This teeny little book was the first in a huge and much beloved series in Australia, which included the popular Snugglepot and Cuddlepie, The Adventures of Ragged Blossom, and Little Obelia, introduced the concept of fairies in the Australian bush and landscape.
May Gibbs, who adored Australian fauna and flora, saw the Australian bush as a magical place and these tiny creatures, and the supporting cast of talking animals and scary Banksia men, were characters she felt were constantly present but just beyond our vision. Her artistic depiction of Australian flora, in particular, was - and remains - stunning and, with the aid of these Australia faerie characters, helped generations grow up with a special appreciation of the beauty in the harsh landscape of Australia and its potential for magic. She grew to be Australia's best-know and most enduring children's author. Though she didn't publish her first volume, Gumnut Babies, until she was 38, the popularity of her work meant that, unlike many other artists and writers of that era, she was able to make a living from her illustrations and writing.
|Souriante (self portrait, smiling)|
by May Gibbs, c.1923
First published on 5 December 1916, and retailing at one shilling and sixpence. the first print run of 3,000 books sold out before Christmas. The characters, cute, innocent anthropomorphised gumnuts and gum-blossoms were extremely popular with the war weary public in Australia. (source)
2016 marks the centenary of the publication of May Gibbs' Gumnut Babies. This much-loved book introduced Australian children to the Gumnut Babies, small imaginary inhabitants of the Australian bush. The Gumnut Babies resemble human babies but wear little gumnut hats and gumleaf girdles. The girls, called Gum Blossom Babies, wear frilly skirts made of eucalyptus blossom and have little blossom caps. These tiny fairies of the bush live among the gum trees with other bush babies, such as the Boronia Babies, Wattle Babies and Flannel Flower Babies.
The bushlands and wonderful wildflowers of the region gave May a deep and abiding love of Australian flora and fauna. After studying art in England, in 1913 she returned to Australia and wrote and illustrated Gumnut Babies, the first of her 18 books on a bush theme. May Gibbs' stories, illustrated with her watercolour and pen-and-ink drawings, are now regarded as classics of Australian children's literature. (source)
When May Gibbs died in 1969, she left her estate to the United Nations Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) and all her artworks, papers and copyright to the NSW Society for Crippled Children (now The Northcott Society) and the Spastic Centre of NSW (now the Cerebral Palsy Alliance). In 1970 the two charities presented the May Gibbs archive to the State Library of NSW.
To celebrate this anniversary, the State Library of New South Wales is hosting a free display featuring the original illustrations and beautiful reproductions from May Gibbs' much loved children’s books.
May Gibbs: Celebrating 100 years is on display until 26 February 2017. (source)
You can read more about May Gibbs and her publishing HERE.
And, because our FTNH is particularly fond of May Gibbs (being her great-great aunt possibly has something to do with that), we are including some additional images specially selected for nostalgia.