The Yield by Tara June Winch

yield, bend the feet, tread, as in walking, also long, tall – baayanha Yield itself is a funny word – yield in English is the reaping, the things that man can take from land, the things he’s waited for and gets to claim. A wheat yield. In my language it’s the things you give to, the movement, the space between things. It’s also the action made by Baiame, because sorrow, old age and pain bend and yield. The bodies of the ones that had passed were buried with every joint bent, even if the bones had to be broken. I think it was a bend in humiliation, just like we bend at our knees and bow our heads. Bend, yield – baayanha.

Review

Indigenous Literature Aboriginal Australia

Though it took a little while to fall into the rhythm of the book, once I did and realised what it was doing, preserving a language and sharing a culture, while telling the story of one who returns, having been separated from it through travel (and a non-inclusive education), I thought it was brilliant.

The Wiradjuri Aboriginal people, of which the author is a descendant, are a people and a culture that have been dispossessed, yet in some respects and from an alternate perspective, can also be said to have thrived despite the setback of colonialization.

The Yield is an acknowledgement of what was, a perspective on what it is to straddle dual cultures and a powerful reclaiming of Indigenous language, storytelling and cultural identity, one that will endure.

Known as the people of the three rivers, Wiradjuri people have inhabited modern-day New South Wales, Australia for more than 60,000 years. At the time of European colonization, there were an estimated 3,000 Wiradjuri living in the region, representing the largest cultural footprint in the state.

A Triple Narrative, Of Voice, Time and Style

The story is told through three voices, in three narrative styles, across three time periods, that I have come to think of metaphorically as the past, present and future of Aboriginal culture.

The Future, reclaiming one’s culture

Brolga, Australian Crane, Photo by Luke Shelley

The first person narrative is the voice of Albert (Poppy), the grandfather of the fictional Gondiwindi family. He is no longer living when we read his granddaughter August’s account of her return from England to Australia, he is the reason she returns, for his funeral.

He has written down important words that populate and are interspersed throughout the entire novel, the mystery of them revealed as the narrative moves forward.

English changed their tongues, the formation of their minds, August thought – she’d drifted in and out of herself all that time. The language was the poem she had looked for, communicating what English failed to say. Her poppy used to say the words were paramount. That they were like icebergs floating, melting, that there were ocean depths to them that they couldn’t have talked about.

Nothing like your average dictionary, Poppy’s entries are an accessible rendering of words in his indigenous language, his descriptions or meanings are anecdotal stories of an oral tradition, ensuring we understand. More than mere words, they preserve a culture, they are evidence of a civilisation. They are the future, a key to the longevity and respect of his people’s lineage.

ashamed, have shame – giyal-dhuray I’m done with this word. I’d leave it out completely but I can’t. It’s become part of the dictionary we think we should carry. We mustn’t anymore. See, pain travels through our family tree like a songline. We’ve been singing our pain into a solid thing. The old ones, the young ones too, are ready to heal. We don’t have to be giyal-dhuray anymore, we don’t have to pass that down to anyone.

The Present, a return to one’s culture

The Yield Tara June Winch Wiradjuri

Photo by Catarina Sousa on Pexels.com

The second person narrative is the present day account of August’s return, of her discovery that her grandmother Elsie is being forced to leave the family property because of a mining company claim and the way it has been presented to them, is as if they have no right to or compensation for the land or buildings.

Elsie isn’t prepared to fight, but August becomes aware of her grandfather’s project, of what is required to potentially save the land and reinstate their existence. It is a time of reckoning as she allows events of the past to rise, and rather than run from them, can make amends.

There is also the presence of outsiders, activists on the hill, ready to intervene if necessary. These people are something of an enigma to August and her family. In challenging one of them, she highlights that aspect of humanity – that there is always someone whose call is to agitate and prick the social conscious of the other, that it’s often not those to whom the injustice is being done.  When Mandy warns August to be careful and to conceal herself, she tells her she’s nobody anyway.

“You are somebody. But these days we can’t do anything as somebody, we can only do something as nobody. The nobody of everybody.”

August thought for a moment. “I don’t get it.”

“When something is important enough that it’s personal to everyone,” Mandy added.

The Past, overriding one culture with another

old handwritten letters

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

A third epistolary narrative, is a series of letters written by a British/German Reverend Ferdinand Greenleaf who lived in the area in the late 1800’s and wrote an account of his attempt to build a mission. His few letters are spread across the novel, recording his intentions, his observations and his responses to all that he witnessed.

