Last week I was lucky enough to attend a lecture at the Art Gallery of NSW where Dr Robin Morrow talked about May Gibbs and her very famous Australian book which turns 100 this year. Here is part of a report I have written for our IBBY Australia Newsletter. Robin also talked about The Magic Pudding but I will focus on Snugglepot and Cuddlepie in this post.
Gumnut babies and Puddin’ thieves: Bush adventure stories for children
Dr Robin Morrow AM
Art Gallery of NSW Lecture series
1918: The world in transition
Repercussions and legacies a century on:
The year 1918 marked the end of WWI. It was this year Snugglepot and Cuddlepie by May Gibbs (1877 – 1969) and The Magic Pudding by Norman Lindsay (1879-1969) were published. In her lecture in April 2018, Robin examined similarities and differences between these books and their attitudes to the bush; she looked at them as products of their time; and also discussed ways they are like and unlike the books published for children today.
Robin opened her lecture with a quote from UK critic Peter Hollindale “A large part of any book is written not by its author but by the world its author lives in.”
Robin highlighted some of the influences on UK born May Gibbs. Her parents attended art school in London, she lived in Western Australian and her father took her into the bush for sketching lessons. In WA May saw very large gumnuts possibly Marri Corymbia calophylla. Professor Peter Bernhardt (St Louis University Prof of Botany) was later to praise her observation in the details of plants and flowers especially her famous banksia men. She returned to London and contributed cartoons to The Common Cause, a suffragette magazine and she also published a children’s book About Us (1912).
Picture source May Gibbs web site
A breakthrough moment came when Gibbs designed a gumleaf bookmark with the peeping face of a ‘bush sprite’. A similar image appeared in 1914 on the cover of Lone Hand, a monthly magazine fighting for an independent Australian culture, and then came postcards which were sent to Australian soldiers serving in the trenches. In 2009 Ursula Dobosarsky was inspired by a May Gibbs postcard to write her book Tibby’s Leaf. It seems a natural progression to her next projects writing Snugglepot and Cuddlepie: Their Adventures wonderful (1918), Little Ragged Blossom (1920) and Little Obelia (1921).
In 1913 May Gibbs had made the wise decision to copyright her gumnuts. She went on to produce her comic Bib and Bub (producing over 2000 strips), books, fabric badges, hankies, calendars and bookmarks. When she died in 1969 May Gibbs left the copyright of all her works to the NSW Society for Crippled Children (now Northcott) and the Spastic Centre of NSW (now Cerebral Palsy Alliance), which still benefit from royalties on sales of her books and products.. Transport NSW has named a new harbour ferry in her honour; and in Sydney the Vivid light show will also feature her art. (Report of the lecture by Dr Robin Morrow)
Image Source State Library of NSW
If you live in Sydney you can visit May Gibbs home Nutcote where you will learn more about her life and work. I have discovered that later this year Tania McCartney will publish a book entitled Mami : A celebration of May's life for modern children. I was interested to discover Noela Young also worked on illustrations for books about Snugglepot and Cuddlepie as a part of a Young Australia book series from the 1970s and 1980s. Here is one of the illustrations from my childhood copy of The Complete Adventures of Snugglepot and Cuddlepie:
Image source ABC Radio National Hindsight November, 2012