Enduring legacy of a remarkable woman


The cover of the new book on May Gibbs life
The cover of the new book on May Gibbs life

The author and illustrator travelled to England in a quest to develop as an artist, becoming an early supporter of the suffragettes while in London.

Her original paintings of wildflowers made her aware of the difficulties of both being a woman artist and trying to sustain a viable career as an artist.

Gibbs successfully bridged the worlds of art and protest in early 1911 when she began contributing illustrations and cover designs to one of the leading suffragette journals, The Common Cause, becoming passionately involved in the excitement and danger of protest and polemic debate that energised the suffragette movement.

One of the few women artists of her time to become a commercial success, Gibbs created fantasy and children’s illustration with an unmistakably Australian approach.

This latest book, More Than a Fairy Tale, by authors Robert Holden and Jane Brummitt, explores the early life and artistic career of May Gibbs in detail.

Shire of Kalamunda residents will recognise the banksia men, gumnut babies and other Australian symbols in the artwork which summed up the significant differences in the landscapes of the UK and Australia.

The book outlines a remarkable legacy of a woman who through her illustrations, entered the language and imagination of generations of Australians and became synonymous with an Australian sense of identity and self-image.

Robert Holden worked as a librarian, curator, writer and book reviewer. Although his work has ranged across a broad spectrum of interests, he is particularly known for his pioneering research on Australian children’s book illustration.

He was awarded a senior fellowship by the Literature Board of the Australia Council, had a book optioned by Paramount Studios and been one of the Mitchell Library’s History Fellows.

This is his 30th book.

Holden has collaborated with Jane Brummitt, who has held a lifelong passion for May Gibbs’ work and is related to May Gibbs by marriage.

Brummitt was actively involved in saving May Gibbs’ Sydney home, Nutcote.

Insights gained through that battle were the catalyst for this book and Brummitt is donating her royalties to its ongoing preservation.