By Tara June WinchFictionPenguin Random House

The Yield

Just tell the truth and someone will hear it eventually.

The yield in English is the reaping, the things that man can take from the land. In the language of the Wiradjuri yield is the things you give to, the movement, the space between things: baayanha.

Knowing that he will soon die, Albert ‘Poppy’ Gondiwindi takes pen to paper. His life has been spent on the banks of the Murrumby River at Prosperous House, on Massacre Plains. Albert is determined to pass on the language of his people and everything that was ever remembered. He finds the words on the wind.

August Gondiwindi has been living on the other side of the world for ten years when she learns of her grandfather’s death. She returns home for his burial, wracked with grief and burdened with all she tried to leave behind. Her homecoming is bittersweet as she confronts the love of her kin and news that Prosperous is to be repossessed by a mining company. Determined to make amends she endeavours to save their land – a quest that leads her to the voice of her grandfather and into the past, the stories of her people, the secrets of the river.

Profoundly moving and exquisitely written, Tara June Winch’s The Yield is the story of a people and a culture dispossessed. But it is as much a celebration of what was and what endures, and a powerful reclaiming of Indigenous language, storytelling and identity.

Portrait of Tara June Winch

Tara June Winch

Tara June Winch is a Wiradjuri author, born in Australia in 1983 and based in France. Her first novel, Swallow the Air, was critically acclaimed. She was named a Sydney Morning Herald Best Young Australian Novelist, and has won numerous literary awards for Swallow the Air. A 10th Anniversary edition was published in 2016.

In 2008, Tara was mentored by Nobel Prize winner Wole Soyinka as part of the prestigious Rolex Mentor and Protégé Arts Initiative.

Her second book, the story collection After the Carnage was published in 2016. After the Carnage was longlisted for the Victorian Premier’s Literary Award for fiction, shortlisted for the 2017 NSW Premier’s Christina Stead prize for Fiction and the Queensland Literary Award for a collection.

She wrote the Indigenous dance documentary, Carriberrie, which screened at the 71st Cannes Film Festival and is touring internationally.

Judges’ report

Albert ‘Poppy’ Goondiwindi has been writing a dictionary that goes beyond the simple defining of Wiradjuri words. Through his writing he tells his story, his family’s story, and, underneath it all, underscores the bittersweet importance of language, and the tragedy of loss – of people, of cultural artefacts, and of history. In The Yield, Tara June Winch conveys evocatively that language must be lived, that you have to be able to feel and taste it.

Interwoven with Poppy’s voice are others, which together give a powerful account of dispossession. There is August, Poppy’s granddaughter, who returns home following his death. And then there are letters from the past, tracking the violent history that still echoes for those in the present.

Through these three linked narratives, The Yield charts intergenerational trauma and explores the effects of colonisation on an individual’s culture, rights and sense of self. Winch’s weaving together of different voices culminates in a book rich with language and a strong message about the intersection between history and the present.

Extract

I was born on Ngurambang – can you hear it? – Ngu–ram–bang. If you say it right it hits the back of your mouth and you should taste blood in your words. Every person around should learn the word for country in the old language, the first language – because that is the way to all time, to time travel! You can go all the way back.

My daddy was Buddy Gondiwindi and he died a young man by the hands of a bygone disease. My mother was Augustine and she died an old woman by the grip of, well, it was an Old World disease too.

Yet nothing ever really dies, instead it all goes beneath your feet, beside you, part of you. Look there – grass on the side of the road, tree bending in the wind, fish in the river, fish on your plate, fish feeding you. Nothing is ever gone. Soon, when I change, I won’t be dead. I always memorised John 11:26 Whoever lives and believes in me shall never die, yet life rushed through and past me as it will for each person.

Before I believed everything they taught me I thought when all were dead that all were gone, and so as a young fella I tried to find my place in this short life. I only wanted to decide for myself how I’d live it, but that was a big ask in a country that had a plan for me, already mapped in my veins since before I was born.

The one thing I thought I could control was my own head. It seemed the most sensible thing to do was to learn to read well. So in a country where we weren’t really allowed to be, I decided to be. To get water from the stones, you see?

After I met my beautiful wife, although beauty was the least of her, strong and fearless was the most of her – well she taught me lots of things. Big thing, best thing she taught me was to learn to write the words too, taught me I wasn’t just a second-rate man raised on white flour and Christianity. It was my wife, Elsie, who bought me the first dictionary. I think she knew she was planting a seed, germinating something inside me when she did that. What a companion the dictionary is – there are stories in that book that’ll knock your boots off. To this day it remains my prized possession and I wouldn’t trade it for all the tea in China.

The dictionary from Elsie is why I’m writing it down – it was my introduction to the idea of recording, written just like the Reverend once wrote the births and baptisms at the Mission, like the station manager wrote rations at the Station and just like the ma’ams and masters wrote our good behaviour at the Boys’ Home – a list of words any fool can look up and be told the meaning. A dictionary, even if this language isn’t mine alone, even it’s something we grow into and then living long enough, shrink away from. I am writing because the spirits are urging me to remember, and because the town needs to know that I remember, they need to know now more than ever before.

To begin – but there are too many beginnings for us Gondiwindi – that’s what we were bestowed and cursed with by the same shifty magic – an eternal Once upon a time. The story goes that the church brought time to us, and the church, if you let it, will take it away. I’m writing about the other time, though, time infinite. This is a big, big story. The big stuff goes forever, time ropes and loops and is never straight, that’s the real story of time.

The problem now facing my own Once upon a time is that Doctor Shah from the High Street Surgery has recently given me a filthy bill of health – cancer of the pancreas – which is me done and dusted.

So, because they say it is urgent, because I’ve got the church time against me – I’m taking pen to paper to pass on everything that was ever remembered.

All the words I found on the wind.

The Victorian Premier’s Literary Awards shortlist