May Gibbs

May Gibbs: an Australian classic

Published author

May Gibbs’ first published book was About Us, which marked her debut as a combined author and illustrator. Released in England in 1912 but never published in Australia, About Us was a re-working of her earlier unpublished manuscript Mimie & Wog (1910). 

About us / by May Gibbs.

Gibbs commenced working for publishers Angus & Robertson soon after she moved to Sydney in 1913. Working first as an illustrator of books written by others, she found success in December 1916 with the publication of Gum-nut Babies, the first of a series of five booklets written and illustrated between 1916 and 1918: Gum-nut Babies (1916), Gum-Blossom Babies (1916), Flannel Flowers and other Bush Babies (1917), Boronia Babies (1917), and Wattle Babies (1918).

These booklets were highly successful, with the first two titles selling out immediately. Set in a fantasy Australian bush, they featured her beautifully executed drawings accompanied by whimsical text. Gibbs had first used her iconic gumnut babies in a series of bookmarks and postcards produced during World War 1. In 1917, Sydney's Evening News predicted: “She may perhaps be laying the foundation of a new Australian folklore”. 

May Gibbs’ best-known book Snugglepot and Cuddlepie: Their Adventures Wonderful was published in late 1918. Her first full-length book was an immediate success with the first edition alone selling over 17,000 copies. In 1940 it was combined with Little Ragged Blossom (1920) and Little Obelia (1921) to form The Complete Adventures of Snugglepot & Cuddlepie, an iconic work which has never been out of print to this day. 

"On all the big Gumtrees there are Gum-Nut Babies. Some people see them and some don’t ; but they see everybody and everything."
- Gum-nut Babies, by May Gibbs, 1916 

In 1919 Gibbs married mining agent Bertram James Ossoli Kelly, who became her manager. The 1920s was a prolific and prosperous period for Gibbs as an established author and a syndicated cartoonist and columnist. She continued to publish during the 1920s, although she changed publishers after disagreements with Angus & Robertson over royalties. Two further books continued the gumnut's story: The Story of Nuttybub and Nittersing (1923) and Two Little Gumnuts: Chucklebud and Wunkydoo (1924). They were published by Melbourne printers Osboldstone & Co., who were also publishing her calendars and merchandise at the time. 

In 1925 Gibbs and her husband moved to Nutcote, in Sydney’s Neutral Bay, where she created an English-style garden amongst the established native trees and flora. Here she was inspired to create her popular comic strip Bib and Bub, as well as further books: Scotty in Gumnut Land (1941), Mr & Mrs Bear & Friends (1943) and her final book, Prince Dande Lion (1953).