Nutcote | NSW Environment & Heritage

Culture and heritage

Heritage

Nutcote

Item details

Name of item: Nutcote
Other name/s: May Gibbs house
Type of item: Complex / Group
Group/Collection: Residential buildings (private)
Category: Cottage
Location: Lat: -33.8421233223 Long: 151.2211616400
Primary address: 5 Wallaringa Avenue, Neutral Bay, NSW 2089
Parish: Willoughby
County: Cumberland
Local govt. area: North Sydney
Local Aboriginal Land Council: Metropolitan
Property description
Lot/Volume CodeLot/Volume NumberSection NumberPlan/Folio CodePlan/Folio Number
LOT1 DP562377
All addresses
Street AddressSuburb/townLGAParishCountyType
5 Wallaringa AvenueNeutral BayNorth SydneyWilloughbyCumberlandPrimary Address

Owner/s

Organisation NameOwner CategoryDate Ownership Updated
North Sydney CouncilLocal Government 

Statement of significance:

Nutcote and its garden is a place of exceptional cultural significance as the home, workplace and source of inspiration of May Gibbs, Australia's first woman cartoonist, painter, naturalist and children's author and illustrator.
Nutcote is a place of moderate cultural significance in association with prominent architect B.J.Waterhouse, who designed the house in close collaboration with May Gibbs (Tanner & Assoc 1993:33).
Date significance updated: 15 Feb 06
Note: The State Heritage Inventory provides information about heritage items listed by local and State government agencies. The State Heritage Inventory is continually being updated by local and State agencies as new information becomes available. Read the OEH copyright and disclaimer.

Description

Designer/Maker: B.J.Waterhouse
Builder/Maker: F.J.Gray
Construction years: 1924-1925
Physical description: NUTCOTE - The house is a single storey rectangular dwelling built on land that gently slopes towards the water and is sited on a sandstone ridge about half way down the block. It is built of cavity brick, roughly rendered and painted with a terracotta colour pantile roof and painted chimneys. A balcony edged with an arched portico and wrought iron railings opens onto the water frontage from the studio and dining room. Louvered timber shutters grace the sides of the timber, double hung sash windows. The front door is set back in a plain pillared entrance portico. (Stacy 1986). The house is built in a classical mediterranean style and consists of 8 rooms and a verandah, porch, entry and hall. The basement contains a laundry, lobby and third bedroom.

DOUBLE GARAGE- Frontage on Wallaringa Avenue. A rectangular building with rendered brickwork walls, terracotta tiled roof and multipaned timber windows and doors. The frontage features two pairs of ledged, framed and sheeted timber bifold doors. The form, detail and finishes are markedly inferior to the house.

THE GARDENS - Fall to the west to the water's edge of Neutral Bay and are quite steep below the cottage where outcropping sandstone occurs. The steep area of the site has remnant native vegetation developed on the Hawkesbury Sandstone derived soils. Outcropping sandstone immediately below the cottage to the west was used to construct a terrace. The terrace area is concrete paved and a concrete stairway leads down the rock face to connect to the lower grass terrace.

On the higher eastern side below Wallaringa Road the garden shows evidence of its original cottage character with some remnents of the annuals, perenials and hedging present. The major remnants are primarily along the southern boundary fence and immediately adjacent to the cottage and garage.

