Review: “Haunted by the Past” – Laying the stepping stones to a liberated future

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Last July, I had the great honour to launch Dr Ruby Langford-Ginibi’s fourth book, Haunted by the Past. To have the gathering at Tranby College, an Aboriginal educational centre in Sydney, was of special significance to us all.

Ruby Langford-Ginibi is a fiercely proud Bundjalung woman. Born at Box Ridge Mission at Coraki NSW in 1934, she’s now an acclaimed author, historian and lecturer on Aboriginal history, culture and politics. She’s the mother of nine children, whom she raised mostly on her own, a grandmother to 21 and great-grandmother to three. And she’s a warrior.

Ruby picked up her pen on 23 May 1984 to write her life story, Don’t Take Your Love to Town. Real Deadly soon followed, and then My Bundjalung People, in which she tells her experience of retracing her people and her place. She’s currently working on a book of Koori humour: Only Gammin (or not real) about the jokes that stereotype Koori people (the Jacky Jacky and Mary type ones), perpetuate the racism and marginalise us even more. As Ruby says, you can laugh, but you gotta know what ya laughin at!

Haunted by the Past is the story of her son, Nobby — his jailing and his treatment by the racist, non-caring so-called justice system. Like all of Ruby’s books, this one speaks to you — you do not read it, you hear it!

I liken the book to a social and historical travelogue with two paths: one racist; the other recognising and respecting Australia’s First Nations. As long as these do not cross, we have harmony. Whenever they do, there’s nothing but pain, trouble and sorrow. For Nobby, the intersecting of these paths meant the gungibles (police), the courts and the jails. For Ruby, it meant further pain and sorrow, especially when travelling through her Bundjalung Country, her Land. There too is pain and trouble caused by the theft of traditional lands by colonialism and the desecration of the secret, sacred places.

Ruby devotes Chapter 6 to Black deaths in custody. We hear the stories of the families of Eddie Murray, John Pat, Robert Walker, Charlie Michaels, Tony King, Dixon Green, Daniel Yok. To the infamous list of “unsolved murder” cases, there can be added many others: the husband of Letty Scott who was hanged twice in Darwin’s Berrimah Jail, Coleen Richman, shot in the back — in “self-defence” — by Victorian police, Janet Beetson who died in Sydney’s Mulawa Jail from medical neglect, brothers Brett and Matthew Cross. More offerings to a system that kills.

In Ruby’s words, she dedicates her book to Nobby and “…to every mother’s son or daughter who has fallen foul of the Westminster system of justice that came with the first squatters and settlers in 1788. Those laws are not our Koori laws — our laws were the first laws of this land. Since we Kooris are invaded people, we have always had to conform to other people’s laws, rules and standards — we were never allowed to be ourselves as Aboriginal people.”

Keep writing, Ruby Langford-Ginibi. Your words are reaching those progressive, multi-racial forces who are right now constructing the path toward a new system of real justice. Aboriginal sovereignty — the right of Indigenous nations to decide their cultural and economic direction — must be in the bluepint. So too must be absolute equality for every other group kept down by rich, straight, white man’s law.

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