May Gibbs painting found in a shed makes a special trip to Canberra
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May Gibbs painting found in a shed makes a special trip to Canberra

A rare May Gibbs painting, complete with a poem that may never have been published, made a special trip to Canberra last week, after a Canberra Times story connected the owners with May Gibbs expert Jane Brummitt.

The painting shows a kookaburra carrying a little baby in a sling, set on a brilliant blue background dotted with stars.

Jane Brummitt, left, and Geoff and Amanda Turville with their rare paintings.

Jane Brummitt, left, and Geoff and Amanda Turville with their rare paintings.

Photo: Elesa Kurtz

Geoff and Amanda Turville, of Sydney, read the story I wrote 12 months ago and phoned me asking to be put in contact with Brummitt who might know more about their rare find.

Brummitt, an Adelaide author and former teacher who has long held a fascination for the Gibb’s legacy, stumbled across a similar find and donated her painting to the National Centre for Australian Children’s Literature, at the University of Canberra, last year.

The Turville’s brought their painting to the centre last week to learn more about it.

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“Amanda's grandfather died back in 1993 and we were cleaning out his garage we came across this painting that had been hanging in his garage for a number of years,” Geoff said.

“It was destined for the skip but we took it home and hung it in our younger son’s bedroom for a few years until he wanted a car poster up on the wall and then it hung in our shed for a while.”

The May Gibbs painting shows a kookaburra carrying a baby in a sling.

The May Gibbs painting shows a kookaburra carrying a baby in a sling.

Photo: Elesa Kurtz

About 18 months ago Geoff decided to try and find out some more information about the painting and embarked on an internet search that returned nothing.

“We phoned Nutcote [the former Sydney harborside home of Gibbs which now houses a museum devoted to her legacy] but they didn’t want to talk, I even sent them an email with a photograph of the painting and didn’t even reply.

“So then I phoned you at The Canberra Times.”

Brummitt said she had never seen an original work of the painting anywhere.

“It blew my mind when I saw Geoff’s painting, that work is one of my favourites, it’s even on page 23 of my book.”

Brummitt co-authored May Gibbs: More than a fairy-tale, which was published in 2012.

The illustration in the book and the painting have some slight differences. No one is sure which is the first version. On the back of the painting there is the date 1923 but that is all the information available.

Belle Alderman, the director of the national centre, said they might never know anymore about it.

“Gibbs had a brother Harold who was born in Australia in 1887, it’s said she said she was delivered by the stork and Harold was delivered by a kookaburra so maybe she drew this painting for him later on,” Alderman said.

The poem reads:

Out of the deep and starry blue

A laughing kookaburra flew

And as he sped upon his way

The sleepy gumnuts heard him say

Ho! Solemn stork your day is done

I bring the babies - every one

And in each child I leave on Earth

I plant a little seed of mirth

Amanda Turville was unsure how her grandfather acquired the painting. Stanley Cameron was a police inspector in the Kings Cross area of Sydney in the 1930s.

“He was such an interesting man who had plenty of stories to tell,” she said.

“He used to go to auctions and deceased estates and collect things. We have some of his diaries and there’s no mention of May Gibbs anywhere. My mother thinks it may even have been left in their house when they bought it.”

At this stage the Turville’s are unsure whether they will donate the painting to the centre. They have small grandchildren they are keen to introduce to Gibbs’ stories so it may well find a home on a bedroom wall again.

Karen Hardy is a reporter at The Canberra Times.

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