Thursday, 17 January 2013

Snugglepot and Cuddlepie - May Gibbs

This is one of the books of my childhood. It's May Gibbs' birthday today. Google has the best graphic on its homepage today, made up of gumnut babies, animal characters and lots of native flora in her honour. I think she would have liked it.

My original copy was given to me by my maternal grandfather. It was a large format hardcover, with sepia toned illustrations throughout, just like the ones I've included here, and half a dozen glossy, coloured plates. It had an inscription in it, in his beautiful, old-fashioned script. It was never in my bookcase for long because I read it and read it and read it - over and over, constantly. Snugglepot, Cuddlepie, Little Ragged Blossom and Mr Lizard were my good friends. Conversely, Mrs Snake sent shivers down my spine, and to this day, walking past a banksia tree is slightly creepy - those Big, Bad Banksia Men could come after me, and that wouldn't be a good thing!
The book tells the story of two gumnut babies who creep away from the family home (the first illustration here) in the dead of night to seek their fortunes. They are befriended by Mr Lizard, a goanna, and rescue Ragged Blossom, a poor little girl gumnut baby, who is all alone with no one to care for her. They have great adventures, always pursued by Mr Lizard's mortal enemy, Mrs Snake, and her cohort of Big, Bad Banksia Men. My edition included further adventures, when they end up diving into the ocean to escape Mrs Snake and wind up having lots more adventures with the fish and sea creatures - having eventually to escape from the clutches of John Dory....
It's one of the great Australian children's classics, and if you've never read it, please, please, please go out and find a copy for your children, your grandchildren, nieces, nephews and yourself! Think Beatrix Potter - in the colonies...and all the more raw and dangerous for that. There are oodles of lovely presentation editions available in mainstream bookstores, and if you hunt around you may well manage to find a lovely old copy. My very original copy from my grandfather went missing - presumably in a house move. I was devastated. It was the only thing I still had with his handwriting on it. After much hunting, I was able to replace it with an identical edition, minus his inscription, of course... It's not in storage. It's in my bookcase. I still pull it out regularly.


  1. I think May Gibbs was a big part of many Australian childhoods, across generations now, our Grandparents read her books and then we read them and now our kids have grown up with May Gibbs. I am wondering is she well known in other countries? She should be, her books are wonderful. As a child I remember learning to love the bush and finding it magical and sometimes scary because of those stories.

    1. I don't know if she's known in other countries. I suspect possibly not - any more than Ethel Turner, Norman Lindsay, or any number of other Australian writers, particularly of that period...