Australia is known for its wildly peculiar fauna; kangaroos, koalas and the quizzical duck-billed platypus. Its flora is equally as unique, adapted to survive in the harsh climate where water can be scarce for months at a time. When English immigrant May Gibbs imagined the enchanted creatures that would live in the Australian bush, she must have known the delicate fairies of her homeland would not survive in such an inhospitable terrain, so instead she imagined a whole new race of creatures suited to the Aussie bush and the Gum-nut babies were born.
On all the big Gumtrees there are Gum-nut Babies.
Some people see them and some don’t;
but they see everybody and everything.
Perhaps that’s how their eyes have grown so big. – May Gibbs, Gum-nut Babies
The influence of the Australian flora is unmistakable in her imagery; the natural shapes of the gum-nuts are reflected in her creations, and re-imagined as tiny hats a top of chubby little babies.
Gum-Nut babies and Gumnuts.
May Gibbs most famous literary creations were a pair of Gum-nut babies called Snugglepot and Cuddlepie; their adventures became a staple of Australian childhood reading as the two lost babies battled to find their way home. May Gibbs created an entire world of characters, making the Australian bush come to life for children everywhere. The Gum-nut babies encountered many other floral friends on their journeys which spun off into an entire collection of children’s books featuring some of most easily identified flowers that dotted the natural landscape:
The Big Bad Banksia Man and a Banksia seedpod
Every hero needs an adversary, and the Gum-nut babies found theirs in the Big Bad Banksia men, the scary looking seedpods left over from the Banksia flowers once their petals have wilted.
Little Ragged Blossom and a Eucalyptus flower
Epic adventures also require a love interest and the Gum-nut babies found theirs in the character of Little Ragged Blossom, inspired by the eucalyptus flower.
Blossom Babies and Wattle flowers
Boronia Babies and Boronia Flowers
Flannel Babies and Flannel Flowers
These books continue to inspire new generations of children and teach them to respect and interact with the environment around them as their legacy lives on. Upon her death May Gibbs donated the rights to her characters to the Northcott Disability Services and the Cerebral Palsy Alliance; to this day, sales of her Gum-nut babies’ books are still helping children in need.
May Gibbs passed away in 1969 at the age of 92, though she continued to illustrate until her 90th year. To quote a tribute to May:
No one will be quite as good. No one will touch such a multitude. May Gibbs is alone in her creative genius. For this reason May Gibbs has gained lasting fame in her own land.
May Gibbs collection, life story and other merchandise can be found here: https://www.maygibbs.org/
Images from May Gibbs and Wikipedia.
3 thoughts on “May Gibbs and the Fairies of Australia”
May Gibbs was certainly in tune with her environment and its Great Flow of Spirit Energy. She was a keen observer of the natural world around her and brought to life that Energy and enchantment for the rest of us. Thank you
It was fascinating creating the side by side images last night and getting a whole new realization of how accurately detailed her re-imaginings were.