I always think the weather in Sydney in Autumn is the loveliest of the year. On a good day, the skies are blue and there is a crisp freshness in the air without it being too cold, or most importantly, too hot. It’s a perfect time for getting out and about with the kids and exploring places of interest by the harbour, and none more so, than North Sydney Council’s historical treasure – May Gibbs’ Nutcote, at Neutral Bay.
Have you been there?
1918's iconic duo Snugglepot and Cuddlepie have pride of place
I have always wanted to visit and finally found the perfect opportunity in April, with a writers group I belong to. We had all been inspired by May Gibbs at one time or other, an artist and Author/Illustrator, whose love of Australian flora and fauna, inspired a career spanning eight decades, from her first recognised works as a teenager, to her death at 92.
Inspirational harbour view from Gibbs' balcony
History inspires me and for other arts and culture fans out there, Nutcote is just the place for a visit this school holidays, or on a weekend at any time of year (excluding public holidays). I should preface this by saying that Nutcote is best appreciated by kids of primary school age. Don't give yourself, or the volunteer staff, the grief of taking toddlers.
Nutcote is open Wednesday - Sunday between 11am - 3pm, so plan your visit in advance and take advantage of some of the fabulous options for visiting the house museum and gardens.
There is free, unmetered parking nearby in Lower Wycombe and Kurraba Roads, so drive, or catch the ferry, with a picnic basket in hand. On arrival, browse the gift shop and gardens, followed by a guided tour of the house that May called home from the time it was built in 1925 til her passing in 1969.
As May's life went on and she lost her husband and parents in quick succession, she became reclusive and you can sort of understand why. The harbour view from her balcony and the sloping gardens down to the foreshore, create a world of their own; a perfect muse inspiring her later works including Bib and Bub.
The front lawn is a perfect spot for kids' party activities
The tour includes a history of the original artefacts belonging to Gibbs, which have been donated back to the house, and samples of May’s merchandise including the legendary gumnut leaf bookmark with gumnut baby head. A highlight is the theatrette where you can view a fascinating short film on Gibbs life and work, narrated by none other than the lady herself. And If you forget to pack a picnic, there is a tearoom on site for refreshments overlooking the front garden.
Gumnut dressups and garden play are perfect for the younger kids
I don’t want to generalise but it may be that girls are more drawn to the idea of a birthday party at Nutcote, or maybe a co-ed group. A party at Nutcote is like an old-fashioned fairy party in a real-life fairy garden, complete with statues of the beloved Snugglepot and Cuddlepie.
Parties include the opportunity for activities in the garden, a tour of the house (including story time), character dress ups and games. The party sessions are a manageable 2 hours and there is a choice of theme: Gumnut Babies and Big Bad Banksia Men for 4-7 year olds, or Gumnut Picnic Party for 8 – 10 year olds. The minimum cost for a party (groups of 10 or more) is $350 and includes food for the children and cake and coffee for the parents. Again, plan in advance and check the website for full details and other T&Cs.
Ever fancied yourself as a gumnut baby?
And just a final note, to avoid any disappointment for your visit, do call ahead and check that your plans can be accommodated on the date you intend to visit. Nutcote is staffed by an amazing group of volunteers but this means that activities and tearoom opening hours can vary, based on the calendar of special events (like School Holiday Programs), or the amount of group bookings in the diary.