The Yield, by Tara June Winch

Yield is one of the first words in one of the documents—a dictionary and family history written by Albert Gondiwindi—that comprises The Yield, by Tara June Winch. The word “yield” has different meanings in English. In one sense, to yield means to surrender, to give way. In another sense, a yield is something that the land gives up when a field is harvested. I puzzled over the relationship between these meanings as I read about the long history of the Gondiwindi family, from the late nineteenth century to the present, when August Gondiwindi returns from abroad for Albert’s funeral and discovers that her family’s home and land might get snatched out from under them again.

Australia has a long, troubled history with the Aboriginal Australians and Torres Islanders—one that is very similar to the treatment of indigenous people by white Americans and Canadians. First, their land was stolen. Next, men and boys were taken for labor and their women sexually abused. In the twentieth century, children were taken from their families to schools where they were abused and all ties to their cultures were cut. These children are now called the Stolen Generations or Stolen Children. Although Aboriginal people and Torres Islanders have won back some rights in recent decades, racism is still endemic in places. All of this history is visible in the three narratives that make up The Yield. In addition to being beautifully written, this novel is one of the best and most accessible introductions to Aboriginal history I’ve ever read.

The first narrator in The Yield, Albert Gondiwindi, is one of the Stolen Children who devoted his life to recapturing the history, language, and survival techniques of his people. (The author’s note explains that the words that make up Albert’s dictionary are from the Wiradjuri language.) His definitions are mixed up with scenes from his life, from his childhood right through to his old age. Even though Albert has lost a lot of his heritage, the words help him reconnect with his ancestors. The second narrator, also introduced through a document, is Reverend Ferdinand Greenleaf. Greenleaf founded a mission on Gondiwindi land in the 1880s out of a sense of compassion for the Aboriginal people he saw constantly discriminated against, hurt, and even killed by white settlers. Greenleaf wrote a long letter during World War I that reflected back on his years at the Prosperous Mission. Greenleaf’s letter provides even more historical context for the story for the third narrator, Albert’s granddaughter August.

The brolga plays a small, critical role in The Yield. (Image via Wikicommons)

August returns to Prosperous after 10 years in England. When she was a teenager, August ran away from everything she knew to get away from memories of abuse and, most of all, the abduction of her older sister. She’s only back in Australia because her grandfather has passed away. August plans to leave right after the funeral but, on her arrival, she learns that her grandmother is being evicted. The land is going to be torn up for an open pit tin mine. The Gondiwindi had their land stolen more than a century ago. The white people who “owned” the land afterwards only had a 99-year lease. Because so much of their heritage has been lost or forgotten, the family has no way to stop the mining company that will destroy their ancestral land. Or do they?

I enjoyed reading The Yield immensely. I really can’t praise this book highly enough. From the dictionary and Greenleaf’s letter, to the Aboriginal knowledge of Australia’s flora and fauna, and Albert’s time-traveling with his deceased ancestors, to August’s struggles between remembering the traumas of her past and her determination to take back what belongs to her family—I loved it all. Everyone who’s ever been curious about Australia beyond tales of exiled convicts and the exotic locale should read this book.

I received a free copy of this book from the publisher via Edelweiss for review consideration.

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