The Land of Snugglepot and Cuddlepie

Going deep into the world of 1930’s illustrator May Gibbs this week- her bush fairytale creations seem more tangible in the landscape of the old schoolmasters house.

In the book ‘May Gibbs: More than a Fairytale’ by Robert Holden and Jane Brummitt

Her whimsical, adorable gumnut babies Snugglepot and Cuddlepie are embedded in some childhood memory; sharpened, deliciously, with the threat of the Bad Banksia men. There’s a kewpie doll look to her bush babies, but somehow her work hasn’t dated; there’s no one else quite like her.

my unscientific collection of banksia and seedpods

one of May Gibbs’ Bad Banksia Men

I’d heard that her house ‘Nutcote’ was a now a museum in Neutral Bay and I was curious to visit it, to find out more about her. What it was like to lead an artistic life in Australia in the 1930s? The distance between the old world and the new was so vast then, the voyage from England weeks at sea – did she feel cut off from the centre of things…

May Gibbs’ studio at Nutcote- beautiful harbour views from every window. Photo David Cumming

It’s a beautiful house, Nutcote – it lives up to the promise of its name. Designed in a Spanish Mission style, it feels airy and light to be in; an artistic spirit lingers. True to her generation, nothing is superfluous. My favourite part was her china collection; all blue and white except for one green cup, which she bought in a café to rescue an insect trapped inside it.

May Gibbs’ portrait of a Suffragette friend

Nightfall at the old schoolmasters house

May did spend time living in London and was involved in the Suffragette movement. But impending war forced her to come home. Her gumnut babies were inspired by trips to the Blue Mountains, according to her ‘it’s hard to say if …the bush babies found me or I found the little creatures’. She turned them into postcards to send to Australian soldiers in WW1.

Still, it’s hard to find out much about May Gibbs – she was a very private person. The best source is the beautifully illustrated book ‘ May Gibbs; More than a Fairy Tale” by Robert Holden and Jane Brummitt. But I would love to get something of the spare, artistic, natural touch of Nutcote into the old schoolmasters house. And the next time I pass through the Blue Mountains I will look out for the gumnut babies…

the same era- my Grandfather’s trunk

From ‘May Gibbs: More than a Fairy Tale’


5 Responses to “The Land of Snugglepot and Cuddlepie”

  1. Thank you for the introduction.

    May Gibbs’ book looks incredible.
    I love her studio. I can just imagine that wonderful view.

    This reminds me of the story of Beatrix Potter.
    Hope you’re well x

  2. I was just telling my friends here in London about Snugglepot & Cuddlepie. They looked at me with such incredulity that I began to think that I’d made them up. I wish! xx

  3. Margaret says:

    I drew short breath when I saw the photo from gibb’s house. When i visied there last year a guide bit my head off when I tried to take a photo of the harbour from that room. It was like the Banksia Man came to life!