Australian Biography

Ruby Langford Ginibi - full interview transcript

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Sam didn't marry you, but he stayed with you for the birth of the baby?

Yes, well, we ended up staying together for about five years. And I presented him with two more kids, you know. I had three children to him.

Where was your first baby born?

In Coonabarabran.

Where's that? Why were you in Coonabarabran?

Well, as I said before ...

Ask again. I left Sydney...

I'll ask you the whole question. Where was your first baby born?

In Coonabarabran. I left Sydney to go to Coonabarabran when I was pregnant with the first child, and that was 19 ... 1951, when I had Bill. In Coonabarabran. And I had the ... two more other children to Sam. I stayed with him for about five years, I think it was, and had three children all told to him.

Where did you live in Coonabarabran?

Well, I lived on the Gunnedah Hill in a tin shack with his mother and his stepfather and their family, and Sam got work out in the bush on the sawmills, and he never came home until the weekends while I was waiting for the bub to be born.

Tell me about the birth of your first child. You've now become quite expert in giving birth, but can I take you back to when your first baby was born. Do you remember what it felt like?

Oh, what an experience that was. You see, I knew nothing about ... as I've said I've never connected up with giving birth and what it was like. I used to talk to Sam's mother, whose name was Ruby, too. I used to call her Mum Rube, and I used to ask her about what it was like to, to give birth. And how would I know when it was time to go to hospital and she being an old seasoned veteran of seven births, she knew a bit about it, so she told me, you know, you'll get these labour pains in the front and they'll go around to the back and then they'll get stronger and stronger until you feel like you want to bear down and then you know you've got to get to the hospital real quick. Which is what happened, but the first birth, with my son Bill, was a long birth, being my first child, and the pain was excruciating. I ended up punching ... [laughing] ... the nursing sister and she showed me a bruise on her arm the day after he was born. Bill was born and he looked like a little skinned rabbit. He was so tiny, he was six pound, one ounce, my Bill, the smallest baby I ever had. Yeah. Don't know where the hell Sam was, he was always away, never came much. But I had a friend, Neddy Hatfield, who crocheted a bonnet and bootee and carrying coat set for him and brought it to the hospital for me and he was so small and, as I said, she had to turn around and alter the bonnet so that it'd fit his little head. You see.

So Sam wasn't there when your baby was born?

Nah. No it was Mum Ruby that put me in a taxi and got me to the hospital.

And who were the other children that you had with Sam?

There was Pearl. Pearl. And Pearl was born not in Coonabarabran. We later on left and went back to Bonalbo. Up to my country, and Pearl was born in the hospital there. And the girls who were the nurses were the girls that I went to school with, so it was lovely. And she was born on the first of December, 1990 ... no ... 52. I get the dates mixed up, I do ... [laughs] ...

So that was the next year you had another baby?

Yeah. Yeah. So I got the yearning to want to go home. Something was telling me to go home, and so I asked him to take me home. And when I did go home, I just missed out on my cousin's wedding, they couldn't find where I was, you see. And I'd lost contact with them, and it was my cousin's wedding day the day before. And we got as far as ... the train took us to Casino, and there was no bus over the weekend going from Casino to Bonalbo, you know. It used to take the mail and passengers that were going that way from the train station and lucky for us we were sitting in the park in Casino and there was a football match on, on Richmond Oval, and who should be coming down with the crowd when the match was over ... was my cousin Richard got married to, and they rounded us up and put us back in the bus with them and took us back to Bonalbo that way, you know. She said, ‘I've been trying to get in touch with you, I wanted you to be my bridesmaid for my wedding,’ you know. But I missed out on her. But anyhow, Dad was there and Mum Joy were there for the wedding too, so we had a whole family hook-up again, you know, connect up again with each one of them.

Had they seen Billy yet?

No. Dad hadn't seen his first grandchild and Mum Joy, and Billy was about six months old then. And Dad was ... Dad was nursing him and he'd grab the piece of wedding cake out of Dad's hand, started munching on it and smiled up and Dad and Dad was thinking he was going to choke ... [laughs] ... Oh dear ...

And your third child?

Dianne. Dianne Joyce are named after Mum Joy and after that song, of course. 'I'm in Heaven when I see you smile, smile for me my Diane.' Oh dear ... yes, she was born in Sydney, here. Because before I had D ... giving birth to Dianne, Sam and I had broken up. I was about three months pregnant.