Other landscape elements include brick flagged paths from the front of the property to the cottage entrance portico and along the north side of the cottage. A timber lattice with trellis and shrubbery planting screens the north western corner of the cottage. Remains of an early steel post and wire fence can be found along the western (harbour frontage) boundary. Timber fences line the remaining boundaries. (H.Tanner & Assoc. 1993: 13-18)
Physical condition and/or
Archaeological potential:
Prior to restoration of the site physical condition was assessed as follows
- House - reasonable
-Garage - fair
-Gardens - poor (H.Tanner & Assoc 1993: 34)
Modifications and dates: 1924-1938 - General maintenance including painting (5 times) and repairs to
kitchen porch
-Garden established and maintained
1928 - Garage built
1950-1970 - Enamel bath removed and shower hob installed in bathroom.
- Refrigerator in dining room replaced ice chest in hall
- Shower recess added to laundry.
1973-1987 - Enamel sink removed from kitchen and replaced with stainless
steel sink.
-New gas stove installed
-Safe added in bedroom 1
-Original fittings replaced with 'modern' lightfittings
-Security grill added to window W16
1988 -Fire in laundry destroys a door, window, shutters and cupboard
1987-1990 - Possible rewiring of house
-Some repairs to roof
-Front door removed and replaced wiht poor quality door.
-Chimney piece to fireplace in living room removed
-Garden trellis removed.
1990-1993 -Renewing of gutters, fascias and timber trims and repainting of east
facade of garage.
(H.Tanner & Associates 1993: Appendix 1)
Current use: House museum and education centre
Former use: Aboriginal land, timber-getting, dwelling and inspiration for illustration, writing

History

Historical notes: Nutcote was the home and studio of May Gibbs, Australia's first woman cartoonist who is well remembered for her children's stories and illustrations.

Cecilia May Gibbs was born in Cheam Fields, Surrey England on 17 January 1877. In 1881 her father Herbert and an uncle emigrated to South Australia and a month later her mother May (nee Rogers: Pug, 2018) and brother Bertie sailed to join them (Lawrence, 1999, 59). May spent the first few years of her life in Surrey, emigrating in 1881. Her father and uncle George attempted to establish a farm near Wallaroo. It failed almost immediately, and the family settled in Adelaide's Norwood. May was educated at home and recalled 'I loved drawing, so my father started me right off, because he was a clever artist'. (ibid, 2018, 14).

In 1885 the brothers invested in a Western Australian homestead, 'The Harvey'. May recalled the two years the family lived there as 'the happiest in my life'. She had a small pony, which enabled her to explore the countryside and experience the local flora and fauna, discovering many of the wild flowers and plants that inspired so many of her characters. After two years Herbert found work in Perth, where he began teaching his daughter watercolours and then oils. From her early years she experimented with theatre, music, poetry and literature, and was heavily influenced by the British children's illustrator Randolph Caldecott (1846-86). In Western Australia May had the opportunity to see the work of Australia's most famous female botanical artist, the internationally recognised Ellis Rowan. In 1889, Rowan had travelled to Western Australia to seek out new plant species to draw and collect, and exhibit her work in Perth. Her fearless spirit and artistic prowess must have left a significant impression on May, because the very next year Gibbs' work would hang beside Rowan's in a Perth show. Within a decade she had left for London to study art (ibid, 2018, 14-15).

She exhibited an early talent for sketching and loved the bush, which she explored on her pony. She had 3 trips to England in 1900, 1904 and 1909, but in 1905 embarked on her career as illustrator (ibid, 1999, 59). She found success publishing satirical columns under the pseudonym 'Blob'. In the first years of the 20th century she became interested in children's illustration, and began experimenting with fairy tales set in an Australian bush setting (ibid, 2018, 15).

Her gumnut babies were born in 1913. In December 1914 the 'Sydney Morning Herald' declared "That she uses all Australian flower and leaf forms in her artistic work is one of the chief charms which Miss May Gibbs manages to infuse in all she does." Her first Australian books were 'Gum Nut Babies' and 'Gum Blossom Babies' which appeared in 1916. In 1919 May quietly married James Ossoli Kelly in Perth and later moved to a flat at Runnymede in Kurraba Point, North Sydney. The following year they moved again to Derry, in Phillips Street. (Lawrence, 1999, 59).

