Woman Langford Ginibi, Ruby (1934 - 2011)

26 January 1934
Box Ridge Mission, Coraki, New South Wales, Australia
October 2011
Fairfield, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia
Aboriginal rights activist and Indigenous Historian
Alternative Names
  • Anderson, Ruby Maude (Maiden)

Written by Patricia Grimshaw, The University of Melbourne

Ruby Langford Ginibi, of the Bunjalung people of the Northern Rivers Region of New South Wales, was an outstanding activist for Aboriginal rights through her writing and speaking. Langford Ginibi was an effective voice in the attempt to persuade non-Aboriginal Australians to acknowledge the oppressive character of settler colonialism and its outcome in negative aspects of many Indigenous Australians' lives in contemporary Australia. Above all, she drove understanding of the precariousness Indigenous peoples' livelihoods and the social wellbeing of their families when they left impoverished communities to seek waged work in far flung rural and in urban environments. Through her numerous publications, her research, public talks and interviews, Langford Ginibi made a major contribution to Australia that was recognized by numerous prestigious awards and an honorary doctorate. In 2012, a special issue of the Journal of the European Association of Studies on Australia commemorated her achievements.

Langford Ginibi was born Ruby Maude Anderson on 26 January 1934 at the Box Ridge Mission near Coraki, a small town on the Richmond River in northern New South Wales. She took the surname Langford after her marriage to Peter Langford, the father of two of her children; Ginibi was a clan name that a Bundjalung elder bestowed on her in 1990. Her childhood was a difficult one after her mother left the family when Langford Ginibi was six years of age. Thereafter her father provided the best care he could for his three young daughters, eventually taking them to the bush site near Coonabarabran where he worked to protect them from being taken away by welfare officers. She attended primary school in Bonalbo, followed by two years of high school in Casino. At fifteen years of age she worked briefly caring for the child of farmers before her father took the family to Sydney, where she began a working life in earnest. She found jobs in casual cleaning, as a chambermaid in a hotel, and then sewing in a trouser factory where she became a skilful machinist.

After Langford Ginibi gave birth to her first child in 1951 at the age of 17 years, she and her partner moved to the district near Coonabarabran in rural New South Wales, where she was to spend the rest of the decade. She recounted in her autobiography, Don't Take My Love to Town, how, under onerous conditions, she cared for her growing family, engaging in sporadic waged work as she could. She returned with her family to Sydney in 1960; two further children were born in the 1960s. During the 1960s she made contact with Indigenous activists, including Charles Perkins, and was associated with the Aboriginal Progressive Association. She briefly took responsibility for their newsletter, but her heavy domestic demands made her participation necessarily marginal.

With her autobiography, begun on her fiftieth birthday and published in 1988, Langford Ginibi moved swiftly into public prominence. Her life story immediately resonated not only with other Indigenous people but also with many non-Indigenous readers, students, writers and activists. The Human Rights Commission Award for Literature that she received for the book further promoted her work to a wide readership both nationally and, through centres for Australian Studies, internationally. It was adopted in New South Wales for student reading in secondary schools and appeared on the curriculum for many tertiary courses. Its author was invited to speak at writers' festivals and to students and faculty in universities, and she was asked for interviews for special events and for radio. Encouraged by this exceptional reception Langford Ginibi continued her quest to present an Indigenous narrative of the country's history. She explored an alternative story of settler colonialism and its outcomes in a burst of publications that followed, including, in the next ten years, Real Deadly, My Bundjalung People, Haunted by the Past and All My Mob.

In Don't Take My Love to Town Langford Ginibi began the task of recovering the history of the Bundjalung people by showing how families scattered under the pressure to find work. It also revealed complex networks of reciprocity in assistance and how they worked in practice to maximise life chances. These themes emerged again in a focused way in her study of people on country in My Bundjalung People, a detailed account of the relocation experiences of an Indigenous community under generations of colonial pressures. Haunted by the Past, a study of young Indigenous men and the justice system recorded through the lens of her own son's experiences, continued this exploration.

Meanwhile the honours kept coming. She was proud to receive an honorary doctorate at La Trobe University in 1998. In 2005 she won the NSW Premier's Awards' special award and in 2006 the Australia Council for the Arts' Writers' Emeritus Award for writers over the age of sixty-five years. In 2008 Langford Ginibi was a special ambassador for people with disabilities. After suffering for some time from serious health problems, she died in October 2011 in Fairfield, Sydney, at the age of seventy-seven years.

Published Resources

Book Sections

  • Grimshaw, Patricia, 'Ruby Langford Ginibi: Bunjalung Historian, Writer and Educator', in Francis, Rosemary; Grimshaw, Patricia; and Standish, Ann (eds), Seizing the Initiative: Australian Women Leaders in Politics, Workplaces and Communities, The University of Melbourne: eScholarship Research Centre, Melbourne, Victoria, 2012, pp. 315-350. http://www.womenaustralia.info/leaders/sti/pdfs/22_Grimshaw.pdf. Details


Online Resources

See also

Digital Resources

Ruby Langford Ginibi
10 December 2012
Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC)