Read on to learn about May’s story and my visit to Nutcote.
May as a story teller
While May’s life story is widely known in Australia, I will summarise it here for readers who are unfamiliar with it. I also encourage you to visit the websites of the Nutcote Trust and also The Northcott Society and Cerebral Palsy Alliance to learn more about May.
May Gibbs was born in Kent, England and immigrated to Australia in 1881 when she was just four. She first arrived in South Australia but was to remain in the state only for a brief period of time. With her family, she then relocated to Western Australia. While the family initially tried their hands at farming, they later settled into city life in Perth.
During her childhood, May demonstrated a natural ability to draw and paint. She drew great inspiration from the world around her, which was starkly different from the English landscape. By 15, she won her first prize for botanical painting.
In 1900, she returned to England to study art but her parents convinced her to return home only a year later when she became unwell. May was an extremely diligent student, taking day and night classes, but as a result, she exhausted herself. Several years later, she returned to England to continue her studies.
Upon her return to Australia, she began to establish herself as a writer and illustrator. As she career began to blossom, she made the decision to relocate to Sydney.
As the First World War approached, May began to bring the first tales of the gumnut babies to life, inspired by beautiful landscape of the Blue Mountains. When asked later, May was unable to pinpoint when and how the inspired idea first came to her. As she later said, ‘It’s hard to tell, hard to say, I don’t know if the bush babies found me or I found the little creatures’ .
On a family visit, May met the love her life, Bertham Kelly, and they were married in 1919.
In 1925, she and her husband established Nutcote in Neutral Bay, North Sydney, where they both lived until they passed away; Bert in 1939, and May in 1969.
May’s garden of wonder and inspiration
In October last year, I made my first visit to Nutcote and was pleased to discover that more than 50 years after her death, her home is still well maintained. Her garden is, in fact, delightful. At the time of my visit, lilies, and daisies, poppies and roses were in bloom. Meanwhile, if you look closely, you will see the Banksia men; these iconic characters are immortalised as bronze statues.
As part of the tour, visitors are invited to watch a short film about May. I found it very informative. For instance, I didn’t realise that May’s garden played an important role in her creative process. For instance, her last major work, Prince Dandelion, came to her while she was watering in the garden. I think it can be said that her garden was truly a place of wonder and joy.
After the film viewing, I walked through May’s garden once more and imagined her standing there with a hose, watering. I left smiling.
My visit to Nutcote made me realise just how magical gardens can be. Working in the garden can be very relaxing and fun. Yet, as May’s story showed me, they can also be places where we plant and water the seeds of our wonder and imagination.
After my visit, I was not only inspired me to continue writing and painting but also to open my Little Wonders of World shop. First, I wanted to build a shop where I could access the micro landscaping supplies I really like while making my own fairy gardens. Second, I wanted to create an online community of wonder makers, who also love to create little magical worlds.
Today North Sydney Council owns Nutcote and Nutcote Trust manages the property. To learn more about visiting this heritage place, please go to their website.
I created post’s image using a number of photographs I shot during my visit. I cordially invite you to view my other designs currently available on Redbubble.
The Northcott Society and Cerebral Palsy Alliance,
“About May Gibbs”, https://maygibbs.org/about-may-gibbs/#Early_Life , accessed 8 April 2020.