Nutcote, the home of Australian author and illustrator May Gibbs, has long been on my “must see” list in Sydney. As 2016 marks the 100th anniversary of her most famous work, the Gumnut babies, I thought it was time to finally make that 10 minute drive to Neutral Bay to pay homage to an author/illustrator whose stories entertained me as a child, and inspired me as an adult.
May Gibbs’ Nutcote, where she lived for 44 years, is now a visitable house museum after many years of changing hands. The home was designed by popular architect B. J. Waterhouse, a friend of May’s whom she would catch the ferry across the harbour to her studio each day. It’s believed he might have given her “mates rates” because of their friendship.
The house sites on a parcel of land bought by May’s mum, Cecilia Rogers, with May moving into the house with her husband, James Ossoli Kelly, in 1925. The couple never had any children (she called the gumnuts her “babies”) and, after May’s death in 1969, the estate was left to UNICEF.
Nutcote was then sold to a private party in 1970 who had plans to demolish it (when you see the view from the block of land you’ll understand why it was in demand for redevelopment), but the house was thankfully saved by the newly formed May Gibbs Foundation in 1987. The house was placed on the Register of the National Estate and then bought by North Sydney Municipal Council for $2.86m in 1990. With its future finally safe, Nutcote was restored to represent what life would have looked like there in the late 1920s and early 1930s, and opened to the public in 1994.
The house is on an amazing block of land that sprawls down to the harbour. The view is just stunning – it’s easy to see why May would have been inspired to write here, in her little slice of paradise.
At the entrance to the property is the giftshop (it used to be a garage), with the cafe underneath in what was once the gardener’s flat. The actual house is further down past the gardens. Visitors are welcome to roam around the house, but I would suggest taking a free guided tour from one of their very well-versed volunteers.
The house contains replica furniture in the style of the original furnishings, with some original items, such as photographs, the ice chest and May’s work desk, set up by the window taking in the view.
Underneath the house is a perfect spot for kids, with a little set of table and chairs, colouring in sheets and pencils and dress ups clothes. There is also a DVD playing on repeat that tells May’s story if you can convince the kids to sit down long enough to let you watch it.
Keep heading down the stairs to the final section of the garden, where we found a basket set out with more colouring in equipment for kids. We took a lovely siesta down here undisturbed for quite some time. Cheese happily coloured in en plein air, while the hubbie and I took in the view and relaxed. Ahhhh the serenity.
Dotted around the garden are little tributes to May’s life. The Big Bad Banksia man stealing Ragged Blossom, a Scots Terrier (the breed of dog May kept in her home), the caterpillar hedge and, of course, “Bib and Bub”, who we know as Snugglepot and Cuddlepie.
After enjoying the view, art and tour of the house, it’s time for lunch, so we dropped by the Bib and Bub Tea Room. The tea rooms is usually open during Nutcote’s open hours, but, as it is staffed by volunteers, it’s recommend that you call ahead if you are planning to lunch there.
The tea room serves light refreshments such as tea and coffee, scones, cakes and sandwiches. We had an egg sandwich, made freshly with herbs from the garden, a “fairy sandwich” and a brownie.
A delicious, light lunch, and possibly the best egg sandwich (definitely the freshest!) I’ve ever eaten.
It’s impossible to pass through the exit without buying a little souvenir or two – we chose the children’s book “A Day With May Gibbs At Nutcote” which has since been a bedtime favourite at home. All proceeds go back to the foundation to keep the house in great condition and open to the public.
5 Wallaringa Ave, Neutral Bay
Phone: (02) 9953 4453
Hours: Wed-Sun 11am-3pm
Prices: $10 adults $4 children aged 5 and over
Accessibility: Some stairs.
NOTE: Nutcote will be closed from March 25 until late June for renovations.
Christine is the editor of Adventure, Baby!