49 pages 1 hour read

Tara June Winch

The Yield: A Novel

Fiction | Novel | Adult | Published in 2019

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Summary and Study Guide


The Yield is a novel by the Wiradjuri Australian author Tara June Winch, published in 2019. It is the fourth novel in the author’s Unmissables series. The story follows the Indigenous Australian Gondiwindi family as they attempt to save their home and culture from encroaching colonial forces. The novel won the 2020 Miles Franklin Award, the 2020 Voss Literary Prize, and the 2020 Prime Minister's Literary Award.

This guide refers to the Penguin Random House Australia 2019 edition. Citations given are page numbers in this edition.

Content Warning: The source material and this guide contain depictions of colonial violence, especially settler violence against Indigenous peoples. This includes material on forced assimilation and educational regimes, religious conversion, slavery, sexual abuse (including that of children), and dispossession. The novel reflects prevalent racist attitudes and slurs; these are also discussed in the guide.

Plot Summary

The Yield is told through a mix of perspectives, moving between Albert “Poppy” Gondiwindi’s dictionary of Wiradjuri, his granddaughter August Gondiwindi’s experiences on returning to their hometown for his funeral, and parts of a 1915 letter from Father Ferdinand Greenleaf to the British Society of Ethnography. In his dictionary, Poppy explores Wiradjuri words as a means to pass on the knowledge he has of the Wiradjuri land and culture, after receiving a terminal cancer diagnosis. He explains that he is recording lost cultural knowledge taught to him by his ancestors in visitations; he calls himself a “time traveler.” He writes of his life: growing up in a government-sponsored Boys’ Home for Indigenous children, living in the town of Massacre Plains on the old Prosperous Mission farm, and later bringing up his family.

August’s story is interpolated into Poppy’s dictionary entries. Having left Massacre Plains 10 years before, August lived a quiet life in London, working as a dishwasher and reading books. When her grandfather dies, she returns to Australia for his funeral. Upon her arrival, she is told that, as her grandparents’ house was rented from the government on a 99-year lease, her grandmother Elsie will be evicted in a week’s time. A tin mine is being developed on the site. The news upsets August, and her return to Massacre Plains floods her with memories.

August remembers her childhood. When she was young, her mother and father were arrested for growing marijuana. August and her older sister, Jedda, went to live with their grandparents Poppy and Elsie in a town called Prosperous. Although Poppy and Elsie were loving, they could not protect the girls from the racism of the town or the hardships of life in Prosperous. Jedda disappeared when August was eight, and August has been haunted by her absence ever since. August remembers their Uncle Jimmy who sexually abused them before Jedda’s disappearance.

The novel shifts to a letter from Ferdinand Greenleaf in 1915. The letter is broken up into chapters, and these are placed throughout the book. It tells of him arriving in Australia as a child in the 1840s, becoming a Reverend, and traveling around the country evangelizing. He stopped in the town of Massacre Plains after seeing the injustices being enacted against the Indigenous population. His response was to found a mission to convert the Waradjuri people to Christianity and “adapt” them to white society. He writes of how he was continually shocked by the violence of the white Christian settlers and how impressed he was by the Wiradjuri people’s knowledge of the land. As time went on, his faith weakened, and he felt that Jesus had abandoned him and the Wiradjuri. Greenleaf tells of more recent events: the outbreak of WWI, the kidnapping of Wiradjuri children by the Australian government, and his own imprisonment in an internment camp as person of German heritage.

August’s story continues. She meets old acquaintances, including her white neighbor, Eddie Falstaff, and Mandy, a woman protesting against the mine. August hears people mention a book her grandfather was working on, and she becomes convinced it will help them stop the mine from being built by proving that her family has Native Title to the land. She and Eddie almost sleep together but end up arguing over the mine: Eddie reveals that his family has been selling Gondiwindi family cultural artifacts to the Australian History Museum. August and her Aunt Missy hope to use the artifacts to prove their family’s cultural presence on the land. While tracing Poppy’s work, they find Greenleaf’s letter that supports their claim. The museum tells them they can’t retrieve the artifacts in time to stop the mine. August realizes that her Aunt Nicki, who works for the city council, must have taken Poppy’s dictionary. Amid growing protest against the mine, she and her cousin Joey visit Nicki to convince her to give them the book.

Poppy’s dictionary entries continue, relaying more information from his ancestors. He talks about meeting his wife, Elsie, and falling in love with her. He also discusses Jedda’s disappearance and how he found out about Jimmy’s abuse of the girls. He suspected Jimmy in Jedda’s disappearance and tried to make Jimmy tell him where she was, hitting him on the leg with a spear when he tried to run away. Jimmy died in the hospital, saying only that Jedda was in “the water.”

August convinces her Aunt Nicki to bring Poppy’s dictionary to stop the mine the next day. She and Joey join the protestors until then. Work on the mine is halted when Nicki arrives, and the mission graveyard is found on the site of the proposed mine. August remains in Massacre Plains, feeling more connected to the land. The information in Poppy’s dictionary allows the family to find some peace in regard to Jedda’s disappearance.

Reverend Greenleaf’s obituary is given, revealing that he died in the internment camp. The book ends with a set of dictionary entries in which Poppy reaffirms his love of the land he spent his life caring for.