It is here we read of the past treatment of people, the struggles, the behaviours, the results, the small successes, the failures and the reminder that anyone can become a future victim when the allegiances of a nation turn.

respect – yindyamarra I think I’ve come to realise that with some things, you cannot receive them unless you give them too. Unless you’ve even got the opportunity to give and receive. Only equals can share respect, otherwise it’s a game of masters and slaves – someone always has the upper hand when they are demanding respect. But yindyamarra is another thing too, it’s a way of life – a life of kindness, gentleness, and respect at once. That seems like a good thing to share, our yindyamarra.

The Many Ways to Preserve a Cultural Heritage

The entire novel is a monumental endeavour, encompassing as it does, this one language of the hundreds that existed and have either become extinct, or are under threat of becoming so.

The way the words and language create a bridge of understanding of a way of life and thinking is indeed a celebration. The thought of one man spending his latter years in pursuit of this, of sharing all that he knew, so he could pass it on, in the way of the coloniser – using the written word and not the oral stories of the past that risk dying out – is remarkable and uplifting.

It’s Never to Late to Be An Inspiration

One of the inspirations for the book was the work of Wiradjuri elder Mr Stan Grant Senior, whose contribution has since earned him an honory doctorate for his life’s work to reclaim the Wiradjuri language.

With an anthropologist, John Rudder, Mr. Grant has breathed new life into the language. They worked together on a revision of a long-neglected Wiradjuri dictionary, “A New Wiradjuri Dictionary,” almost 600 pages in length, as well as a collection of small grammar books. – extract, New York Times

I love that stories like this are being written, helping to preserve a much wronged culture and people, and that a new generation of writers are using literature to further develop empathy and understanding.

Highly Recommended, a future classic!

“I was told when you revive a lost language, you give it back to all mankind,” he said, sitting in his kitchen, not far from where the kingfishers darted across the Murrumbidgee.

“We were a nothing people for a long time. And it is a big movement now, learning Wiradjuri. I’ve done all that work. I’ve done all I can.” Stan Grant Sr

About the Author, 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. The novel has been on the HSC syllabus for Standard and Advanced English since 2009 and a 10th-anniversary edition was published in 2016.

In 2008, she won a prestigious mentoring scheme and was mentored by Nobel Prize winner Wole Soyinka who introduced her to a whole new world of reading; for the first time, she began making links between Greek tragedies, biblical myth and Indigenous dreaming stories.

There’s a wonderful video interview of the two of them in Nigeria available online.

Soyinka chose Winch to be his protégée because of her “sure hand [and] observant eye”.

The Yield, was first published in 2019, to commercial and critical success and took out four prizes including Book of the Year at the NSW Premier’s Literary Awards, the Miles Franklin Literary Award, the Voss Prize, and the Prime Minister’s Literary Award. It was shortlisted for The Stella Prize.

Further Reading

The Guardian Interview: I had to be manic’: Tara June Winch on her unmissable new novel – and surviving Andrew Bolt by Sian Cain

Article New York Times: An Heir to a Tribe’s Culture Ensures Its Language Is Not Forgotten by Michelle Innis

ABC News: January 26 is a reminder that Australia still hasn’t reckoned with its original sin by Stan Grant, 27 Jan 2021

N.B. Thank you to Harper Via, an imprint of Harper Collins dedicated to publishing extraordinary international voices for an ARC (advance reader copy) provided via Netgalley.

Purchase A Copy at an Independent BookStore (US)

Purchase A Copy at an Independent BookStore (UK)

Salt Creek by Lucy Treloar

Salt Creek is a powerful and riveting account of a family struggling to make a living in the harsh environment of coastal South Australia, depicting the pioneering patriarchal entrepreneur and his devoted but long-suffering wife, and the children that will grow up with both an attachment to the place and an instinct to escape it. This story gets inside you and makes you feel the struggle and the dilemma, and wish that it could have been different.

We meet Hester Finch, in Chichester, England in 1874 where she lives as a widow with her son Joss, in the house where her mother spent her childhood, remembered from the stories her mother used to tell, in a place so far from this new reality, of that life in Salt Creek, South Australia.

Hester takes us back to her childhood in the Coorong, narrating the family story throughout the period she lived with them at Salt Creek from 1855 to 1862. Her father was an entrepreneurial businessman, who could never settle to one thing, without always having his eye on the next great idea, the thing that was going to make him rich, a success. For a while the family had lived in Adelaide, while he ran a successful dairying business, but not content to stick with that he would borrow against the things that seemed solid to invest in the next thing. He’d bought land at Salt Creek, but the sheep he’d hoped to farm were lost at sea while being transported, causing the entire family to be uprooted as the family home required selling to pay the debts.

