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The Yield by Tara June Winch

May 1, 2020

A Line of Brolgas (Photo by Ann Alcock)

Tara June Winch is a masterful storyteller. In The Yield, she skilfully balances three narrative threads:

  • Albert Gondiwindi lives on country which had been stolen from his ancestors. As an old man, he was, before his death, compiling a Wiradjuri language dictionary;
  • Albert’s granddaughter August, has been overseas for ten years and has now returned home for Albert’s funeral;
  • Reverend Greenleaf, a German missionary, established Prosperous Mission, near the town of Massacre Plains, in the 1800s. (Albert lived in what was once the Mission house.)

Winch interweaves the three strands so that the reader sometimes knows more than the characters and sometimes less, which adds to suspense.

Albert and his Dictionary

Culture is borne on the wings of language. Albert is determined to recover his people’s language. He begins writing a dictionary “because the spirits are urging me to remember.”

Tara June Winch

Tara June Winch

At Adelaide Writers Week, Winch described her struggle with the rules of literature: can a dictionary be part of a novel? Her approach shows that it can. Albert tells stories to illustrate the meanings of words, stories from Gondiwindi history, culture, environment and his own family. Some of his stories reveal critical plot details.

Here’s an example from Albert’s dictionary, referring to the looming destruction of Gondiwindi country by a tin-mining company:

underneath the earth – Ngunhadar-guwur What’s down there? Why those mining mob want to rip it all out and then it belongs to them? I think all those shiny things ngunhadar-guwur shouldn’t belong to anyone, only our mother. It’s strange, isn’t it? That word, fortunes. I think we don’t have that word at all.

The Missionary

The paternalistic Reverend Greenleaf treated First Nations peoples as children, but he did try to protect them from the cruelty of white people who violently enslaved both adults and children. When August finally reads Greenleaf’s story, she imagines him “trying to protect those ancestors at the same time as punishing them.”

The Main Protagonist – August

August had fled overseas in a futile attempt to escape her own trauma.  Now she is home for the funeral, and feeling “like my whole life I haven’t really been me.”

With the unscheduled appearance of dancing brolgas at Albert’s farewell, the emotional intensity ramps up.

With her hands flat on the dry dirt and her eyes blinded with tears, she felt as if she was back home, back on the land she belonged to. At the same time, she thought this was the saddest place on earth.

From this point, halfway through the novel, it is almost impossible to stop reading, as August discovers how much she cares about her family and her country. She searches for Albert’s dictionary and joins other family members in a desperate last-minute attempt to gather evidence for a native title claim and stop the mining company. Seldom am I affected by a fictional character as much as I was by August.

The Yield is a passionate cry for the preservation of First Nation languages, which communicate what English fails to say and carry the evidence of advanced civilisations before the invasion.

Tara June Winch took ten years to write The Yield. At Adelaide Writers Week, she said she felt like a plasterer who has learnt to build a whole house.

What a beautiful house she has built.

[Note: Whispering Gums has a thoughtful review of  The Yield here]




One Comment leave one →
  1. dustbunnies436 permalink
    May 1, 2020 7:16 pm

    Thoroughly enjoyed this book.

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