And how did that happen?

Ah well ... I found out that he was running around on me. And everything that Dad was telling me about him was true and that actually happened back here in Sydney. We were staying with one of Dad's friends over in Waterloo, and I followed him one night and I found him with this other woman and I was pregnant ... with Dianne, about three months pregnant, and Bill and Pearl were only little toddlers, you know? And so I got in a taxi and took off over to Dad and told him, ‘I'm sorry for misbelieving what you were telling me all along. You were telling me the right thing.’ And that, that night he had me and the two kids on the train going to Ipswich and then over in Toowoomba to where cousin Shirley and Ritchie were, you know.

So by this stage, you'd actually ... since you'd left Bonalbo, you'd been doing a lot of moving around?

Oh yeah, yeah ... And I stayed with Shirley for a while, 'cause Mother Nell was dying. She was in the hospital in Toowoomba at that time and I ... Shirley was always pushing me to go ... to go to the movies with her boarder. He fancied me. And I told him straight, I said, I'm pregnant, you know, don't want to be ... become involved with it. Well, you're honest enough to tell me, just come along, let's go to the pictures. So I ended up with this fella, Gordan Campbell his name was.

Was he an Aboriginal?

No, he was a gubb. Blue-eyed, blond hair. And after a while, I come back to Sydney because ... with Gordan because we wanted to get work, and Dad got him a job and got us a flat in Great Buckingham Street, just up the street a bit from where Dad lived. As a matter of fact, I could look out the window every morning and see Dad and wave to him like that. And ... there.. and this was where I was then when I had Dianne. She was born at Crown Street and then who was ... who was more nervous was ... was Gordan walking up and down pacing with Dad. Because Dad was an old clucky hen too, you know. That kind of fella. But a big, surly, strong man, he very seldom smiled, you know. But he had crow's feet there and he liked to have a good giggle sometime, I know that. But he was real ... he gave this real stern, stern outlook, sort of thing. But he wasn't. I used to ... used to love to joke and get him going, torment him. I said ... one day I can remember back when I was working there, ‘Gee Dad, your face would stop a train, you know.’ Then he looked at me, real deadpan, and said ‘Mine might stop a train, my dear, but yours would make one run off the line’ and that's ... [laughs] ... he was that sort of person. But he was a loving father, you know.

What did he look like?

A real tall, tall man. About six two. And lovely dark hair, pure black hair. He used to always wear Brylcreem and we used to have a go at him about .... how come you've got no grey hair in your head, Dad? And he said, aw, and I use Brylcreem, he said, and when I wash my hair, he said, I never wash it with anything but Sunlight soap and cold water, he reckons. Wouldn't use hot water in his hair. And we used to josh him and sing that little ditty to him, you know, ‘Brylcreem, a little dab'll do ya’ ... [laughs] ... He was a loving father and he set up and got Gordan a job with him and then before long I was pregnant with a child to him. And that's Nob, and he was born at South Sydney Women's Hospital in Newtown. And that was on the 21st of the fifth, 21st of May 1955, when he was born. And he was the biggest baby I'd ever given birth to. He was one ounce off 10 pound. He looked like a month-old baby when he was born, and he was born sucking his fists. I'd always told him, even today, that he's always been hungry ... [laughs] ... Hungry for life, you know? Oh, dear me ...

Why was he called Nobby?

Nob. Well, in those days they had ... if they didn't tie a boy's ... especially a boy's cord, umbilical cord properly, it would sort of rupture and stick out. And the old remedy for this was put a piece of sticky ... cotton wool ... big piece of cotton wool and push it back in and then tape a penny over it with sticking plaster and it would grow back. So that's how he came to get the nickname of Nobby ... Nobs. Not Nobby. But it grew back in eventually because I did ... I did the bit with the penny and it did grow back in.

Now here you were, a young woman, just in her early 20s, already with a number of children. Did you sometimes wonder how you'd managed to acquire all the children?

I soon found out, didn't I? Oh yeah ...

Did you think at all ... were you given any information when you were in hospital having children about birth control. Did you think about it or wouldn't you have wanted to do that?

Oh, well, nothing was available, I don't think, at the time about birth control, well they never invented the Pill in my day, that's my excuse and I'm sticking to it.

