Gumnuts in the garden of good and evil: racialization and fetishism in May Gibbs's Snugglepot and Cuddlepie

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May Gibbs’s gumnut stories are central to the development of an Australian national imaginary. By connecting the natural ‘bush’ environment to settler-colonial social issues and scenes, Gibbs’s imagery and narrative reimagined the bush as a ‘home’ for colonizers, essentially ‘indigenising’ them in the image of white gumnut babies. The most comprehensive and influential interpretations of Gibbs’s work emphasize its currency to contemporaneous life and cultural trends, and its deft negotiation of sexuality, through the figures of the voluptuous gumnut babies and scrawny bad Banksia Men, who are covered with hair and ‘lips.’ A less prevalent but no less convincing interpretation underscores the dimension of race within Gibbs’s work: the whiteness of the stories’ heroes, and the blackness, even Aboriginality, of their nemeses, the wicked Banksia men. Through the concept of the fetish, this article interprets the banksia as an object produced in an intercultural space, and reproducing (in Gibbs’s stories) a set of racial anxieties about the Other in terms of sex and sexuality. How does race come to be parsed as sex? And what does the confluence of these anxieties reveal about settler representations of Aboriginality and the colonial mindset?
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)955-971
Number of pages17
Issue number6
Early online date11 Oct 2021
Publication statusPublished - 2021


  • Aboriginality
  • Australian children’s fiction
  • May Gibbs
  • racialization
  • settler colonialism
  • the fetish


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