Over the war years following 1914, May created a series of postcards full of iconic imagery reminding Australian soldiers of home. They were included in Red Cross parcels sent to soldiers on the front line. Gibbs' bush babies traversed teh world amongst woolly socks and biscuits, with a message to heighten spirits: 'We are the Gumnut Corps, We're going to the War (We'll make things hum, by gum!)'.

Gibbs' love of Australian plants and animals underlay her ability to see tiny boats in native seedpods, and to portray these in a botanically accurate way, yet so delightfully that her books have inspired in many a love of Australia's flora (ibid, 2018, 15).

The site was chosen and purchased in 1922 by May Gibbs' mother Cecie Gibbs. (NB: Lawrence, 1999 notes the mother's name as May). The house was designed in 1924 by B.J.Waterhouse, a fashionable domestic architect, and was completed in early 1925 by builder F.J.Gray. It was of classical Mediterranean style. Total investment in the site was 5000 pounds. May Gibbs and her husband James Ossoli Kelly moved in in February 1925. In 1928 a double garage with basement flatette, also designed by Waterhouse, was built towards the front of the property. (It was Waterhouse who requested the house be named 'Nutcote' and it complied with May's wish for 'compactness, convenience and charm'. May Gibbs said of Nutcote 'I used to walk about the garden weeding it and loving it with a book in my pocket and a pencil and that's where I got my best ideas.' (Lawrence, 1999, 59).

The house was specifically designed to accommodate Gibbs' studio and reflected her lifestyle, needs and priorities. The living room was the main room of the house and reflects the trend from the 1890s to centre the house on a 'living hall'. It was a gathering place for May and her circle, some of whom stayed for extended periods in the flatette, second bedroom and in later years, a primitive suite of self contained rooms in the basement of the main house. (May was besotted with her Scottie dogs (Scots terriers) and, on excursions, there were bundled into the back of the car and nursed by the housekeeper. Lawrence, 1999, 59).

The comic strip 'Bib and Bub' was produced at Nutcote until 1967, the site's garden became an increasing source of inspiration for this and other works, particularly from the 1950s. (May Gibbs lived and worked at Nutcote until her death in 1969. (Lawrence, 1999, 59).

On her death May Gibbs left the rights and royalties to her work to the Crippled Children's Society and the Spastic Centre. Nutcote was left to the UNICEF Foundation who auctioned its contents in 1970 and a year later sold the property for $85 000 to Socrad Pty Ltd.

Nutcote was classified by the National Trust in 1986 and placed on the North Sydney Council Heritage List in 1987. Despite this, a development application was made to modernise Nutcote and built townhouses in the grounds by prospective buyers Invergowrie Pty Ltd. This sparked a long process of attempts to save Nutcote by the May Gibbs Foundation and interested parties. An unsuccessful appeal was made to Bob Carr, then Minister for Planning and Environment, to purchase the property, and a Commission of Inquiry was established to examine Socrad's objections to the imposition of a permanent conservation order on the site and to hear an appeal by Invergowrie against the Heritage Council's objection of its redevelopment proposal.

The outcome of the inquiry was a compromise recommendation that a permanent conservation order be placed on the cottage but limited townhouse development be allowed on the grounds. The May Gibbs foundation was not happy with the outcome.

An announcement by Invergowrie, who had gone ahead with the purchase of the site, that they would proceed with the development prompted further action. The campaign to save Nutcote was launched in November 1987. On 6 January 1988 a permanent conservation order was placed on the house, harbour side garden and ten metres of the front garden. This allowed for the townhouse development to proceed. On 25 January 1988 fire caused superficial damage to the house. Internal alterations were approved by the Heritage Council in June.

In September 1988 North Sydney Council voted unanimously to resume Nutcote and turn it over to the May Gibbs Foundation to use as a museum commemorating the woman and her work. This decision and the rejection of the application to alter the house were appealed in the Land and Environment Court by Invergowrie. The court assessor upheld the company's appeal. The May Gibbs foundation was unable to gain State or Federal government financial support to protect the property.

Nutcote was placed on the market in July 1989. Foundation members outnumbered bidders and Nutcote was passed in at $2.6 million. The property remained deserted until North Sydney Council made the decision to purchase Nutcote outright in November 1991 and lease it to the Nutcote Trust to operate on a profit sharing basis. During this period the front door and fireplace surround were stolen and maintenance was minimal.

North Sydney Council originally intended to contribute $600 000 to the purchase and raise the rest by donations from the state and/or federal governments and the community. The inability to raise these funds and a depressed economic climate prompted the council decision to pay the purchase price of $2.86 million.

On 17 January 1992 the Nutcote Centre for Literacy, Arts and Environment was launched on what would have been May Gibbs' 115th birthday. The house would undergo restoration in the following year (H.Tanner & Assoc. 1993: 3-13).

On May 1st 1994 following completion of the restoration project, Nutcote was officially opened as a museum of Gibb's work by artist and illustrator, Elizabeth Durack. It is open from 11am to 3pm Wednesdays to Sundays (Lawrence, 1999, 59).

In 2002/3 the Federal Government provided a Heritage CHPP grant of $27,274 for restoration work to Nutcote and its setting.

Historic themes

Australian theme (abbrev)New South Wales themeLocal theme
1. Environment-Tracing the evolution of a continent's special environments Environment - naturally evolved-Activities associated with the physical surroundings that support human life and influence or shape human cultures. Gardens-
1. Environment-Tracing the evolution of a continent's special environments Environment - naturally evolved-Activities associated with the physical surroundings that support human life and influence or shape human cultures. Parramatta River-
1. Environment-Tracing the evolution of a continent's special environments Environment - naturally evolved-Activities associated with the physical surroundings that support human life and influence or shape human cultures. Cultural - Coasts and coastal features supporting human activities-
1. Environment-Tracing the evolution of a continent's special environments Environment - naturally evolved-Activities associated with the physical surroundings that support human life and influence or shape human cultures. Changing the environment-
3. Economy-Developing local, regional and national economies Environment - cultural landscape-Activities associated with the interactions between humans, human societies and the shaping of their physical surroundings Significant tree(s) providing urban amenity-
3. Economy-Developing local, regional and national economies Environment - cultural landscape-Activities associated with the interactions between humans, human societies and the shaping of their physical surroundings Landscapes demonstrating styles in landscape design-
3. Economy-Developing local, regional and national economies Environment - cultural landscape-Activities associated with the interactions between humans, human societies and the shaping of their physical surroundings Landscapes and gardens of domestic accommodation-
3. Economy-Developing local, regional and national economies Environment - cultural landscape-Activities associated with the interactions between humans, human societies and the shaping of their physical surroundings Places important in developing conservation processes-
4. Settlement-Building settlements, towns and cities Accommodation-Activities associated with the provision of accommodation, and particular types of accommodation – does not include architectural styles – use the theme of Creative Endeavour for such activities. Residential-
4. Settlement-Building settlements, towns and cities Accommodation-Activities associated with the provision of accommodation, and particular types of accommodation – does not include architectural styles – use the theme of Creative Endeavour for such activities. Adapted heritage building or structure-
4. Settlement-Building settlements, towns and cities Accommodation-Activities associated with the provision of accommodation, and particular types of accommodation – does not include architectural styles – use the theme of Creative Endeavour for such activities. Housing townsfolk - terraces and cottages-
4. Settlement-Building settlements, towns and cities Accommodation-Activities associated with the provision of accommodation, and particular types of accommodation – does not include architectural styles – use the theme of Creative Endeavour for such activities. Housing famous families-