But they didn't ... no-one sort of suggested to you when you ... available then ...

No. No.

So again, you weren’t ever given much information about it?

No. This was it.

Before we move on to talk a little bit about your life with Gordan, can I go back and ask you, with Sam Griffin, when you were with him, what was the relationship like? Did he offer you much support?

No, he was very slack, actually. I mean, if I could have seen how slack he would have been, or would have become, I would never have had anything to do with him. But he was never ever there. 00:13:39:14

Did he give you money to take care of the kids?

I'd have to argue, argue with him for money. He was forever going out and then just leaving the whole responsibility of the kids up to me. He was very, very unresponsible.

So where did you get your money from, to take care of them?

Oh, I worked! I worked.

Where at?

Ah ... Well, when I was in the bush, I worked bush work, fencing, tree lopping, ring barking, burning off, pegging roo skins — 10 pound a hundred I used to get for pegging them out. And it was a good thing it was close to the water because I stank like billy-o after. Because they were off, you know, they, these roo skins — well the shooters'd shoot the roos and their skins were kept in bags in a freezer and they were kept there for so many weeks before they got to you to peg them around. Yeah. It was on the nose sort of thing. Maybe that's the reason why I like so much perfume nowadays ... [laughs] ... But anyhow, that's what I did, you know. And ... when I was in the city I had the trade of machining ... you don't have machining trades out in the bush, in the scrub, so it was bush work, you know?

And did you survive alright on that?

Oh yeah.

What they ... did you ever have to go onto the pension? Did you ...

No. Not then, no.

Not when the kids were little?


You always made ends meet somehow ...

Oh, of course, I worked.

Where did you live?

When we were on the fence lines, lived in a tent on the fence lines ... on the ground. And with kids, with school and that, I used to teach them by correspondence courses. You know? Out in the bush. And one of the fence lines was a place where it had all these big gilgais ... you know what a gilgai is? It's a big hole in the ground and after it rains, it would fill up with lovely fresh water, you see, otherwise the homestead, the one, this property I'm talking about would be ... would be ... 15 miles away and the nearest town, 70. So to wash clothes and have clean kids those waterholes come in handy. Of course, you only had a 44-gallon drum filled with drinking water from the boss's station. And most times those drums were ... what they'd use for kerosene and stuff like that. And you still had the paint and smell of that in the drinking water. You had to boil it before you could use it, you know. But with these gilgais, they were lovely.

You had to drink water that tasted of kerosene?

Yeah! And put cordial or something in it to take the taste out of it, you know.

Was Gordan any better as a husband? Or as a mate?

He was a good worker, but he was a drunk. He drank. And he, he'd go away and leave me on the job like, you know, and be missing for days and days. And we'd have to carry on with the work no matter what. To get it done because you were contracting work, you know.

It was with Gordan that you went fencing ...

And Peter, too. That's the fella I married. The only marriage I did have was with Peter Langford. He was the fella that we were fencing with at one time, you know.

Now you camped ... did you always have a decent camp or did you sometimes have a makeshift ...

Makeshift bush camp?

How would you describe it, what your camp was like?

Well, we'd have a tent and that's mostly where I'd put, you know, the kids and the men would sleep in the cars or on a bedroll on the ground. The fire, the campfire and we'd have the stakes in to hold the billy and the cooking pots whatever. And all this stuff went with you, your whole camp oven, your cook pots when you travelled. You had a meat safe that you used to keep the meat in, and you'd get a sheep a week from the boss when you're working on these fence lines. He'd supply a sheep which you had to kill yourself and then you'd either bury the guts or the innards, or stick it up a hollow log or something, you know, because in the night time feral pigs ... oh the boys would be out with a spotlight because they can smell the kill and they'd come into camps. Many times I'd have to get up and shoot to frighten them off.

Did you ever help with the fencing?

Of course.

Did you work as hard as they did?

Bloody harder than them at times, what are you talking about? ... [laughs] ... And I held my hand up for more pay, too, just as good as they did. I could tie a number eight knot in a fence line as good as any man. And my kids used to do the marking. Matter of fact, Nob and Bill, being the two big boys, they used to do the mark ... they would mark from one post to the other and you'd have a restraining post every, every 10 chains. And on that ... the mark, and then we'd come along with the ram and look for the irons posts and then the steel posts. And put them in and then the restraining post which had ... you have to dig a big hole. Ah, we broke the record, me and Peter while Gordan was away on one of his binges. Three miles of fencing within three weeks. And that's pulling down the old boundary fence as well as erecting the new one. Not bad going, eh?

