May’s typewriter and art supplies in her studio overlooking Sydney harbour.
May came to live in Nutcote via a childhood in Western Australia, after arriving in Australia by boat with her family when she was four years old. She developed her creative skills with the encouragement of her artist father, Herbert Gibbs. Explaining in later life, “I could draw almost as soon as I could walk… And I loved everything. I used to lie down in the grass so that my eyes were on the same level amongst the grass stalks as the ants… I loved drawing”.
When she was just 12, her first illustration was published in the Christmas 1889 edition of the W.A Bulletin. She went on to attend art school in her home country of England. In 1916 the Gum-Nut Babies and Gum Blossom Babies were published by Angus & Roberston.
It’s intriguing to know that before her delightfully illustrated tales of the bush babies and their friends were published, May did a few fashion pieces for the West Australian, and created feminist cartoons supporting the women’s suffrage movement.
It is sobering to consider that around 1925, May was paid five guineas (the equivalent of about five pounds) for her popular newspaper comic strip, Bib and Bub, where Ginger Meggs artist Jimmy Bancks was paid 40 to 50 pounds for his strip. For her next comic strip, Tiggy Touchwood, May used the pseudonym ‘Stan Cottman’.
We’re excited that May’s gumnut babies are being brought to life again, this time on stage with Snugglepot & Cuddlepie the play, opening at the Sydney Opera House tomorrow night, Saturday 27 June 2015. You can book tickets on the Sydney Opera House website.
Words + Photographs: Bron Bates