ^ Walsh p 10
  3. ^ Walsh, p 11
  4. ^ Walsh, p12
  5. ^ Walsh, p 13-14
  6. ^ Walsh, p. 15
  7. ^ Walsh, p17-18
  8. ^ Walsh, p.19
  9. ^ Nutcote
  10. ^ Harvey Visitor Centre – Stirling Cottage
  11. ^ Walsh, p 24-27
  12. ^ a b Seddon, George (1997). "Cuddlepie and other surrogates". Landprints: reflections on place and landscape. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. pp. 113–118. ISBN 0-521-65999-X. 
  13. ^ Walsh, p29
  14. ^ Walsh, p 31
  15. ^ retrieved 3 July 2012
  16. ^ a b "Gibbs, Cecilia May (1877–1969)". Australian Dictionary of Biography Online Edition. Retrieved 23 May 2009. 
  17. ^ Sydney Morning Herald, "Crematorium opens doors to everlasting celebrations of life", 16 June 2012; Retrieved 7 August 2013
  18. ^ "News from Sydney University Press". Sydney University Press. 17 January 2009. Retrieved 3 June 2010. 
  19. ^


External links[edit]

Further reading[edit]

  • Sharkey, Chris and Pendal, Phillip (2000). May and Herbert Gibbs: The people, the Places, South Perth, W.A. The May Gibbs Trust. ISBN 0-646-38811-8
  • Walsh, Maureen (2007). May Gibbs: Mother of the Gumnuts, Sydney: Sydney University Press. ISBN 978-1-920898-49-6, [1]

See also[edit]

Walsh, Maureen (2008). An Interview with May Gibbs DVD, Sydney: Sydney University Press. ISBN 978-1-920899-22-6