Cultural sensitivity and establishing the tone of your classroom
When teaching about the experiences of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, it is important to remain sensitive and to deal with the content appropriately. The Yield navigates several areas that not only demand cultural respect, but require both teacher and student to be cognisant of the broader impacts of the themes and ideas being explored. The novel specifically references and alludes to sexual abuse and molestation, murder, cultural genocide and the impacts of intergenerational trauma (including lifestyle diseases and self-destructive behaviours).
It is important to acknowledge these themes in your classroom and establish an environment where students feel safe to take part in discussions around these ideas. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students should be supported to engage with the content. Magabala Books has a guide to teaching Indigenous content with some useful strategies and ideas for the classroom. Here are some starting points for building cultural empathy and respect:
- read an Acknowledgement of Country before reading the text – this could be a shared experience that the class undertakes together
- find out what Country you are on (if you don’t already know)
- find out what you can about the local languages in your area
- look for opportunities to engage with people’s experiences with languages – involve your students in the discussion
- acknowledge that First Nations Australians are complex individuals with varied and diverse experiences
- be aware of your local traditional custodians and make an effort to understand their histories and connections
- be mindful that some students may feel anxious about acknowledging languages they speak at home – don’t force them to explain or demonstrate
- avoid making generalisations about Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and their experiences
- don’t involve students in discussions if they find the content distressing – have some other activities that they can undertake independently should they not feel like participating
- establish some ground rules for communicating in your classroom in respectful ways
Additionally, it is important to support students by leading them safely in and safely out of the material being covered. Some strategies for doing so include:
- facilitating a safe space for students to engage in the material
- acknowledging students’ level of comfort/discomfort around certain topics
- creating clear processes for students to inform the teacher if they are uncomfortable
- focusing on the successes of individuals and communities
- allowing time to debrief at the conclusion of each lesson so that students leave the classroom without concerns or anxieties
- teaching students how to respond to material with empathy
- avoiding asking students to relate to experiences that they are unfamiliar with
- addressing racist attitudes and/or ideologies swiftly
- giving students an opportunity to act
For more advice on creating a space to engage with the material of The Yield in your classroom, see Cara Shipp and Phil Page’s workshop at the 2020 AATE/IFTE National Conference, which covers strategies to support both Indigenous and non-Indigenous students to handle culturally sensitive and challenging themes. Cara’s additional resources are available through AATE Digital.
Understanding the significance of language
In her Author’s Note at the rear of the text (pp. 339–342), Winch outlines her motives for writing The Yield. Whilst the Gondiwindi family and their experiences are fictional, they reflect the very real injustices faced by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples throughout Australia’s colonial history (p. 339), particularly in relation to government and church-imposed language bans.
This loss of language (and the importance of preserving culture through language) is the linchpin that holds The Yield together, allowing the reader to explore Albert, Elsie and August Gondiwindi’s stories and connections to the land at Prosperous. As Winch notes, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander language loss is occurring at an alarming rate (p. 340), with 90% of the approximately 250 languages spoken before invasion considered endangered. With this loss of language comes a loss of culture, autonomy and heritage.
Exploring this notion with students before studying The Yield is important. The text alternates between August’s present experiences at Prosperous, mourning her grandfather and protecting the family farm from the threat of miners, and the dictionary that Albert was keeping to reconnect with his lost heritage and prove a connection to the land on which his family lived. These chapters are punctuated by extracts from a letter from Reverend Ferdinand Greenleaf to Dr George Cross at the British Society of Ethnography.
A starting point for class discussion should be the First Languages Australia website, which details the importance of preserving Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander languages and links to a range of projects and resources, including an interactive map. Further, this short video for the 2019 International Year of Indigenous Languages may provide an accessible springboard to engage with ideas around language and belonging/connection – not just for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students, but for all students in your classroom.
Aboriginal spirituality and the connection to land
In order to engage with the text, students will need some knowledge of Aboriginal spirituality and how the land forms a basis for identity. This will help them to understand the significance of the actions taken against the Gondiwindi family, as well as August’s internal struggles upon returning to Prosperous. A good starting point is the Australians Together website, which features Uncle Graham Paulson sharing his insights into Aboriginal spirituality.
