Labour Australia

  • Tip: searches only the name field
  • Tip: Use double quotes to search for a phrase

Browse Lists:

Ginibi, Ruby Langford (1934–2011)

by Malcolm Brown

This entry is from Obituaries Australia

Ruby Langford Ginibi, by Terry Milligan, 1997

Ruby Langford Ginibi, by Terry Milligan, 1997

National Library of Australia, 13385070

Ruby Langford Ginibi, born like so many of her race in humble circumstances, became locked in a cycle of poverty, racial violence and family disruption. She was to see two of her children killed and another incarcerated nearly half his life. But she did what many might have done, and committed her life's experiences to writing.

The books she produced, in particular the first, Don't Take Your Love to Town, gave the world an insight into her life. The book was, according to its preface, ''a true life story of an Aboriginal woman's struggle to raise a family of nine children in a society divided between black and white culture in Australia''. It won the Australian Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission human rights award for literature for 1988 and was followed by other literary works, including Real Deadly, and My Bundjalung People, revisiting scenes from her youth which took her on a 20,000-kilometre odyssey to her tribal heartlands.

Ruby Langford Ginibi was born Ruby Maude Anderson on Australia Day, 1934, at Box Ridge Mission near the northern NSW town of Coraki. Her parents, Henry Anderson and Evelyn Walker, married in September that year. Her tribal name Ginibi (''Black Swan'') was given to her in 1990 by an aunt who was an elder of her Bundjalung people.

When she was six years old, Ginibi's mother left the family and Ginibi was not to see her again until years later when she met her by chance in a Sydney street. As a child, she and her two sisters, Rita and Gwen, were taken by her father to live with relatives at Bonalbo. Her friend, Stuart Hansman, said the father ''did not want to see the big black car turn up with people to take them away''. Later, Ginibi moved to Casino, where she went to high school for two years.

At the age of 15, Ginibi moved to Sydney where she qualified as a machinist. At 16, she began the first of what were to be four tumultuous relationships. She had her first child at 17 and went on to raise nine children, often on her own, and for years lived in the bush. She lived in tin sheds and tents, mostly near Coonabarabran, working as a fencer, roo skin pegger and scrub clearer. She trapped rabbits for food. She was, she said, ''living tribal, but with no tribe around me''. She married one of the fathers of her children, Peter Langford, and took his name. Ginibi said in Don't Take Your Love to Town: ''Now for the first time I was going to live in and off the bush. Hard physical gut-busting work and stealing sheep and flocks of galahs overhead and clear hot days and keeping the fires stoked at night. We slept in the car. When it rained we locked ourselves in the car till it stopped. I helped [her partner] in the night stoking fires.''

Ginibi's children had mixed fortunes. Her daughter Pearl danced with the prime minister John Gorton at an inaugural Aboriginal debutantes' ball at the Sydney Town Hall. Pearl died in a hit-run accident in Redfern soon after, at the age of 17. Eight months later, son William was drowned after suffering an epileptic fit. Her son David died of a misadventure and another son, Gordon (''Nobby''), was to be jailed for many years. After the deaths of her children, Ginibi took to the bottle and had a battle to shake it off. She did so in 1984 and started putting her life's experiences on paper. "I wanted to record our history for the Koori people because the white people had been recording it up until now and they were not accurate,'' she said. In 1992, she spelt out a message to the white establishment: ''Don't be gobbingh-miggingh [greedy guts] and take everything from us. You white people have to learn to give something back. You cannot take forever from us, because in the end, you'll destroy yourselves too.''

Ginibi received an inaugural history fellowship from the NSW Ministry for the Arts in 1994, an inaugural honorary fellowship from the National Museum of Australia, Canberra, in 1995. In 1998, she received her inaugural doctorate of letters from La Trobe University, a wonderful achievement for someone who had only two years secondary schooling. In 1999, Ginibi published Haunted by the Past which, as with her first book, described the devastating effects of incarceration, not only on the inmates but also their families.

In 2005, Ginibi was awarded the NSW Premier's Literary Awards special award and her works were getting onto the syllabuses of high schools and universities. In 2006, she won the Australia Council for the Arts writers' emeritus award. In 2007, Ginibi was named the Aboriginal elder of the year, receiving the award in Darwin from the Aboriginal actor Leah Purcell. Ginibi suffered kidney problems and high blood pressure towards the end of her life and was confined to a wheelchair. She died on October 1. Her funeral was at St Mary's Catholic Church at Erskineville. She is survived by five of her children, Aileen (Campbell), Ellen, Pauline (Mitchell), Nobby and Jeffrey. She has 25 grandchildren and many greatgrandchildren.

Original Publication

  • Sydney Morning Herald, 13 October 2011

Additional Resources

Citation details

Malcolm Brown, 'Ginibi, Ruby Langford (1934–2011)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://labouraustralia.anu.edu.au/biography/ginibi-ruby-langford-16683/text28579, accessed 27 September 2017.

© Copyright Labour Australia, 2012