Posted by: Lisa Hill | July 2, 2017

Don’t Take Your Love to Town, by Ruby Langford Ginibi

Indigenous readers are advised that this review contains the names of deceased persons.

Ruby Langford Ginibi (1934 – 2011) was a Bundjalung woman born on Box Ridge Mission, Coraki on the North Coast of NSW.  As you can see from the my original 1988 Penguin Paperback of her first book, Don’t Take Your Love to Town, she did not have the name Ginibi when it was published: Ginibi is a Bundjalung honorific, one of many honours which she subsequently received for her work as an author, historian and lecturer.

According to Wikipedia , Don’t Take Your Love to Town won the Australian Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission’s Human Rights Award for Literature.  It’s still in print today.  It is studied in schools and universities as a record of rural and urban indigenous life in an era of significant change but it is read and enjoyed as a great story: wise, funny, poignant and frank about the difficulties of indigenous life as well as Langford’s own mistakes.  (The title of the book refers to a popular song by Kenny Rogers and her own assessment that it took her too long to realise that she was better off without unreliable men who drank and beat her up.)

I had my first three kids with Sam Griffin (Koori), but I didn’t change my name.  Bill, Pearl and Diane are Andersons, named after me.  The next three I had with Gordon Campbell (gubb)*, Nobby, David and Aileen.  They’re registered in his name.  Then I married Peter Langford (gubb), and Ellen and Pauline were born.  Now I’m Mrs Langford.  My only legal name change.  Later, I had Jeff, my youngest, with Lance Marriot (Koori), who took on all my kids and loved them all. But I stayed Langford, by now things were complicated enough.

You can think of me as Ruby Wagtail Big Noise Anderson Rangi Ando Heifer Andy Langford.  How I got to be Ruby Langford.  Originally from the Bundjalung people.

*gubb – urban Aboriginal word for white person. (p. 2)

She had nine children altogether, three of whom had predeceased her at the time of writing this book, and another died later.  Her family also included ten adopted children who [she] collected along the way as well as a large extended family scattered around New South Wales.  The book is dedicated to every black woman who has battled to raise a family and kept her sense of humour.

Wikipedia also tells me that:

[Langford] 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, and an inaugural doctorate of letters (Honors Causia) from La Trobe University, Victoria in 1998.

In 2005 she was awarded the New South Wales Premier’s Literary Awards Special Award. Her works are studied in Australian high schools and universities. In 2006, she won the Australia Council for the Arts Writers’ Emeritus Award.

Langford’s achievements were all the more extraordinary because she left school after just two years of high school, and much of that was disrupted.  Her mother left the family when she was six, and she was brought up by Her Aunty Nell and Uncle Sam while her father chased itinerant work, as many men did in the 1930s.  Despite these disadvantages she was a high achieving student…

[Dad] took me up to the headmaster’s office and told me to wait on the bench outside.  I heard Dad asking him about my progress, and then Mr Rubenach’s voice saying he wanted me to go on to third year and do my Intermediate Certificate.  Dad said he didn’t know about that.  Mr Rubenach said I should then go on to teachers’ college, the reasons being that I was class captain and school prefect and had come first in my class again.

I sat on the bench, my head buzzing.  Every teacher I’d ever seen was white.  I tried to imagine black kids being taught by black teachers, then I tried to imagine white kids with black teachers.  (p. 37)

The headmaster went on to explain that the Aborigines Protection Board would put Ruby through college, but her father objected: he refused to have anything to do with the Aborigines Protection Board because all they’ve done so far is take people from their land and split up families.  And so Ruby started work as a cleaner, then worked for a butcher and after that went with her father and his new wife Mum Joyce to work as an apprentice machinist in Sydney.  But she was back in the bush before long, living in a makeshift tent and sharing hard manual labour alongside the fathers of her children.  Her first child was born when she was eighteen and others followed shortly afterwards.  She coped alone when her men were away – sometimes working, sometimes drinking, and sometimes being unfaithful to her.  It was a life of tremendous hardship, insecurity and stress.

I felt like I was living tribal but with no tribe around me, no close-knit family.  The food-gathering, the laws and songs were broken up, and my generation at this time wandered around as if we were tribal but in fact living worse than the poorest of poor whites, and in the case of women living hard because it seemed like the men loved you for a while and then more kids came along and then men drank and gambled and disappeared.  One day they’d had enough and they just didn’t come back. It happened with Gordon and later it happened with Peter, and my women friends all have similar stories. (p.96)

This sense of isolation and distress about the loss of traditional lifestyles intensifies as Langford’s personal circumstances deteriorated but the activism of the 1970s and 1980s offered new opportunities.  There was mainstream awareness of issues like Black Deaths in Custody and paternalistic organisations were abolished.  Having jettisoned the men who prevented her from becoming active in Indigenous politics (because they expected her to stay home and run the household), Langford became a voice for her people and the long dormant skills of writing resurfaced.  Don’t Take Your Love to Town was the first of many books which changed the way Australians thought about Indigenous people.