Australia’s colonial history
Understanding the colonial practices of the federal government, as well as individual states and territories, is central to studying this text. Reverend Greenleaf’s letter offers the perspective of a Lutheran missionary working in the fictional community of Massacre Plains. He demonstrates a genuine concern for the welfare of the Aboriginal people in his community, despite being ‘wrongly instructed’ in the initial undertaking of his role. Greenleaf’s letter provides an account of the cultural genocide and violence enacted upon the Aboriginal community, and also functions as evidence for the Gondiwindi family’s claim to prove Prosperous as a site of cultural significance.
It would be remiss not to address the concerns around Australia’s colonial history with students. The following links provide starting points for discussion and give appropriate context so that students can engage respectfully with the text:
- understanding the significance of the land (as described by Aboriginal people from NT, NSW and VIC)
- Parks Victoria’s guide to caring for Aboriginal sites and places of significance
- excerpts from Welcome to Country by Marcia Langton (upcoming Reading Australia unit)
- information about the Native Title Act (1993)
- understanding early missions in Australia
- the writings of Reverend J. B. Gribble (the inspiration for Reverend Greenleaf) and his observations on the treatment of Aboriginal people in NSW in 1879
- an overview of colonisation in Australia, particularly one that challenges the idea of a ‘peaceful’ settlement
- some insight into the push to remove racist place names and other colonial place names that serve as reminders of the atrocities committed against Indigenous Australians
- further information about the destruction of culturally significant sites by mining companies
Personal response on reading the text
The novel’s epigraph
An epigraph is typically used by authors to help establish the theme or message of a novel. The quote by Saint Augustine at the front of The Yield sets the tone for the story to come. There is an interesting discussion about this quote on this blog. Consider how it frames the novel and alludes to the themes in the text. Discuss this with students prior to and after reading.
The role of language
Having broken down the cultural significance of language, turn students’ attention to understanding how this applies to the text itself. Firstly, there are several occasions when Winch’s characters illuminate the significance of language for the nourishment (cultural, historical and spiritual) of the individual. It may be worthwhile having students document and explore the nuances of these comments. Two quotations to get started with are below:
- ‘“Well, food isn’t just the things you can eat”’ (p. 94).
- ‘Death and life are in the power of the tongue’ (p. 114, from Proverbs 18:21 KJV).
Secondly, and most importantly, Albert’s dictionary forms a significant component of this text. Activities pertaining to the dictionary can be found later in this resource. For now, you could check what students understand about the impact of Albert’s dictionary:
- What is the point and purpose of a dictionary?
- What are the key components of a dictionary?
- What can be learned from looking at a dictionary?
- How does Albert’s dictionary differ from a typical English language dictionary?
- In what ways does Albert’s dictionary highlight the special connection between culture and land?
Preserving memories and stories
The impulse to preserve memories and stories is inherently human and transcends cultural differences. Encourage students to examine the stories and memories that they have preserved in their own lives and those of their families.
- How do they do it (e.g. photographs, diary entries, scrapbooks)?
- Which stories do they tend to remember more than others?
- How do these memories stay ‘alive’?
In The Yield, the stories of the people of Prosperous are preserved in multiple ways:
- Through Albert’s dictionary, which diligently explains the meanings of words in the language of the Wiradjuri people.
- Through the incidents recounted in Reverend Greenleaf’s letter.
- Through the artefacts preserved in the museum that August and Missy visit in their quest to prove their family’s connection to Prosperous.
- Through oral history.
Explore what can be learned about the way memories are preserved with this table (PDF, KB).
Whilst Winch states that The Yield is a work of fiction, her Author’s Note outlines the research and inspirations that informed her story. It is worth exploring these sources in order to fully understand Winch’s rationale for writing the text – as well as the gravity of the circumstances she describes. For extension, students could investigate other works of historical fiction and seek to understand the key characteristics of the genre. Useful supporting resources are:
- RegenR8’s Wiradjuri dictionary app, based on the work of Dr Stan Grant AM and Dr John Rudder
- the findings from Bringing Them Home: Report of the National Inquiry into the Separation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Children from Their Families (1997)
- information on Warangesda Aboriginal Mission and Station, the inspiration for Prosperous Mission
- the Conservation Management Plan prepared for Leeton & District Local Aboriginal Land Council outlines the site’s historical significance (see ‘Documentary Evidence’, p. 7)
- depictions of the Cootamundra Domestic Training Home for Aboriginal Girls
- depictions of the Kinchela Aboriginal Boys Training Home
The text also makes reference to historical events such as the 1965 Freedom Ride, specifically segregation at the Moree Baths and Swimming Pool Complex in February 1965.
