Interview with Ruby Langford Ginibi and Penny Van Toorn

By Watson, Christine | Hecate, January 1, 1999 | Go to article overview

Interview with Ruby Langford Ginibi and Penny Van Toorn


Watson, Christine, Hecate


Interview with Ruby Langford Ginibi and Penny van Toorn

This interview is a condensed version of two interviews conducted with Dr Ruby Langford Ginibi and Dr Penny van Toorn on consecutive days in October 1998. I initially interviewed Ruby alone in order to ask her about her earlier publishing experiences with Don't Take Your Love to Town, Real Deadly and My Bundjalung People. During the second interview conducted the next day, I interviewed Ruby and Penny together about their collaborative work on Ruby's new book about her son, Nobby, Haunted by the Past, recently released by Allen and Unwin. I would like to thank both Ruby and Penny for giving up time in their very busy schedules to talk with me and for giving me permission to publish their interviews in this condensed form.

CW: So, can you tell from the very beginning of the book [Haunted by the Past], how did it get started? You mentioned that you got letters from Nobby...

RLG: I got letters from him saying he wanted me to write his story. And I started on it in early 1993 when he came out of jail. I wrote a couple, but that was after he'd come out. The University of Sydney and Meanjin, they published two of the stories. And I was looking around for an editor. My mate here had been through the library and had been through my drafts of My Bundjalung People and found out how much historical content that they'd edited out and wrote me a letter to ask to come see me. That's how we met and then I put her on for editing my stuff.

PVT: I'd been asked to write an article for a special edition of Southerly on canonicity. I didn't feel comfortable about writing the piece alone, and thought it might be possible to do it with Ruby. So I rang Ruby and came to her place to meet her, show her my previous work have a chat, get to know each other a little bit. And Ruby said she'd do the article with me. The next week she rang and asked me if I'd help her with her writing. So, that's how we got started.

RLG: And it worked well.

CW: So, when did you [Penny] get involved?

PVT: Ruby had written an entire first draft when I came into the picture in mid 1995. But that draft only covered the period after Nobby's release from prison in 1993. So, I thought we'd just start at the beginning. And then one question that came up was `When was the beginning of the story?' (RLG: Yeah, that's true). We needed to have a look at the whole structure. We ended up with three parts -- one on the early years, one about the jail years, then the end part which was about coming out of jail. Ruby wrote the first two sections from 1995 onwards. Then the last part that she had already written earlier ended up being reduced a lot, and included in part three.

CW: Penny, were you apprehensive at all about working with Ruby?

PVT: I knew Ruby and her previous editor had fallen out quite bitterly, but I wasn't fazed by that. I did say to her at the beginning: `There are probably going to be times when I get it wrong but it will never be done knowingly, so just tell me if I do anything that upsets you.' We've never had an argument, although we have had different opinions about some things. We've had a lot of good times together, especially on trips away. It's been a really relaxed relationship and a happy one right from the start. I think, I'm not sure about this, but my feeling was that Nobby was a bit apprehensive about speaking into the tape when I was in the room. We didn't really arrange it that that would be the case, but it's just that he and I happened to be here at the same time. He'd been forced to talk into a tape by police and I think he saw me as another authority figure. So I felt a little bit uncomfortable, but after a while, he did seem to relax. And I think he felt more apprehensive about me than I felt about Ruby. After he got into it, he seemed to quite like telling his story.

RLG: Some of the stuff was terrible, aye?

PVT: It's hard work, remembering. …

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