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May Gibbs

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Joseph Cook

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Location 08

May Gibbs

Pay your respects to the iconic May Gibbs

May Gibbs

Within the serene expanse of the Northern Suburbs Memorial Gardens, in the beautiful embrace of Granite Circle, we remember May Gibbs under the shade of a gum tree. The choice of location to remember Gibbs' is poetically apt. In homage to their beloved creator, the gum tree, a silent sentinel, seems to narrate tales of the Gumnut Babies, their adventures, and the rich tapestry of the Australian bush that May Gibbs so vividly brought to life in her tales. 

 

Cecilia May Gibbs, affectionately known as "Mamie", has left an indelible mark on Australia's literary and artistic landscape. Born in Sydenham, Kent on 17 January 1877, to the artistically inclined Herbert William Gibbs and Cecilia Rogers, young May's talent bloomed early in life. By the age of eight, inspired by the lush Australian bush and her trusty pony, Brownie, May began to document her observances through painting and writing.

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This location, close to the tranquil East Chapel, affords a sense of peace and reverence, as if the very surroundings acknowledge the weight of her contribution.

A Growing Passion for Art

From her early years in Harvey, Western Australia, and her formal education at Amy Best’s girls' school in Perth, Gibbs showcased the ability to capture the essence of her surroundings. Her prowess with botanical drawings was evident when, at just 15, she clinched the Art prize at the Perth Wild Flower Show. This was merely a precursor to her numerous accolades in the following decades. Determined to refine her craft, May journeyed to England multiple times between 1890 and 1913. Here, she delved into the arts, studying at esteemed institutions like the South Kensington Art School and Chelsea Polytechnic. Amidst her academic pursuits, May illustrated for notable publishers, expressed her creative voice with the suffragettes, and formed lifelong bonds with like-minded souls like the activist socialist Rene Eames.

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The Birth of 'Gumnut Babies"

Returning to Australia in 1913, Sydney witnessed the birth of Gibbs' iconic "gumnut babies". These enchanting bush fairies not only graced book covers and postcards but also played a poignant role during World War I, offering solace to soldiers far from home. 1918 heralded the publication of "Tales of Snugglepot and Cuddlepie", a book that not only cemented her place in Australian literary lore but also echoed her conservationist sentiments. Her plea to readers to safeguard the natural world is a testament to her deep-rooted love for Australia's unique environment.

An Enduring Legacy Remains

Personal milestones followed with her marriage to Bertram James Ossoli “J.O.” Kelly in 1919, and the subsequent years saw a flurry of publications including “Little Ragged Blossom”, “Little Obelia”, and “Nuttybub and Nittersing”. Recognition of her invaluable contribution to Australian children’s literature came in 1955, when she was honoured as a Member of the British Empire (MBE).

 

May Gibbs passed away on 27 November 1969, but her legacy endures. Today, as we flip through the pages of her books or admire her illustrations, we're reminded of a woman whose love for nature, art, and humanity was truly unparalleled.

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