At the end of the day when you'd done all this fencing with these men, who'd cook the dinner?


So you could fence alongside them, but they didn't cook the dinner?

They wouldn't know how to cook a feed ... [laughs] ... In those days men thought they were just ... they didn't have to share the responsibility of doing all this stuff, you know. I mean, women have got it real easy today compared to back then. But we had ... like there's ... there were two dams on this property with the fencing lot that we were on, and one dam we'd use for the drinking water at this place, was okay it was a dam, see, good clean water, and the other one we'd use for bathing and washing ourselves. And you ... you dived in there to get cleaned up. You, you had the yabbies biting at your toes and your bum and whatever ... [laughs] ... you wouldn't stay in ... real quick you would give yourself a good wash and flying out again, yeah, but it was a good life, you know.

So what did you cook?

Oh ... The ... the meat. We used to have to corn the meat. I used to carry the coarse salt, you know, to corn the meat and ... in a barrel ... and then when it was cooked it was put in the meat safe. But usually I'd ... I'd make ... cook the chops and such like that. I don't know ... porcupine ... we used to get bush tucker. 00:20:50:02

Bush ... who taught you how to get bush tucker?

Uncle Ernie, didn't he? Long time ago.

Back there in the bush ...

Living in the bush. Catch a porcupine ... [interruption] ... Yeah. Kill the porcupine by hittin' him on the head.

How do you cook a porcupine?

Well, wait, I'll tell you. You cut his throat open, they got two curdles in there and this is where all the ... the ants, the whole flavour of the ants, goes into these things, you know? It's like a gallbladder thing. What's in its throat. And when you take that out it ... because if you cook it with those in there it'll still have the flavour of ants and to get the quills off, a lot of the old people used to just burn them off. Because they'd burn over the fire, you know. Until they'd burn right down to this end, but the best way is boiling water and cold water and then get the tommy axe and knock them off and they'd all come out and it's just clean. It comes up just like pork.

Is that what it tastes like?

And bake it, stuff, stuff it up ... after you've taken the innards out and fill it up with some seasoning, breadcrumbs and stuff, bake it in the camp oven. And yabbies, curried the yabbies. Rice. We used to eat good. For sweets, doughboys and syrup, cockies’ joy. Oh ...

How did you make the doughboys?

Just with the flour and water and a bit of butter and then roll them up and put them in boiling water and then syrup over the top of them. It was dessert. We had chocolate cake in the ashes, too, I did.

In the ashes of an open fire?

Yeah ...

How do you make a chocolate cake in the ashes of an open fire?

Well, you know, all those years ago when they used to do the Christmas cakes in ... in beautiful tin? You'd get that and line it with greased paper, brown paper on the bottom and all round the sides, put the paper in and make the mixture for the cake and put it in, then put more brown paper over the top and then the lid. Put it down and get a shovel and get the hot ash, not with all big coals unless they're ash, over the top about 20 minutes and take it out. Pull all the brown paper off it, make your icing sugar and mix it up. COME AND GET IT! ... [laughs] ...

Did it last long?

No. You get a craving for things like sweets like that because you had no access to fresh fruit and stuff like that when you're out in the bush and was roughing it, you know? But it was a good life. And it was a healthy life.

During the time that your kids were little, you spent some of the time in the bush, and some of the time in the city — which did you prefer?

Well, I liked the city where you didn't have to cart water and you could. ... you could just get water out of the tap and make a nice cordial and stuff like that, you know. And you didn't ... and washing machines for washing clothes and things like that or laundromats whatever ... But out in the bush it was another ... another thing. You had to do that. Not only that, for entertainment-wise, too, you know? If you had a radio out in the bush you had to have batteries for it and stuff, and you've got all those conveniences like that in the city and nothing out there. It was a very lonely sort of life in a way, because when the kids would go to sleep and they'd ... you'd have time to sit and have a bit of reflect about the day's work, then you were off to sleep yourself because the next day was up and you had to, we go on again. You know what I mean? And you were up, as we'd say then, sparrow fart, which means daylight in the morning ... [laughs] ... You know? Yeah ...

