Nutty about Nutcote – a visit to the Sydney home of May Gibbs

Posted by on June 23, 2011 in Arts & Culture, Day trips, Favourite, History, North Sydney, Outdoors, Sydney City | 2 comments

Nutty about Nutcote – a visit to the Sydney home of May Gibbs
Sculpture of banksia man dangling gumnut baby in garden

A sculpture of an evil banksia man dangling a gumnut baby in creator May Gibbs’ garden in Sydney

On a gorgeous Sydney Winter day I visited the home of one of Australia’s (and my) most beloved children’s author, May Gibbs (http://www.maygibbs.com.au/).  Her heritage listed property, Nutcote, is located a short walk from Neutral Bay ferry wharf on the north side of Sydney Harbour.

May Gibbs (1877 – 1969) was a remarkable woman – a talented artist and writer.  Her characters and storytelling continue to entertainment children (and adults) with stories based on the animals and plants found in the Australian bush.

Entry to Nutcote and building looming behind

Enter Nutcote via May Gibbs’ converted garage

As a little girl I never got sick of hearing the stories of the gumnut babies. I gasped at the evil banksia men and their creepy seed pod eyes.  My battered blue Complete Adventures of Snugglepot and Cuddlepie is a precious childhood memento.  The spine is falling off and the inside cover includes my name scrawled across it.

So what is there to see and do at Nutcote?  Pay for your admission at the gift shop then wander around the lovely gardens that run the length of the narrow, sloping property.  Enter the house and wander around on your own reading the plaques or join a guided tour to hear oodles of stories that really bring the house and May’s stories to life.

Yachts moored on Sydney Harbour

The view of Sydney Harbour from Nutcote’s garden

The view from the lovely Mediterranean inspired balcony is so peaceful.  Take a moment to breathe in the sea air and watch the yachts bobbing on the harbour. My volunteer guide told me that May and her husband would sit on the balcony watching the Sydney Harbour Bridge poke over the hills.

Some interesting trivia … Nutcote often hosted Edward and Bessie De Groot (Edward gate-crashed the infamous Bridge opening on horseback while wielding a sword!)  A portrait of Bessie De Groot hangs on the wall of the dining room.  To read more go to – http://bit.ly/lAi5lu

Sculpture of Scottish Terrier in garden

This cute sculpture of a Scottish Terrier is opposite the front door to Nutcote

May’s mother bought this amazing harbourside property in 1922 and the house was finished in 1925 – the land and building totalling £5,000.  Nowadays poky harbourside apartments in Sydney go for millions!  May lived here with her husband, James Ossoli Kelly, and cute Scottish Terriers (look out for the sculpture in the gardens).  To read more about the history of the property and May’s estate go to – http://bit.ly/llT4b3

Nutcote and gardens

The water side of Nutcote and its gardens. The banksia man sculpture is next to the staircase

Each room is filled with furniture of the era and some original pieces including May’s desk.  There are lots of reproductions of her Bib and Bub comic strips, sketches, and newspaper columns from the 1920s -1940s.

I chuckled numerous times at comics and sketches I’d never seen before.  Her stories contain witty rhymes and observations.  Next to the bathroom are some hilarious reprints of caricatures – one depicts ladies in ridiculous feathered hats and another features men in exaggerated cricket poses.  The narrow bathroom with original bath is worth a visit.  Two reprints show the bath even starred in a few comics.

May also was a fine portrait artist and many adorn the walls of Nutcote – they are lovely and include self-portraits and paintings of her husband and parents.  She loved Dutch artists including Vermeer and there are lots of reprints around the house that show the influence of Nutcote on her work.  You can stand next to the lemon tree that featured in one of the comics – a koala (representing her husband) lounges in the shade of the lemon tree.  At the bottom of the property is a huge banksia tree that is estimated to be 150 years old.

Lemon tree next to Nutcote

The original lemon tree next to Nutcote as featured in one of her many comics

Nutcote regularly updates its website with events that include talks by historians, authors, artists and lots of fun things for the kiddies.  Click here for the school holidays program – http://bit.ly/iyNs0l.

Feeling peckish? The Bib and Bub Tearoom is located directly under the gift shop and entrance however it is staffed by volunteers so is not always open.  If closed, I suggest the Thelma & Louise next to Neutral Bay ferry wharf – http://www.thelmaandlouise.com.au/

As is the case with some heritage properties the grounds are rather steep.  You would have difficulties if you have crutches, walkers, wheelchairs or prams.

Sculpture of gumnut babies

Scuplture of gumnut babies – how cuuuute

I ran out of time to watch the rare interview footage of May (screened in the lower level of the house) so that is an excellent excuse for me to come back … and to stock up on more gumnut baby bookmarks and tea towels.

What? Nutcote was May Gibbs’ Sydney residence overlooking Sydney Harbour. For more information go to –  http://www.maygibbs.com.au/

Where? 5 Wallaringa Avenue, Neutral Bay, NSW, 2089.  Catch the ferry from Circular Quay to Neutral Bay or go to the website for more transport options.  Once off the wharf walk up the road to your right hand side and follow the signs.

When? Open Wednesdays – Sundays, 11am – 3pm.  Closed Mondays and Tuesdays.

How much? Adults $9, Kids $3.50, Family $20.

Sydneysiders – do you have a favourite May Gibbs character?

2 Comments

  1. Hi Nicole.

    Thank you so much for visiting Nutcote and the fantastic write up. Hopefully we’ll be seeing the readers of your blog visiting us here at May Gibbs’ Nutcote soon!

  2. Reader, Nerida Attwood, kindly emailed me the below clarification. Many thanks Nerida! Be sure to look out for the lovely painting May painted of Bessie (located inside Nutcote – ask the guides to point it out). Nicole

    Message from Nerida:
    Have just read your article about Nutcoat Cottage – the home of May Gibbs. I have visited it too as I’m a relative of Bessie de Groot, who was one of May’s best friends. In the article it said that her husband’s name was Edward, but it is actually Frances better known as Frank. Edward was his middle name.

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