Thursday, October 06, 2011

Death of New England writer Ruby Langford Ginibi

My thanks to Mark from Clarence Valley Today for alerting me to the death of New England writer Ruby Langford Ginibi. I am sure that there will be a full obituary at some point. At this point, I just wanted to record a few points, to set a context if you like.

While I have read a number of her books including her best known work, Don't Take Your Love to Town (1988), I only have one of her books on my shelves, All My Mob (2007). That's a pity, one that I will remedy.

Ruby Maude Anderson was born on 26 January 1934 at the Box Ridge Mission, Coraki, in the Northern Rivers. She was raised at Bonalbo and attended high school in Casino. At 15, she moved to Sydney where she qualified as a clothing machinist. She had nine children by various relationships, but only legally married once, to Peter Langford, whose surname she took as her own. Ginibi was added later as a Bundjalung honorific; the Bundjalung were the large Aboriginal language group occupying territory from the northern banks of the Clarence River into Southern Queensland.

Ruby 's writing style was colloquial, yarn telling in the tradition of her people. She bought alive a slice of Aboriginal life and oral history, making it accessible to a broader audience. Often unwell later in life and with a history marked by personal tragedy, her writing is still laced with a hope and humour that makes her words stand out.

Ruby Langford Ginibi received recognition in part because she was an Aboriginal writer. I am not detracting from her work when I say this, for that is important. However, my perspective is a little different, for I focused in my reading on her role and history as a writer who was both New England and Aboriginal. I enjoyed her writing as writing, but also focused on her writing as social history relevant to a time and an area.

I did not meet her nor, unlike Mark, even hear her talk. While I knew that she was not well, I simply did not focus properly on her age or health. Now I find myself quite unprepared to put her into proper context.

Part of my research into the history of New England has been concerned with the history of New England's Aboriginal peoples, including the language groups that she was linked too. My most recent research has been concerned with social change in New England in the period after 1950, again with a special focus on New England's Aboriginal peoples. 

As I read her books, I looked at what they told me about the history and people I was interested in. I did not regard them as history as such. Indeed, there were specific points of interpretation that I disagreed with. However, they provided a rich and deep stream of memories that I almost salivated over because they gave me the opportunity, assuming that I could meet the challenge, to bring alive particular aspects of New England's past.

As I said, I am sure that there will be broader obituaries. I will add them here if I get a chance. 


A fuller obituary by Malcolm Brown has now appeared in the Sydney Morning Herald.       


Michael O'Rourke said...

Jim: Small erratum: the 'mission' (former Aboriginal Reserve) at Coraki was/is Box Ridge. Cheers, Michael.

Jim Belshaw said...

That was a silly mistake on my part Michael. I did know. My thanks for your very prompt correction. Text now altered.