The family find themselves leaving their grandparents, friends and familiar town environment behind to live on an isolated peninsula in rural South Australia. They must rely on each for company, schooling and help their parents out to run the farm and household.

Hester’s mother becomes melancholy and withdrawn from the moment she views her future home, requiring Hester to have to step into a more encompassing role than just that of eldest daughter. To add to her woes, their mother whose youngest Mary is only three years old, discovers she is again with child, and the nearest neighbour not company she can bring herself to indulge.

Mrs Robinson was no comfort to her and never would be; she was the measure for Mama of how far she had fallen.

The family discover indigenous Ngarrindjeri people camping not far from their property, and become interested in a boy named Tully, who is able to speak a little English and seems keen to learn more. Slowly he slips into their lives, though without ever letting go of his ways, his disappearances, his unassuming manner, his sharing of old knowledge about which trees can and shouldn’t be cut, which ducks to avoid, much of it disregarded particularly by the two eldest sons and the father as superstitions to be ignored.

“Do you know what that boy told me today? That we shouldn’t have chopped that tree down and then showed me which ones we should use, can you believe it? Didn’t have all the words but did very well making his thoughts known. I told him we would use the wood that we saw fit since it was ours, not his, and did not trouble to conceal my feelings.”

 

Although the father believes himself to have an enlightened view, that all men are created equal and seen by the Divine as being equal, his beliefs are challenged when it comes to his own family, both in the example he sets for his son (in relation to indigenous women) and the restrictions he places on his daughters (including his desire to use matrimony as business negotiating device).

It is the younger siblings who grow into and live his more open minded view, and who will force to the surface his deep conditioning, which is unable to embrace those beliefs at all. Hester recalls the first day they set eyes on indigenous people and is filled with remorse:

When I think of what they became to us and how long I have been thinking of them I would like to return to that day and stop the dray and shout at our ghostly memories and the natives: ‘I am sorry. I am sorry for what is to come.’

While the older boys rebel by going off to try their luck in the goldfields, the younger sibling Fred stands his ground and resists his fathers efforts to use him as a form of payment, he spends a lot of time drawing plants in his notebook and is fascinated by the work of Charles Darwin.

“Watching Fred, I began to wonder if it was something other than interest and curiosity alone that drove his actions. He was so purposeful in what he did. Self doubt did not occur to him; he was able to look only at the thing, the task before him. I wished that I could do the same. My own self was mysterious to me. Oh, I knew what I did, but other than that I was invisible to myself…I did not know or see the difference that I made, the space I occupied in this world.”

Hester stays and stays, witness to all that occurs, as the challenges of Salt Creek and the rigid attitude of their father begin to wear everyone down. Hester is warned more than once, that she should not hesitate should there be an opportunity for her to escape. Mrs Robinson comments ‘Hard for girls like you’ to Hester and when questioned why, tells her:

I know, my dear, I know. It’s the expectations that hold you back. They’ll kill you in the end, if you’re not careful, suck the life right out of you. Run, I say. Run whenever you should have the chance, don’t spare a glance back or you’ll turn to salt or stone.”

The arrival of European settlers, their desire to own and restrict land, to create boundaries, while beneficial to their capitalist desires, becomes increasingly detrimental to the way of life of the indigenous people, as they pollute their fresh water access, introduce sickness and disease and contemplate removing their children.

Brilliantly conceived and heartbreaking to read, Salt Creek opens itself wide for discussion on the many issues related to the impact of colonial idealism, whether it’s how it affects women and children, how it impacts and impedes the native population, the imposition of solutions by one group on the other, the inherent disrespect and disregard for a different way of life.

I’m interested to read these accounts yet I am repelled by what transpires, knowing there is little possibility for an alternative ending, it is and always be a kind of clash of civilisations, which annihilates the ancient view, and will only accept its input when it has been turned it into a version of itself.

Lucy Treloar speaks of the considerable unease she felt and continues to feel two years on from its initial publication  in Australia, at telling the story, which was partly inspired by her ancestors attempt to set up a farm in the Coorong region. Compelled to share the experience and uncomfortable in the role they played. – Lucy Treloar on writing about indigenous Australians

The short video below gives voice to the Ngarrindjeri people and some hope that we might learn something from their more sustainable way of living in harmony with the natural elements around us.

Note: This book was an ARC (Advance Reader Copy) kindly provided by Aardvark Bureau, an imprint of Gallic Books. It is published in the UK in September 2017.

The Dry by Jane Harper

fire-danger-ratingAustralia is in the midst of coping with an extremely hot summer, Sydney and Brisbane experiencing the hottest January on record, February looking even hotter with the arrival of a heat wave and increased fire risks in Victoria and New South Wales (where currently 49 fires are burning across the state, 17 of which are not contained and the fire rating is at the level of  “catastrophic”).

