Recoveries in Land and Language: Tara June Winch’s The Yield (2019)
This paper discusses the various types of recovery at work in Tara June Winch’s The Yield, winner of the 2020 Miles Franklin Literary Award. Following August Gondiwindi’s return to her home at Massacre Plains, August’s recovery from disordered eating and mental distress is intimately connected to her time on Country and the discovery of a Wiradjuri dictionary written by her late grandfather. Winch (Wiradjuri) tells the story of 500 acres of Wiradjuri Country – including the former site of a Christian mission that is to be repossessed by a mining company – through narrative, fictionalised archival texts, and this embedded Wiradjuri dictionary. Indeed, following the activism and scholarship of Wiradjuri elder Dr Stan Grant Senior, Winch’s deployment of the dictionary form profoundly advances the relationship between an Indigenous language and Indigenous fiction written in English. By remapping stories from Country through these alternate discourses and the Wiradjuri language, Winch’s strategic textual practice parallels the efforts of the novel’s Gondiwindi family to claim Native title and assert continuous Indigenous presence on the land.
Aligning my readings with the Social and Emotional Wellbeing framework (SEWB), an emerging Indigenous health model in Australia (Dudgeon et al 2017), I will approach the representations of recovery in Winch’s novel with a strengths-based focus that emphasises the importance of connections to Country, culture and language. This follows Winch’s own refusal to centre trauma and victimhood when representing Indigenous health. I shall also locate this novel within a wider critique of settler colonial extractivism that foregrounds Indigenous place-based solidarity and grounded Indigenous knowledges (Coulthard & Simpson, 2016). This paper will close by considering the wider relationship between activism, language revitalisation, situated knowledges, and the wellbeing of Indigenous Australians.
Anna Kemball is an AHRC-funded PhD candidate in the School of Literatures, Languages & Cultures at the University of Edinburgh, having previously studied at the University of Leeds. Her thesis explores representations of mental health and wellbeing across a range of contemporary Indigenous literatures, bringing Indigenous literary studies and the critical medical humanities into closer relation. Her work on Māori representations of schizophrenia is published in the Journal of New Zealand Literature.