Outline of key elements of the text
There are several key themes in The Yield that are explored variously through the differing perspectives of August, Albert and Reverend Greenleaf. Have students complete the theme tracking sheet (PDF, KB) to record details about how the themes are represented. They include:
- Racism, including government processes designed to oppress and control Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples
- Environmental sustainability, including mismanagement of the land through mining
- Spirituality and religion
As already discussed, The Yield develops across three narratives: the story taking place in the present with August’s return to Prosperous; the story of colonial Australia as told by Reverend Greenleaf; and the stories shared by Albert in his dictionary. These interwoven stories reveal the pain of the losses suffered by Aboriginal peoples, and the quest for belonging and identity through reconnecting with language and land. Have students complete the plot lines table (PDF, KB) to identify each narrator’s primary concerns. Once they have completed the table, work through each of the characters as follows.
|August’s story follows a traditional narrative structure and forms the overarching action.
|Review plot structure with students. Group events in August’s story according to exposition, rising action, climax, falling action and resolution.
Consider the role that flashbacks play in August’s narrative.
How does August’s narrative combine the environmental movement (mining) and Indigenous land rights?
|Greenleaf’s letter is broken up and inserted throughout August’s narrative, with nine parts and a final eulogy.
|What is the main motivation for Greenleaf’s letter?
What role does the letter serve in facilitating August’s narrative?
|Albert’s dictionary is peppered throughout The Yield.
|Explain the significance of Albert’s dictionary in the broader narrative.
How does the time difference between August and Albert facilitate the overarching themes of the novel?
What are the key plot points in Albert’s story?
How is Albert’s narrative revealed and how is this different from the way that August’s story is told?
August’s narrative centres on her search for connection: to establish both her identity as a Gondiwindi woman and her place in the landscape. Her return to Australia and subsequent quest for self-discovery is prompted by her grandfather Albert’s funeral. She admits that she does not know who she is without Prosperous, and that the idea of it comforted her when she was abroad (p. 217).
- Who is August? How does she explain herself in the opening stages of the novel?
- Where does she fit in? With whom does she align herself?
- Does she feel accepted by her family and the community of Massacre Plains?
- In what ways has August been forced to choose between multiple identities?
- What does August want?
- Does August accept herself?
Albert fulfils an important role as an Elder of Massacre Plains’ Aboriginal community, who is trying to piece together and prove his family’s connection to Prosperous Mission. His quest to write a dictionary of the Wiradjuri language leads him to reflect on stories from his past and explain his family’s connection to place through special and formative memories. The role of place is instrumental in Albert’s life; having explored the significance of the land for Aboriginal peoples, students should be able to draw connections between Albert’s character and the way his life and identity has been formed by the land. Eventually, they should be able to understand the urgency of Albert’s dictionary.
- What connections can students draw between Albert’s stories and place?
- What is the most important entry in Albert’s dictionary?
- What qualities can be given to Albert from reading his dictionary?
- What did you learn from reading Albert’s dictionary?
- In what ways does the dictionary help to combat negative stereotypes of Indigenous Australians?
Jedda is August’s sister who is missing and presumed deceased. The mystery of her disappearance is brought to light throughout August and Albert’s sections of the novel, and appears to weigh heavily on both characters. August in particular feels unable to leave Prosperous (both literally and figuratively) until the mystery is resolved and Jedda has been farewelled. In many ways, August’s inability to grieve the loss of her sister, the lack of clarification and certainty around Jedda’s disappearance, and the tragic circumstances surrounding this incident are symbolic of the plight of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, mirroring our colonial history.
- While telling the story of Uncle Fred’s arm, Elsie says, ‘You can’t always see a thing that hurts’ (p. 117). How does this relate to the Gondiwindi family’s pain resulting from Jedda’s disappearance, and the continuing pain felt by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples today?
- As children, August and Jedda recorded themselves telling stories and reciting letters for Princess Diana. August rediscovers the tape when she is packing up her family home. Winch writes: ‘After all that time August had Jedda’s words again … she wasn’t lost like they’d always feared’ (p. 309). How does this quote celebrate the text’s overall message about the importance of language and voice?
Reverend Ferdinand Greenleaf
As already discussed, Reverend Greenleaf’s letter punctuates the text, but his role as a missionary (along with the broader role of missionaries in Australia) is also referenced by other characters. Surprisingly, he is offered some sympathy; Aunt Missy says that he probably thought he was doing the right thing (p. 250), and even Greenleaf acknowledges that his behaviours were not always in the best interests of the Aboriginal community.
- Read Greenleaf’s letter again. What does he believe to be his role and responsibility to the community of Massacre Plains?
- What is Greenleaf’s primary concern and how does this spur him on to write his letter?
- Aunt Missy suggests that the Reverend only realised the error of his ways when the tables turned on him (p. 250). What happened to Greenleaf and how does this shift his perspective about the community?
Eddie provides an interesting point of contrast in the novel. He is a long-time friend of August, though their relationship has been strained and damaged in the past. It is revealed that his father donated a collection of artefacts from Prosperous Mission to the (fictional) Historic Museum Australia. Despite his friendship with August, Eddie makes several references that highlight his internalised racism and illuminate the persistent colonial views in Massacre Plains: from not inviting August to his eleventh birthday party (p. 58), to stating that the Falstaffs ‘saved’ the Gondiwindi family (p. 218). Eddie appears to have inherited his father and grandfather’s paternalistic attitudes towards the Aboriginal community, believing that it needs to be ‘fixed’ or ‘saved’, and that he is responsible for providing a space for its members to receive a colonial education.
- Read the sentence where Eddie describes Prosperous House as a ‘slave yard’ (p. 218). Unpack this statement with students. What kind of colonial attitudes are present? Consider the notion of land ownership and the stereotypes that are perpetuated about Indigenous Australians.
- What kind of relationship exists between Eddie and August throughout the novel? What kind of developments does their relationship go through?
- Why does Eddie lose his patience with August in Chapter 29? What are his expectations of August, and how does this conflict with her own journey of self-realisation?
- When Eddie reveals his father’s donations to the museum, he tells August that he couldn’t bring himself to show them to Albert (p. 218). Why do you think this might be the case?
- What other instances are there of Eddie acting with a racist attitude?
The importance of language is undoubtedly a key concern of The Yield. Once students have grasped this concept, guide them to create their own individual dictionary or vocabulary journal. They should keep a record of words that they use in their daily life and communications that may reflect their cultural background or popular culture influences. Ideally, this task should be completed over an extended period to give students time to think about the words they might include. Words selected for the dictionary should be explained, used in an example, and (if possible) tied to a formative memory or experience with direct relevance. This dictionary template (PDF, KB) may be helpful.
The writer’s craft
The plot of The Yield develops over three layered parallel narratives. Each narrative is standalone, complete in and of itself, but together the three reveal a broader, richer image.
Ask students to identify what they believe is the key theme of the text. An author may use multiple narrators (either in conflict or sympathy with each other) to fully explore a theme from different perspectives. Brainstorm what the key themes may be with the class. Break into groups of three, each responsible for investigating a different theme. One student should explore how the theme is conveyed from August’s perspective, another from Albert’s perspective and the last from Reverend Greenleaf’s perspective. Ensure that students unpack when the theme is ‘reached’ or most evident in each narrative so they can see where the plot lines overlap. Have students discuss in their groups, then share their observations with the rest of the class.
Direct students to read each narrative in isolation (i.e. read August and only August’s story first, ignoring Greenleaf’s letter and Albert’s dictionary). Track how each plot develops, paying particular attention to the climax of the individual stories. Students should note that the narratives mirror each other, especially August and Greenleaf’s, as they both experience their homes being burned down or razed. How is this moment, and the symbolism of the fire, important for both characters?
Similarly, all three narratives reach a crescendo where they coincide, making it apparent that they are dependent on and integral to each other. August’s quest for the truth about Jedda’s disappearance is revealed through Albert’s dictionary, and Albert’s quest for connection to the Prosperous Mission is recorded in Greenleaf’s letter. There is a sense of urgency in Winch’s writing as the narratives reach this point; the reader becomes cognisant that all three journeys and purposes will eventually collide and help each other. Go back through the text and locate the clues that Winch places throughout to help the reader reach this conclusion.
It would also be worth documenting the shifts in narrative: that is, when Winch changes between the voices of August, Albert and Greenleaf.
- Does she do this with a particularly noticeable pattern?
- Does one voice typically follow the other?
- Which voices complement each other most?
- Is there more to be learned from one voice than the others?
- Is one voice used as a supplementary voice to another character?
Nature as a motif
A motif is a recurring idea that appears throughout a story. In The Yield, nature – particularly the musicality of nature – is a motif that dominates the narrative. The text is imbued with descriptions of the land, scenery and the impact of the weather, along with references to animals, shrubs, trees and other plants like weeds and even seeds. Given the importance of the land in First Nations cultures, this motif may highlight how ingrained it is in Aboriginal peoples’ thinking and way of life, partnering with the themes of identity, connection and belonging.
Some examples of nature as a motif include:
- ‘Bottlebrush combs of red and orange hung defiant in the still, hot afternoon. Banksia blooms weighed down their branches, leaked sap into the kitchen garden below the verandah.’ (p. 17)
- ‘August wandered the property, pausing only to listen more closely to the familiar soundtrack playing, encasing the world, in cicada friction and bird whip.’ (p. 18)
- ‘Elsie, like Prosperous, like August, looked different now too, aged, as if gone to seed.’ (p. 19)
- ‘“The family trees of people like us are just bushes now, aren’t they?” … “Someone has been trimming them good.” (p. 25)
- ‘… rainfall after a dry spell is the perfect condition for good wheat yields and also, the perfect condition for locust outbreaks.’ (p. 29)
- ‘All my life I’ve been near the water, and we come from the water too, us people.’ (p. 32)
- ‘The oil in the gums, warm karrajong fruit splitting, the hot flesh-baring seeds, banksia flowers heavy with sugar – the syrup seeping off stuck stamens, and stigmas and ovaries.’ (p. 56)
- ‘There were others, there still are – capeweed, skeleton weed, wild radish, wild turnip, rye grass, wild oats, and now that cotton too – they all suck the good and the water from the already-dry ground.’ (pp. 80–81).
- ‘The static of the bush grew louder, a hummed pitched, a constant, unseen excitement from insects in the trees …’ (p. 133)
Record other examples where this motif appears in the text. Students could use coloured sticky tabs to annotate their novel, or they could use a basic table structure. As a class, you could keep a shared document that everyone adds to as they come across new examples. Make sure that students consider how the references to and descriptions of the bush and nature work to enhance the themes of the text. For example, the discussion on p. 80 about the weed known as Paterson’s curse could be a broader metaphor relating to the invasion and colonisation of Australia.
There are many references to the Bible or biblical concepts in The Yield, especially in Albert’s dictionary. Given his and Elsie’s upbringing, and the missionary background of Prosperous, it is not surprising that his religious education has influenced his outlook. To help students fully participate in this discussion, you may need to remind them of what mission life was like for Aboriginal peoples – particularly the fact that they were banned from practising their spiritual beliefs.
Students may be surprised that Albert remembers so much of his religious upbringing, given that it took place under traumatic circumstances. It is also often asserted that religious ideology and Aboriginal spirituality cannot exist alongside each other, and that one must be sacrificed to strengthen the other. However, as this article from online youth mental health service ReachOut explains, there are some key differences between religion and spirituality. In fact, what Albert illustrates is that the two can complement each other and reinforce important messages and values. An example of this is on p. 42, when Albert equates the Christian commandment to ‘love thy neighbour’ with gulbarra. Have students record the references to the Bible throughout the text.
- How does the text celebrate the ideas of religion and spirituality?
- How do the Bible references expand on the idea(s) being discussed at those points in the text?