In the course of exploring the impact and significance of this book I found a superb essay by Tara June Winch at the Griffith Review.  This essay dismisses the idea of Langford distancing herself from a painful past, preferring to recognise her as a stoic survivor, and it also acknowledges the torrent of chaos that [Aborigines] both endure and enflame themselves.  Yes, it can be confronting to read about dysfunctional elements of Langford’s life, but it is this unflinching frankness that gives the book its power.

Highly recommended.

I read Don’t Take Your Love to Town as my second book for Indigenous Literature Week 2017.

Author: Ruby Langford Ginibi
Title: Don’t Take Your Love to Town
Publisher: Penguin, 1988
ISBN: 9780140111736
Source: personal library, purchased from Diversity Books, (their bricks and mortar store, which closed in 2012 but still trades online.)

Available from Fishpond: Don’t Take Your Love To Town


Responses

  1. What an amazing woman. Nice post, Lisa.

    • Thanks, Robyn. I’d been meaning to read this one for a while and it didn’t disappoint:)

  2. I just can’t begin to imagine the hardship of her life. Wonderful review.

    • It’s vivid the way she writes about it, and yet her sense of humour never falters.

  3. The full name of the Kenny Rogers song is Ruby Don’t Take Your Love to Town. That long Ruuuuby, god how many times have I heard it on country radio.
    I guess it’s a white thing or a middle class thing but isn’t it terrible – class captain, top of the class and unable to go on with your education. We’re very lucky she survived all that bush poverty and came out the other side a writer and activist.

    • I know. I read those pages in disbelief, even though I know that denial of educational opportunities happened to many girls regardless of their colour. (Ruby’s father’s reasoning may have been different, but the effect was the same).
      But it’s the lines that follow that are so stark:
      “I tried to imagine black kids being taught by black teachers, then I tried to imagine white kids with black teachers”. My guess is that there would be still be places in Australia where a black teacher teaching white kids would have a hard time of it.

  4. […] Don’t Take Your Love to Town, see my ANZ LitLovers review. […]

  5. Ruby Langford Ginibi was a remarkable woman, activist, and historian. I’m glad to know that Ginibi’s published books are being taught in high schools and colleges. As I was reading Lisa’s review, the African American poet and activist Maya Angelou came to mind. Ginibi and Angelou both faced many personal challenges and social injustices within their communities. Like Ginibi, Angelou’s series of autobiographies are taught in schools. In my academic work, I incorporate Australian Aboriginal women’s writings in my syllabi and reading lists for such courses as Black Women Writers and Transnational Multiethnic Women’s Literature.

    I hope that the University of Queensland Press would make Ginibi’s Don’t Take Your Love to Town and All My Mob available in the United States. Her writings and activist work should be shared with the world at large.

    • I’m sure UQP would love to sell these titles in the US, but I don’t know whether they do. It’s not easy, I believe, to break into the American market.

  6. Great review. I fear that many of the issues Ruby faced, particularly in relation to her education, still exist for indigenous kids.

    • I think it’s true for kids in remote communities, but there are some great success stories too… more and more are finishing secondary school and graduating with degrees which means, if they go back to their communities, that there are the all important role models for them to follow.

      • Yes, let’s hope there is a flow-on effect or the gap widens.

  7. Hard to read about a life like this and not feel humbled by everything that’s been achieved against the odds. It does, at least, sound as if this book has received the reception it deserves. Thanks for your enlightening review.

    • Thanks:) That’s what I like about ILW, it brings these stories to the fore:)

  8. She sounds an incredible person, humbling simply to read about the difficulties of her life. Just imagine what she might have achieved had her father allowed her to pursue that education.

    • Indeed yes. I think there were many women in this position, black and white. My first MIL was the first and only person in her family to finish secondary education, one of just three in the class and all sharing the books at her school in remote Victoria, but that was as far as she was allowed to go, and so she went to Melbourne to work as a post office switchboard operator. It must have been soul-destroying but she never complained either. (In fact, none of us ever knew about it until she and I were on a long road trip to visit a relation and she thought it would come out anyway so she told me about it).

      • You’d think she would feel so resentful but maybe in her generation it was just something you accepted and learned to live with


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