4. Settlement-Building settlements, towns and cities Accommodation-Activities associated with the provision of accommodation, and particular types of accommodation – does not include architectural styles – use the theme of Creative Endeavour for such activities. housing (suburbs)-
4. Settlement-Building settlements, towns and cities Accommodation-Activities associated with the provision of accommodation, and particular types of accommodation – does not include architectural styles – use the theme of Creative Endeavour for such activities. A Picturesque Residential Suburb-
4. Settlement-Building settlements, towns and cities Accommodation-Activities associated with the provision of accommodation, and particular types of accommodation – does not include architectural styles – use the theme of Creative Endeavour for such activities. Housing professional people-
6. Educating-Educating Education-Activities associated with teaching and learning by children and adults, formally and informally. Educating through book writing-
8. Culture-Developing cultural institutions and ways of life Creative endeavour-Activities associated with the production and performance of literary, artistic, architectural and other imaginative, interpretive or inventive works; and/or associated with the production and expression of cultural phenomena; and/or environments that have inspired such creative activities. Landscaping - 20th century interwar-
8. Culture-Developing cultural institutions and ways of life Creative endeavour-Activities associated with the production and performance of literary, artistic, architectural and other imaginative, interpretive or inventive works; and/or associated with the production and expression of cultural phenomena; and/or environments that have inspired such creative activities. Performing in artistic and creative ways-
8. Culture-Developing cultural institutions and ways of life Creative endeavour-Activities associated with the production and performance of literary, artistic, architectural and other imaginative, interpretive or inventive works; and/or associated with the production and expression of cultural phenomena; and/or environments that have inspired such creative activities. Creating works of art-
8. Culture-Developing cultural institutions and ways of life Creative endeavour-Activities associated with the production and performance of literary, artistic, architectural and other imaginative, interpretive or inventive works; and/or associated with the production and expression of cultural phenomena; and/or environments that have inspired such creative activities. Creating works of literature-
8. Culture-Developing cultural institutions and ways of life Creative endeavour-Activities associated with the production and performance of literary, artistic, architectural and other imaginative, interpretive or inventive works; and/or associated with the production and expression of cultural phenomena; and/or environments that have inspired such creative activities. Building in response to climate - verandahs-
8. Culture-Developing cultural institutions and ways of life Creative endeavour-Activities associated with the production and performance of literary, artistic, architectural and other imaginative, interpretive or inventive works; and/or associated with the production and expression of cultural phenomena; and/or environments that have inspired such creative activities. Building in response to natural landscape features.-
8. Culture-Developing cultural institutions and ways of life Creative endeavour-Activities associated with the production and performance of literary, artistic, architectural and other imaginative, interpretive or inventive works; and/or associated with the production and expression of cultural phenomena; and/or environments that have inspired such creative activities. Architectural styles and periods - Interwar Romanesque-
8. Culture-Developing cultural institutions and ways of life Domestic life-Activities associated with creating, maintaining, living in and working around houses and institutions. Living and working at home-
8. Culture-Developing cultural institutions and ways of life Domestic life-Activities associated with creating, maintaining, living in and working around houses and institutions. Living in suburbia-
8. Culture-Developing cultural institutions and ways of life Leisure-Activities associated with recreation and relaxation Visiting heritage places-
9. Phases of Life-Marking the phases of life Persons-Activities of, and associations with, identifiable individuals, families and communal groups Associations with May Gibbs, author, artist and conservationist-

