May Gibbs Trust


The Looking Glass, Volume 11, Issue 3, 2007

Creative Fellowships and Residencies - the work of the May Gibbs Literature Trust in Australia

Jeffrey Prentice

Jeffrey Prentice has played an active role in developing children's literature in Australia for more years than he cares to remember. He is an administrator, researcher, speaker and enthusiast; he has written Dromkeen: a journey into children's literature (with Bettina Bird) and A Guide to Australian Children's Literature (with Bronwen Bennett), and is Deputy Chairman of the May Gibbs Literature Trust.

May Gibbs is an Australian icon; she was (arguably) Australia’s first professionally-trained full-time children’s picture story book illustrator, and her famous Snugglepot and Cuddlepie titles (first published in 1918) are still in print today. For generations, her stories have offered Australian children a fantasy world created from their own natural and cultural environment, an alternative to imported literatures fixed in their own local geographies.

The May Gibbs Literature Trust honours her contribution to Australian children’s literature and supports today’s creators of books for children in her name.  Through fellowships, residencies and even the provision of simple physical space, the Trust gives authors and illustrators active and practical assistance in their creative work.

2008 marks the tenth year of operation for the May Gibbs Children’s Literature Trust in Australia. As a leading not-for-profit organisation in the field of children’s literature, the Trust had its beginnings in Sydney in the late 1990s.  The current Trust’s two executive directors, Ian Wilson AM in Adelaide and Jeff Prentice in Melbourne, were Directors of a similar organisation, the Nutcote Trust, that had been set up by the North Sydney Council to manage May Gibbs’ home Nutcote at Neutral Bay on Sydney Harbour. An enthusiastic group of supporters nationally had saved this historic home and its gardens from demolition.  The gardens, particularly, were an expression (and inspiration) of the characters that peopled the Snugglepot and Cuddlepie stories and in 1994 they were opened to the public.

One of the aims of the Nutcote Trust was to offer creative fellowships in a residence opposite the home for Australian children’s authors and illustrators of children’s books. Unfortunately this scheme did not proceed and, so, a separate May Gibbs Children’s Literature Trust was established in December 1998. It was listed on the Australian Register of Cultural Organisations in March 1999 and can receive tax-deductible donations.

The mission of the Trust is to support the creativity and careers of contemporary Australian children’s authors and illustrators. From the outset, the founders of the Trust, Ian Wilson (Chairman) and Jeff Prentice (Deputy Chairman), made a specific business decision that, in order to sustain creative fellowships and mentorships, studio apartments would be purchased in all Australian capital cities. These have two purposes: they provide a personal and dedicated space for an author or illustrator, free from immediate distractions during their fellowship, and they also help the Trust maintain a capital base for its work.  Currently the Trust owns apartments in Adelaide, Canberra, Brisbane, and in Melbourne has the use of a two-bedroom apartment courtesy of the Australian Scholarship Group.

Overall, the vision is to value creators of Australian children’s books for their role in the preservation and shaping of our culture. The studio apartments are the key to the success of the Trust’s activities, namely Creative Time Residential Fellowships and Creative Mentorships.

The objectives of these Fellowships and Mentorships are:

  1. to provide environments and opportunities for Australian children’s authors and illustrators to concentrate on their creative work, to research, think, experiment, write and re-write, illustrate and achieve the highest standard of excellence;

  2. to provide opportunities for emerging Australian children’s authors and illustrators to advance their skills and to expand their knowledge of children’s literature with the help of mentors;

  3. to encourage Australian children’s authors and illustrators to share and develop ideas with co-creators, including young writers and illustrators;

  4. to form strategic partnerships in order to provide speaking and teaching employment for May Gibbs Fellows at professional rates.

In addition, traditional writer-in-residence programs have also been supported with schools, universities, libraries, museums and similar institutions.

A special feature of the Trust is the establishment of Program Committees consisting of volunteers in Adelaide, Melbourne, Canberra, Brisbane and Sydney. Each State Program Committee has a chair and liaises with Elizabeth Hutchins, the National Program Committee Chair in Adelaide. The Committees deliberate as needed to nominate suitable authors and illustrators for programs in their state and recommend to the National Program Committee authors and illustrators to be offered interstate fellowships and also suitable mentors and mentorship participants.

The Trust has been fortunate in the support given by leading people in children’s literature. Dr Belle Alderman was instrumental in organising a strategic partnership with the University of Canberra; Ann James and Ann Haddon of the Books Illustrated Gallery assisted with the formation of the Victorian Program Committee; Pam Macintyre commenced the ongoing fellowship at the University of Melbourne; Nan Halliday is the Trust’s National Coordinator in Adelaide, making sure that all fellowships are coordinated nationally; Judy Russell set up the Queensland Program Committee, as did Susanne Gervay with the NSW Program Committee. Since 2000, Albert Ullin is the National Mentorship Coordinator in Melbourne. Starting in 2000, over 80 May Gibbs Fellowships have been completed and 18 mentorships awarded. The feedback has been extremely positive, encouraging the Trust to increase its efforts:

I had a great time staying in the studio apartment – it is very comfortable, well-equipped and in such a convenient location! Yes, I started working on a new picture book project, and will submit it first thing in the New Year.
– Guundie Kuchling

I have been using the flat as a base for a series of lightning raids on the Murray, taking lots of photos, digging up some river stories… It’s the kind of research that without the apartment would have been difficult and expensive.
– John Nicholson

This residency saved my bacon. The picture book of poems for three year olds, Moon in the Man, was supposed to be born before Christmas but fell behind. … thanks to the solitude here the illustrations are well under way… My time in Adelaide was very productive.
– Elizabeth Honey

On the back of my involvement in the Centre for Youth Literature’s Reading Matters conference in May [2007], I spent a week in an apartment in East Malvern. The generous rent-free arrangement was a gift from the good people at the May Gibbs Children’s Literature Trust, something they’ve invitingly called Creative Time Residency… I have four projects on the go at present, in various stages of evaluation from the barest bones to line-edits and they were all infected by the buzz of activity the week in town afforded me.
– Scot Gardner

The May Gibbs Children’s Literature Trust has grown exponentially, involving over forty volunteers across Australia. As Dr Belle Alderman in Canberra said in her Children’s Book Council of Australia Oration in 2003, ‘The May Gibbs Children’s Literature Trust is the latest example of innovative and creative ventures to support Australian authors and illustrators and to bring them into contact with their community.’

Further information, particularly for authors and illustrators, institutions, schools, libraries and community groups, is avialable on the Trust's website:

"Creative Fellowships and Residencies" © Jeff Prentice, 2007.


The Looking Glass: new perspectives on children's literature

ISBN 1551-5680