House & Gardens
Nutcote is the name of the house designed for renowned Australian children’s author and illustrator May Gibbs and her husband James Ossili Kelly by Sydney architect BJ Waterhouse in 1924. The house, which would have ‘compactness, convenience and charm’ was built on land at Neutral Bay on the shores of Sydney Harbour, and completed in 1925.
Nutcote is a unique departure from BJ Waterhouse’s usual Arts and Craft-style houses and can be described as of Mediterranean style. The interior has the Early English/Baronial character favoured by Waterhouse with generous use of dark-stained timber joinery and built-ins. In 1928, a double garage was built towards the front of the property. This too was designed by BJ Waterhouse and ‘sat’ sympathetically with the main house on the site.
May Gibbs lived at Nutcote for 44 years, bequeathing her home to the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) which, under its Charter, was unable to hold property. Following its sale in 1970, subsequent owners wished to demolish and redevelop the site. In 1987, the May Gibbs Foundation was formed to ‘Save Nutcote for the Nation’. Following a successful campaign, the house was granted a Permanent Conservation Order and was placed on the Register of the National Estate. North Sydney Municipal Council purchased Nutcote for $2.86m in 1990. Nutcote was restored to show the house as it would have looked in the late 1920s and early 1930s. It was opened to the public in 1994.
The Gardens at Nutcote
On a steep site sloping to the shores of Sydney Harbour, the site is long and narrow with the house straddling its width. The delightful cottage garden features both native and exotic trees and shrubs with many annuals and perennials. The Gardens is divided into sections by a trellis and is largely maintained by Nutcote’s Gardens volunteers, broadly in accordance with May’s original plantings. Two of the original roses (Dorothy Perkins and Lady Hillingdon) survive today, and many of the plants listed in various diaries and letters have been reinstated. The importance of the Gardens to May’s work is indicated in an interview for the National Library in 1968 when she reflected, “‘Nutcote’ is a dear little place with a long, long garden. I used to walk around the Gardens, weeding it and loving it, and with a book in my pocket and a pencil and that’s where I got my best ideas, out in the open, gardening.“