Assessment of significance

SHR Criteria a)
[Historical significance]
Nutcote is considered significant to present and future generations of Australians as the place where May Gibbs lived for the greater part of her life, a place where she found much inspiration and where she produced many of her famous works. In particular Nutcote displays exceptional historical value in its association with May Gibbs through:
-influence of May Gibbs on the layout, appearance and function of Nutcote through her input into the design of the cottage and her care and cultivation of the surrounding gardens.
-the influence that Nutcote exercised on the imagination and the source of inspiration for May Gibbs' work
-its association with May Gibbs' contribution to Australian nationalism, bush awareness, bush care, aesthetics, art and literature and feminism.
(H.Tanner & Assoc 1993:33-34)
SHR Criteria c)
[Aesthetic significance]
Nutcote is a building of moderate architectural merit as an example of classical Mediterranean architecture which was being advocated by a small but influential number of architects.
Nutcote is associated with the work of B.J.Waterhouse, a highly respected Australian architect responsible for the design of many residences in Sydney.
Nutcote is a good example of a modest, well crafted and innovatively planned house.
Nutcote cottage and site represents a reflection of the taste, preferences and living style of the original occupants, May Gibbs and her husband J.O.Kelly.
The gardens, designed built and maintained by May Gibbs, with their mixture of existing natives and extensive english cottage garden style planning must be considered expressions of her lifestyle, tastes and preferences.
(H.Tanner & Assoc. 1993: 33)
SHR Criteria d)
[Social significance]
Nutcote is considered to represent exceptional social significance as a physical reminder for many Australians of the lifetime work of May Gibbs in the form of stories, illustrations and postcards which have strong associations with the development of an Australian cultural identity during a formative historical period. The significance of this association is enhanced due to May Gibbs' contribution to Australian nationalism, bush awareness, bush care, aesthetics, atr and literature and feminism.
Hutcote has also, since the early 1980s been the focus for national sentiment for a wide range of literary, social and special interest groups conserved with its conservation. Many Australians are aware of what Nutcote represents and its association with May Gibbs. These factors combined are of considerable social significance. (H.Tanner & Assoc. 1993: 34)
Integrity/Intactness: Nutcote and surrounds have been restored
Assessment criteria: Items are assessed against the PDF State Heritage Register (SHR) Criteria to determine the level of significance. Refer to the Listings below for the level of statutory protection.

Procedures /Exemptions

Section of actDescriptionTitleCommentsAction date
57(2)Exemption to allow workStandard Exemptions SCHEDULE OF STANDARD EXEMPTIONS
HERITAGE ACT 1977
Notice of Order Under Section 57 (2) of the Heritage Act 1977

I, the Minister for Planning, pursuant to subsection 57(2) of the Heritage Act 1977, on the recommendation of the Heritage Council of New South Wales, do by this Order:

1. revoke the Schedule of Exemptions to subsection 57(1) of the Heritage Act made under subsection 57(2) and published in the Government Gazette on 22 February 2008; and

2. grant standard exemptions from subsection 57(1) of the Heritage Act 1977, described in the Schedule attached.

FRANK SARTOR
Minister for Planning
Sydney, 11 July 2008

To view the schedule click on the Standard Exemptions for Works Requiring Heritage Council Approval link below.
Sep 5 2008

PDF Standard exemptions for works requiring Heritage Council approval

Listings

Heritage ListingListing TitleListing NumberGazette DateGazette NumberGazette Page
Heritage Act - State Heritage Register 0050502 Apr 99 271546
Heritage Act - Permanent Conservation Order - former 0050531 Dec 87 1997358
Local Environmental Plan 198903 Nov 89 1079271
National Trust of Australia register  9140   
Register of the National Estate  18 Apr 89 1260010

References, internet links & images

TypeAuthorYearTitleInternet Links
TourismAttraction Homepage2007Nutcote View detail
WrittenCockington, James2002'Nutcote City Limits', in "Loose Ends" in The Sydney Morning Herald
WrittenHoward Tanner & Associates1993Conservation Plan for Nutcote
WrittenJug, Anna2018Close to nature: May Gibbs and Australian botanical artists View detail
WrittenLawrence, Joan1999Pictorial History - Lavender Bay to the Spit
WrittenM.Stacy1986Nutcote - Nat Trust Classification Card
WrittenNutcote Trust website View detail
TourismTourism NSW2007Nutcote - May Gibbs Home View detail

Note: internet links may be to web pages, documents or images.

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Data source

The information for this entry comes from the following source:
Name: Heritage Office
Database number: 5045137
File number: S90/01890 & KHC 86 2360


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