Did you ever, with all this hard work, did you ever get ahead financially?

Never got ahead financially. What you see in this little room of mine is 61 years, nearly 62 years of living. It's what I got to show for it. Quite a bit of valuable artwork, but it's enough for me to get by among ... never had any high designs for money. Money ... money does not buy you nothing. 00:25:01:19

But when the kids were little ... and you worked so hard ...

Yeah, yeah ...

... did you ever find then that you had a little bit behind you, to be able to take care of a rainy day?

I wished I had, but I never ever did have. Because you was always robbing Peter to pay Paul, there was always some debt. That come up, you know.

Did you incur the debts or did the men?

Oh, the things I needed for the kids, well, I'd buy them out of the fencing stuff, you know. Their clothing and such, but I used to make a lot of their clothing by hand, too, when I had a spare moment. I used to do so much sewing by hand that I used to have no thimble and I'd have all holes in my finger from where the needle'd go. I used to make their dresses for Christmas and such like that, you know? Because I was a seamstress and I could do these things but as far as other things that had to be bought like shoes and stuff like that, had to ... we just made do. We'd go to an op shop when you went into town and stuff like that, you know. But there was always, always a way to ... how can I put it? To get around things. You had to be a little bit ingenious in your way of thinking, but where there was a will there was a way. And you just never let it beat you. You know?

How did things end with Gordan?

Ah, well, I had two more children with Gordan. The second son, David, was born and by this time we were back in Coonabarabran. Four of my children were born in Coonabarabran. It was three miles out on the Purlewaugh Road going to the Warrumbungles at a farmhouse there. And lived in a bush camp there. But he used to be a tractor driver so he was away sowing wheat and that in Gunnedah so there was only just me and the kids in the camp. And old blue dog, you know. And when I was back there, of course, I connected up with Mum Rube again, and when I was pregnant on the way with Dave, lucky for me they came out and said, it's going to rain soon and you’re going to be stuck out here, time for you to come and take the kids, and they took the other kids while I went and had David.

So your first bloke's mum stuck by you?

Yeah, oh yeah. And I don't know what I would have done without her help, you know, she was a lovely old woman. And ... then I had Aileen, and Aileen was born in Coonabarabran, too. So there's only 12 months between the birthing of each one of my first six children. You see.

So how did you manage with six children in ...

Don't know ... some good spirit up there likes me, I'm telling you ,he's watching over me, I really don't know how I made it through. You know?

Often on your own.

Mostly on my own. Because the ... all I ever wanted was a working man and all I ever got was the bums. And my kids say to me, ‘Don't talk about our fathers just like that, Mum.’ I say, ‘Well, they were’ ... [laughs] ... But you know, I mean, my kids have been the mainstay of my life because where are their fathers? They're gone, but I still have my children. Still have their love and respect, you know. They always say.. and they even send me Father's Day cards. So how's them apples? ... [laughs] ...

So what brought it to an end with Gordan?

Well, the drinking. And just ... he just went ... he was drinking. He was a good worker, a solid worker, he'd come from a good family, too, his family came [from] Moree and they were property owners. You know? Yeah. And just, he just went away drinking and just never came back. So my mainstay was old Chub, Peter Langford, and I ended up with him.

So he ... you'd got to know him because he was Gordan's fencing mate?

Yeah ...

And he stuck by you?


What was he like with the kids?

Oh, he was a larrikin. He was good with the kids. Used to be dancing around, singing, what was that song, Tutti Frutti, what a rooty, dance around, the kids used to sit up, they'd clap him and watch him dance with his old baggy work shorts and that on, you know? Not a bad fella, old Chub, he was a good worker too, you know? But that went down the drain too. I had two children to him, Ellen and Pauline.

Did you stick with him the whole time after Gordan left, or did you have another go with Gordan?

No. Oh, I was with Chub for a while, I got him to take me home to Bonalbo when Gordan was still away been drinking, but Gordan came back, crying and sobbing, to Bonalbo, and this was when I'd already taken up with Chub, see? And I was pregnant to Chub, but didn't know it at the time, and went back to Gordan, because they had a fencing job to go to. This was this one I'm talking about, just talking about, at Thomby station in Queensland. And, that didn't last long, as I said, because he just took off and that was it. You know. So Chub was always there. He was good in that respect. 00:30:24:13

So how long did it last with Peter?