A situation that makes the context of Jane Harper’s new novel seem wearily appropriate.

The Dry is Jane Harper’s cracking debut crime fiction novel set in a fictional southeastern Australian town, suffering the effects of the ‘The Big Dry’, a nine-year drought.

Tthe-dryhe story follows Aaron Falk, a police officer from Melbourne, who returns to the town he and father were run out of many years back, for the funeral of his childhood friend Luke. It is clear he wants the visit over and done with as soon as possible and is unwilling to engage with anyone.

However Luke’s father is not happy with the way the police have handled his son’s apparent murder/suicide and asks Falk to stay and look into it.

With several twists, suspects and an intriguing back story of another death of a girl that occurred when the friends were teenagers, it sets a good pace, while exploring the effect of climatic conditions on a small rural community and the circumstances that cause others to seek out smaller towns as an escape.

Jane Harper is at work on her next novel, which also features the protagonist Aaron Falk.

I reviewed The Dry for Bookbrowse, where you can read the full review and a Beyond the Book article on The Big Dry.

Further Reading:

Australia Swelters in Heatwave and argues about Energy Future – The Guardian, Friday 10 Feb, 2017

A Page-Turner of a Mystery Set in a Parched Australia – NY Times review

Literary Blog Hop Winners!

 

I am delighted that two readers will soon be turning the pages of these wonderful books:

Carrots and Jaffas, an insightful imagining of a period in the life of identical twin boys when they become separated and;

The Blue Room a stunning translation of Norwegian Literature, a book that spans a day in the life of a young woman locked in her bedroom by her mother.

Thank you to everyone who participated in the Literary Blog Hop and thanks again to Judith at Leeswammes for organising it. I’ve had lots of visitors here and a few new followers.

The Winner of  Carrots and Jaffas is….

AMB wins

A.M.B!

who writes about books, writing, and the law at The Misfortune of Knowing

The Winner of The Blue Room is…..

Madness

 Elizabeth who writes about love, self acceptance and confidence at ChubbyMadness

I hope you enjoy the books,  I would love to hear your thoughts on them and thank you to everyone else for participating, you are all winners really!

Happy Reading!

Literary Blog Hop Book #Giveaway

From today until Wednesday June 25th I am participating along with many other international bloggers in a Literary Blog Hop Giveaway hosted by Judith at Leeswamme’s Blog, an avid reader and reviewer from the Netherlands.

literarybloghop

Comment below to win the books I am offering and visit the other blogs to enter their offers.

I am offering two books, recent reads and not the usual thing you find in a bookshop. Both titles are literary gems, one an award-winning Norwegian translation, the other a riveting, thought-provoking glimpse into a cross cultural family that thanks to blogging and twitter connections I became aware of. They are fabulous reads, but do check out my reviews first to find out if they sound like something you might enjoy.

You can enter for one title only or for both, one comment puts you in the draw for both books, unless you tell me you are only interested in one of the titles. Ok, here they are:

COMMENT to WIN A COPY of

The Blue Room by Hanne Ørstavik translated by Deborah Dawkin – read my review here.

“a gripping portrayal of a mother-daughter relationship that will send a chill down your spine.”

OR

Carrots and Jaffas by Howard Goldenberg – read my review here.

 “a glimpse into the heart of an ancient land and a fractured family, through the story of a stolen child.”

 

BlogHop Button

To enter the giveaway, open worldwide to anyone whether you have a blog or not, just leave a comment below to be entered in the draw.

Follow my blog Word by Word to get two chances to win and mention it in your comment.

Follow the blog Word by Word and @clairewords on twitter to have three entries in the draw.

If you are already following, make sure to remind me in your comment.

Good Luck and enjoy visiting the other blogs listed here, just click to visit:

Linky List:

  1. Leeswammes
  2. The Misfortune of Knowing
  3. Bibliosue
  4. Too Fond
  5. Under a Gray Sky
  6. Read Her Like an Open Book (US)
  7. My Devotional Thoughts
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  9. Guiltless Reading
  10. Fourth Street Review
  11. Nishita’s Rants and Raves
  12. Word by Word
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  14. Ciska’s Book Chest
  15. Falling Letters
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  19. Mom’s Small Victories (US)
  20. Daily Mayo (US)
  1. The Emerald City Book Review (US)
  2. A Lovely Bookshelf on the Wall
  3. Lost Generation Reader
  4. Booklover Book Reviews
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  13. My Book Retreat (N. Am.)
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