The Yield by Wiradjuri author Tara June Winch earned its place on the Miles Franklin Longlist for 2020. The finalist will be announced on 16 July. The author’s first novel, Swallow the Air, won numerous literary awards.
Last weekend, many Australians attended Black Lives Matter protests. I chose instead to immerse myself in this beautifully written and rewarding book about Aboriginal people.
The Yield is set mostly on the fringe of a fictitious area called Massacre Plains, on the river Murrumby River in New South Wales, formerly the site of a Lutheran mission. The front piece mud-map of the area also shows Poisoned Waterhole Creek.
It could be set almost anywhere in Australia. The history of Aboriginal people repeats itself and shapes relationships between Aborigines and colonisers.
But this hopeful book celebrates the past, present and what will come. As the back blurb says, it powerfully reclaims Indigenous language, storytelling and identity.
Structure of The Yield
At first glance, the structure of The Yield appears somewhat complicated structure. However, the three intertwined points of view or stories soon begin to resonate. Together, they create a deeply satisfying whole.
In the contemporary story, the protagonist, August Gondiwindi, returns to her family at Prosperous House for the funeral of her grandfather, Albert. She delights her grandmother, Elsie and aunties. Her mother is in prison. Her sister disappeared without trace years previously.
This plot begins in a similar way to that of Melissa Lucashenko’s brilliant novel, Too Much Lip. (See my review here.) The two plots also share much in common. But the similarities between the novels end there.
Albert ‘Poppy’ Gondiwindi, grew up on the Lutheran mission established on the site of the contemporary story. But, he says,
… I wasn’t just a second-rate man raised on white flower and Christianity. It was my wife, Elsie, who brought me the first dictionary. I think she knew she was planting a seed, germinating something inside me when she did that.
Inspired by the dictionary, he remembers ‘All the words I found on the wind.‘ He creates a different type of dictionary of the language of his country with Aboriginal words and his explanation in English. Tara June Winch explains in her ‘Author’s Note’ that the novel contains the language of the Wiradjuri people.
The title, The Yield, comes from Albert’s writing.
The dictionary, and the world through Albert’s eyes, form part of the structure of the novel.
Finally, we read a different history of the mission from that remembered by Albert and Elsie. The long-term German-born and Australian-raised pastor writes in 1915 of the things he has witnessed ‘on these dark plains’ since his arrival.
Things I loved about The Yield
I enjoyed The Yield from beginning to end, but a few things stand out.
- The beauty and gentleness of the language.
- Sensory images.
- Tara June Winch’s compassionate tone which she extends to blacks and whites.
- The way in which three stories meld with August’s memories and back stories.
- The pace of the plot and the excitement of the climax.
- Characterisation which made me care deeply about the people in the story.
This is the third review I’ve written of books on the Miles Franklin Longlist for this year. Each time, I find my self hoping that this will be the winner.
This novel expanded and deepened my understanding of Australian Aboriginal history.
If you are looking for a new way to think about Aboriginal people and their histories, The Yield might be the book you’ve been looking for. The themes are enormous, but the story intimate and engaging.
This review forms part of my response to the Australian Women Writers’ Challenge, 2020.