Long enough to bless me with those two kids and when I was pregnant with Pauline, he left me on that Gunnedah Hill in an old leaky tent while he came back to Sydney to find work, and he never came back either. But there was a fly in that ointment because his father, old Jim Langford, didn't approve of me because I was a woman that had children to other men, didn't approve of Chub marrying me. But we did marry, you know, it was my only legal name change ever.

Was he Koori or gubb?

No, he was gubb. So I know what it's like both sides of the fence, you see. I had an inside view of both sides. Yeah.

And how was the difference between both sides?

Actually, they're both on an even power, I think. Both, both all dickheads as far as I can see. You know. Oh, well they all had ... I can't say that ... that everything was bad about them, you know. Each one of them had some special quality about 'em, that I saw that was nice, you know. And I thought that that would suffice, but it didn't. You know? I mean, Peter was a happy-go-lucky fella and wouldn't let anything beat him down, Gordan was the drunk and drank, I don't know why he drank but he did drink, you know, and Sam was just non compos mentis most of the time because Sam looked after Sam and nobody else. You know. You find these things out, so it was a hard lesson that I had to learn. You know.

How did you come to tie the legal knot?

Well, we came back to Sydney from St George in Queensland, when I found out that my father died. We were on a camp outside of ... after the fencing had finished in St George in Queensland, and word got ... Sam Griffin came there, if you believe it, from on a ring barking track from Moree to St George. And he drove into the camp with these people in a truck, you know, they were coming to pick up more men to go ring barking. And he saw us there and he come over and said, ‘I'm sorry to hear about your father,’ and I nearly fell dead on the spot because they'd been trying to reach me when I was on that fence line, 15 miles away from the homestead and 70 miles from the nearest town, that my father died. And so nobody in the township knew me because we were way out on the fence lines. And all the police reports and everything, they'd never found me because they didn't know I was there. So it was two months after he died that I came back to Sydney. Me and Chub and the kids, see. Come, caught the train at Mungindi, sold the car and everything so that we could get back here. And that's how we ended up back in Phillips Street, Alexandria, which is where my father and Mum Joy lived at the time, you know. And we stayed with Mum Joy there for a while. And I was going to have to ... we busted up through our problems, and he had a sister there in Sydney that lived in Great Buckingham Street, same old place again, so he went and stayed with her and I stayed with Mum Joy. It was only a two, two bedroom little place. Two bedrooms upstairs and a lounge-dining room and kitchen and laundry and bath out the back. And I was going to have to do something, I was, you know, I was going to have to put my children in the homes so that I could go to work for 'em, back to machining. And the night before this happened, I cried myself to sleep in the bedroom. Mum Joy took the two boys out of their room, Dennis and Kev, in with her and let me have this room for me and my kids, see. And in the middle of the night with me crying and wailing to myself that I was going to have to ... I had all this arranged, they were coming to take the kids in a couple of days.

Why did you do that instead of leaving them with Mum Joy to mind?

Mum Joy was in enough agony over my father, I didn't want to put my problems onto her. She got two kids of her own to look after, Kevin and Den, my two young brothers to Dad, you know? They were only about 11 and 12. So I'd arranged this with the church people, to take the kids and I'd pay for them while working, so go back to machining, and I was crying and sobbing, having to give my kids up, and all of a sudden, Dad's spirit was there, through the door open and it was padlocked, Fsssssss ... the wind came howling and I could feel Dad's presence right beside me and I could feel him pat me, and all I could say was, ‘Dad,’ and I went sound asleep ... I woke up the next morning ... it was him, reassuring me, telling me that everything would be all right. And next morning, guess who was there? Mr Langford, saying. ‘Get dressed quick, I gotta take you somewhere, put your prettiest dress on, we got to go somewhere’ and rushed me in his sister's car up to Newtown there, and stood me in front of a ... a jewellery shop and said, ‘Pick out which ring you want, we're getting married.’ How romantic. And my problems ... I don't have to give my kids away. Woo!! You know what I mean? So I married him, and he loved the kids too, there, you know. It made no difference to him.

[end of tape]

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