NCACL’S May Gibbs Legacy Collection

NCACL’S May Gibbs Legacy Collection
Tania McCartney

Once upon a time, there lived a little girl who marvelled at the wonders of nature. She loved to sing and dance and paint and draw and dream up fanciful stories skittered with magical creatures.

This could be many little girls, of course. But this particular girl went on to inspire children—and book creators just like me—perhaps in ways that defied even her transcendent imagination.

From Snugglepot and Cuddlepie to Scotty, Bib and Bub, Cecilia May Gibbs crafted stories at a time when homegrown children’s book-creation was still in its infancy. Plucking her characters from gum leaves and golden wattle puffs was not only enchanting, it was quintessentially Australian. It’s little wonder May’s magic stole hearts across the nation (and still does).

NCACL has been collecting May Gibbs’ books and ephemera since its inception. Treasures include rare-gem books from the 1930s through to [endless!] reprints of her most popular works, as well as contemporary spinoff treasures like baby board books, box sets and story volumes.

Beyond books, the Centre houses a wonderland of pretties like dolls, magnets, puzzles, teacups, stamps, tea towels, baby blankets and pot plant holders. For her time, May was truly innovative with her own spinoff creations, too, crafting calendars and postcards and even bookmarks sent to soldiers during WWI. I can imagine her cheeks flushed with pink to see her beloved creatures come to life in modern times.

For me, though, it’s NCACL’s faithfully collected historical ephemera that forms the spirit of May’s legacy. Sourced over time by a variety of people (including myself), there has been no one more dedicated nor prolific than Jane Brummitt, author, researcher and collector.

Jane has sourced and donated so much May Gibbs treasure to the Centre, it overflows an entire filing cabinet and several boxes. Items include articles, newspaper clippings, imagery, photos, paperwork, letters, some dating back to 1887. Jane has annotated many of these items, including her own correspondence, some relating to her tireless work on the ‘Saving Nutcote’ campaign in the 1980s.

My association with May Gibbs began in childhood as an avid gumnut baby fan. In fact, I recently donated my 1974 edition of Snugglepot and Cuddlepie Find Ragged Blossom to NCACL, along with other books I’ve treasured and several I’ve sourced or stumbled upon. I even crafted my own picture book on the life of May Gibbs – Mamie (Angus&Robertson, 2018) – which remains one of my most beloved creations as an author/illustrator.

In 2019, I decorated a fundraising bear for The Children’s Book Council of Australia’s Awards Foundation. Of course, the bear had to be Mamie, wearing a boronia baby costume featured in the book. NCACL, quite naturally, was the only place for Mamie Bear to retire.

I’ve also taken great pleasure in gifting some original artworks from my books to NCACL, along with ephemera that features May Gibbs artwork. Then, in 2016, I unexpectedly won a nationwide raffle for a deliriously beautiful May Gibbs fundraising quilt commissioned by the Centre. After snuggling with it for a couple of months, I knew its rightful place would be back in the arms of NCACL, alongside Mamie Bear.

NCACL and its collections are a true gift. Not only for May Gibbs and her legacy, but for book and story-lovers, teachers, librarians, researchers, historians and passionate kidlit creators like me.

But of course, those who benefit the most from NCACL are our children – current and future. Children inherently know and embrace the magic and power of nature, song, dance, art and story. Just like the inimitable May Gibbs.


Tania McCartney, July 2023, Canberra
Author Illustrator Designer of children’s books



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