Abstract: When Ruby Langford Ginibi and her daughter Pearl prepared for the Foundation for Aboriginal Affairs Debutante Ball in 1968, they contributed to development of a significant new expression of Aboriginal identity and community belonging. Debutante balls were traditionally staged as a rite of passage that introduced a select group of young ladies to British high society. They went into decline in the UK in the late 1950s, under pressure from anti-establishment and sexual revolutions. The tradition remained popular in Australia, as the debutante ball had developed important status as fundraising events for local organisations. This article examines the history of Aboriginal girls ‘coming out’ at a debutante ball. While the inclusion of Aboriginal girls in debutante balls was encouraged as a means to achieve assimilation, proud celebration at all-Aboriginal events provoked controversy. Ruby Langford Ginibi’s reflection upon her daughter’s dance with the Australian Prime Minister at the 1968 Foundation for Aboriginal Affairs Debutante Ball is instructive. It explains how an exclusive, sexist British ritual has been transformed into a vital, inclusive Aboriginal rite of passage and challenges non-Aboriginal readers to re-evaluate their assessment of the tradition.

Keywords: Aboriginal life writing, Ruby Langford Ginibi, debutante, rural society, Country Women’s Association

Copyright © Jennifer Jones 2012. This text may be archived and redistributed both in electronic form and in hard copy, provided that the author and journal are properly cited and no fee is charged.