The World According to BushNovember 27, 2014

A failing eyesight prompted Herbert William Gibbs to relocate his family from Kent, England to South Australia in 1879. The Outback didn't impress him, but Cecilia Rogers, his wife, and their children followed him. May Gibbs, their second child, reacted differently.

The bush was the landscape's unique feature. It was a sign that much of Australia's interior was neither wet (like the northern parts) nor temperate (like the southern region). May Gibbs, who was a few years old after her arrival, find the bush fascinating. As a matter of fact, her new home was like a page from a fairy tale. She came up with the gumnuts, whose doe eyes were their distinctive features. (They're not to be mistaken with the paintings of Margaret Keane, whose portraits of doe-eyed children reveal sadness.) Snugglepot and Cuddlepie, who first appeared in 1918, would enchant generations of children.

Nutcote, which was where May Gibbs spent most of her life, would captivate visitors. It offered a breathtaking view of Neutral Bay, but it was the house itself that they would remember the most. Anyone who have read her children's books would be reminded of it while admiring the front view. If not, then they would be curious (and look for a copy of a book after their visit). They would even sense good vibe. Maybe the spirit of Gibbs was still there. Perhaps the gumnuts were real at all.

"I was told recently by a marketing person that kids aren't interested in her books - but the ones who come here certainly are," said Stephanie Lake, the manager and curator of Nutcote,

"We have first generation Australian kids coming here and they absolutely love the images and the story, even though their parents wouldn't know her books. It's great to know they are into it, because they are such great illustrations."

Lake could relate to the author, as she worked at the Jane Austen Museum in Bath before taking this job. She was glad to make the move.

Freewheeling bush magic

The gumnuts were uniquely Oz, but this wasn't what made Gibbs's creations special. Snugglepot and Cuddlepie can be compared to Peter Pan and his merry company, whom adults would wish they could join. They would represent innocence and fun, which children wouldn't let go. It can been seen in the Nutcote garden, which was where the young Gibbs was said to first conceive the gumnuts. Lake would insist that not much changed since her passing on November 27, 1969.

Gibbs bequeathed the copyright from the designs of her bush characters and her stories to the NSW Society for Crippled Children and her estate to UNICEF. This showed how she cared for the disabled kids. They need to use their imagination to forget their pain. Snugglepot and Cuddlepie would know how to do it.

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