Back in 1985 I was obsessed with stamp collecting. I held a subscription to Australia Post’s “Stamp Explorer” (click here to sign up yourself!) and would steam stamps off letters that my parents received. My favourite stamp was the Snuggle Pot and Cuddle Pie 33c stamp that was released that July. I loved the book and was excited to have a stamp to remember it. Imagine my surprise last week when I discovered that May Gibbs lived in my city! Guess what made its way straight on to our Kid Bucket List!!
May Gibbs (1877 – 1969) was never your typical Children’s Author. If you ask me, she was ahead of her times. She designed the posters for Suffragette movement in the UK while studying at art school. She saw marriage as ‘domestic servitude’ and only married the love of her life, Bertram James Ossoli Kelly, when she was in her early forties. She never had children. May drove the family car and negotiated all of her own contracts. She was incredibly savvy when it came to marketing her books and illustrations. Personally, she’s been added to my list of female heroines.
She asked Sydney architect BJ Waterhouse to design her cottage in 1924 with the request for something with ‘compactness, convenience and charm’. It was built on Neutral Bay and could easily be dominated by the large mansions on each side of it if you weren’t overwhelmed by its uniqueness. Nutcote – as May named it, is exquisitely charming. It is very English, but quite unique as well. The kitchen is the smallest little thing – perfect for May who I would say probably sent Bertram to do the cooking.
The gardens are delightful especially if you like a melding of english cottage gardens and a little Australiana. There’s even a Banksia tree near the water that was planted by May. Miss N enjoyed rummaging through the dress ups and became a Flower Blossom Baby (or maybe a Gumnut baby – I couldn’t tell!) as well as colouring in some reproductions of May’s work.
There are regular tours of the cottage although you can do it by yourself too. The tour will provide you with all the details of the cottage. Many of the original furniture pieces have returned to the cottage. I was amazed to have an opportunity to touch her original easel and see where she worked. Master R and Miss N were able to hold an old telephone and learned that the operator needed to connect the call. It was amazing tour and I recommend it.
May passed away in 1969 bequeathing the Cottage to UNICEF who went on to sell it to developers. Thankfully the community rallied to buy the property and it is now jointly owned by the Mayor and General Manager of North Sydney Council and managed by a volunteer Board. You can visit Nutcote Wednesday to Sunday: 11.00 am to 3.00 pm (Last admissions 2.30 pm) each week. I think you’ll need about two hours. Please note that there is no parking in the immediate area. Drive past so you know where it is and then park on the next road at the top of the hill if you can, just observe the parking restrictions. A family ticket will cost you $20.00. Click here for more details.