State Library of South AustraliaState Library of South Australia

About us

Catalogue record

Creator: Gibbs, May, 1877-1969

Place of Creation: London NewYork

Published by Ernest Nister ; E.P. Dutton

Date of creation : [1912]

This item is reproduced courtesy of The Northcott Society and the Cerebral Palsy Alliance 2012. It may be printed or saved for personal research or study. Use for any other purpose requires written permission from The Northcott Society and the Cerebral Palsy Alliance 2012 and the State Library of South Australia. To request approval, complete the Permission to publish form.

Format : Book

Cecilia May Gibbs was born in Kent in 1877, but four years later her father Herbert decided to emigrate with his young family to South Australia. He took up land near Cowell on Franklin Harbour, Eyre Peninsula. Quickly disillusioned by the harsh realities of bush life in a slab hut, the family moved to Adelaide and subsequently to Western Australia. Eventually Herbert Gibbs took up paid employment as a newspaper cartoonist, drawing master and finally a draughtsman with the Lands and Survey Department. He was active in the artistic community, and his talent was most evident in his daughter May.

Professional training was obtained at various schools in England between 1901 and 1904. Back in Perth May found employment with the Western Mail with illustrations and cartoons, but not satisfied she returned to England in 1909 for more art training and finally, some commissioned work for the publisher Harrap. May had also engaged an agent who endeavoured to find publishers for her work: she had written and illustrated a number of Australian flavoured nursery rhymes and several manuscripts about a little Australian girl, Mimie. The Australian setting was unappealing to English publishers and their potential audience but undaunted, May adapted the story. Mimie became Mamie and her adventures in the Australian bush became adventures over London rooftops. About us was published in 1912 by Ernest Nister in London and EP Dutton, New York. This first book completely lacked any Australian bush associations, and certainly no gumnuts, which very shortly would be irrevocably linked to the name May Gibbs.

About us is the story of Mamie and her dog Wog who escape from their sheltered life into a fantasy land among the chimney pots of London's roofs, where they become lost and separated. All ends well when Mamie wakes from her dream. The surreal chimney pot people assume all the sizes, colours and shapes of the chimneys May could see from her window and the ubiquitous London fog becomes the Smuts. The book was not successful enough to warrant a sequel, and as May's health faileddue to the English climate and her own neglect of herself, she was whisked back to Australia by her family and established herself in Sydney. In 1913 she was commissioned to produce a bookmark. The long eucalyptus leaf with two gumnut babes peeping over the top was a success and became the genesis of The Gumnut Babies which was published in 1916, followed two years later by Snugglepot and Cuddlepie. With its sequels Little Ragged Blossom and Little Obelia, May was at last established as the author and illustrator of a uniquely Australian bush wonderland. These three books were combined in 1940 as The complete adventures of Snugglepot and Cuddlepie and have been in print ever since.


Further reading

Holden, Robert May Gibbs : more than a fairytale: an artistic life / Robert Holden & Jane Brummitt Richmond, Vic.: Hardie Grant Books, 2011

Holden, Robert A golden age Pymble, N.S.W.: Angus & Robertson, 1992

The May Gibbs collection North Ryde, N.S.W.: Angus & Robertson, 1985 [v. 2.] Mother of the gumnuts

Bulletin / the Dromkeen Society [Riddells Creek, Vic.] vol. 13 no. 3 September 2007 O'Conor, Juliet Chimney pots to Gumnuts: May Gibbs' About us


May Gibbs' Nutcote

Council of Heads of Australiasian Herbaria: Australian National Herbarium: Gibbs, May (1877-1969)

Australian Dictionary of Biography: Cecilia May Gibbs (1877-1969)

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