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May Gibbs, with her mother and two brothers, arrived in South Australia to live with her father who had bought land at Franklin Harbour, South Australia. Three months later, failing to make the land productive, the family moved to Adelaide and in 1885 they again followed Gibbs's father to a farming property in the Harvey district in Western Australia. The family moved to Perth when Gibbs was ten years old. Both her parents were artists and Gibbs studied art at the Art Gallery of Western Australia.
Gibbs left Australia in 1900 to continue her art studies in London. After returning to Perth in 1905, she was employed as an illustrator by the Western Mail newspaper and commenced writing short stories. She sailed to London in 1909 to further her art studies once again, as well as illustrating books and having her first book, About Us, published in 1912.
In 1913, Gibbs travelled to Sydney where she worked as an illustrator and in that year she created the gumnut baby characters. During World War 1, postcards, bookmarks and calendars were produced featuring the gumnut characters and Australian animals and themes. These were very successful. Her first Australian book, Gumnut Babies, was published in 1916. It made her an immediate success and she followed this with numerous other children's books over the next three decades. During the 1920s and 1930s Gibbs also created - writing and illustrating - newspaper cartoon strips Bib and Bub and Tiggy Touchwood as well as Gumnut Gossip, the weekly short stories.
Gibbs married James Ossoli Kelly in 1919 and her husband managed her business affairs. He died in 1940. May Gibbs was awarded an MBE in 1955. Her work continues to be in print and has inspired numerous non-book materials including, alphabet friezes, height wall charts, cards, calendars, painting books, diaries and other gift items.