It would be worth studying the story of the Plagues of Egypt (particularly the plague of locusts) from the Book of Exodus, as references to locusts and damage to the environment are peppered throughout the text. How does understanding this story enhance the meaning that can be taken from The Yield and the characters’ journeys?
Symbolism of the brolga
August is overwhelmed when she realises that the brolga she sees at Prosperous is the spirit of her sister, Jedda. Many Aboriginal people believe that a person’s soul or spirit continues after their physical form has passed through death. The spirit returns to the Dreaming and may return as something else, like an animal. More on Dreaming and life after death can be found here.
Read the passage that starts after the break on p. 162 and continues to the end of the chapter on p. 167. Use your discretion to select appropriate sections for discussion, as this passage contains allusions to sexual abuse. Discuss what is learned about Jedda and August’s relationship, as well as the grief that August is carrying for her sister. In addition:
- look up images of the brolga
- read about its behaviours and conservation status
- watch brolgas dancing in the wild (4:06–5:45)
- watch the Bangarra Dance Theatre interpretation of the brolga dance
Explore the symbolism of the brolga after unpacking its behaviours and importance for the Gondiwindi family. Not only is this bird considered to be Jedda’s spirit, but it also represents broader themes and ideas about the characters in the text.
- The Mutti Mutti people of Lake Mungo and the Darling Basin tell a story about the brolga. Can any connections be made between this story and what we know about Jedda?
- Could another symbol be suitable to represent Jedda in this context?
- What symbol might be suitable to represent Albert, whose ashes are being scattered in the above passage (pp. 162–167)?
- Why has the image of a group of brolgas been selected for the front cover? What is the significance of this decision?
Parallel, perpendicular and intersecting characters
While August, Albert and Reverend Greenleaf are the protagonists of their own stories, they also play roles in the narratives running alongside their own. Albert and Greenleaf’s stories, in particular, intersect as August and Aunt Missy uncover Albert’s research on Prosperous Mission. If we think about The Yield as one overarching narrative, who would be the key protagonist? And who would be the antagonist? Is there a hero in this story?
An interesting concept you could explore with students is the perpendicular character (moving away from the notion of just protagonists and antagonists). This is a character whose aim is directly at odds with another character in the text. If parallel characters move towards the same goal, then perpendicular characters will oppose, collide with or interrupt it in order to achieve their own end. You might also consider where a character fits into a story if their journey is neither parallel nor perpendicular to the protagonist’s, but still intersects it.
Work out the goals of The Yield’s protagonists and complete the character relationships worksheet (PDF, KB) recording the relationships between the three. Do any of these characters have similar goals or aims?
- Is August’s primary goal to find out what happened to her sister?
- Are Albert and Greenleaf both seeking recognition for the work they have put into their communities (Albert through the dictionary and Greenleaf through his letter)?
- What do Albert and August both want for the Prosperous site? In what ways do they go about achieving this?
- How do August and Greenleaf’s aims for protecting Prosperous mirror each other?
‘It is my hope that these few words safely find you…’
As August and Aunt Missy uncover more about Prosperous’ historical and cultural significance, they learn about Reverend Greenleaf and his commitment to the people of Massacre Plains. Read the notice from the back of his book on p. 235 with students.
- Highlight the key points that Greenleaf is attempting to make.
- What is the tone of his notice?
- What motivations does he have for writing it?
- What role (if any) did he play in encouraging the ideas mentioned in the notice?
- Do you recognise any of the language used (e.g. ‘boundless’ from the national anthem)?
Students should note that many of the ideas the Reverend expresses are at the heart of the Australian psyche (acceptance, tolerance and belonging), but – as expressed through his stories – they are sometimes far from reality. Discuss how Greenleaf’s accounts of how people were treated at Prosperous directly contradict the values that he espouses. Have students answer the same questions that they did for p. 235 (see above) to analyse Greenleaf’s stories. In his notice, he makes two appeals: one to consider the meaning of being Australian, and another to treat all people without distinction. Break the class into two groups and discuss these appeals. Share any findings with the rest of the class.
It would be worth discussing the use of the word ‘young’ in Greenleaf’s notice. This is a character who appears to appreciate, and to work hard to protect, the rights of those in his care. He appeals to readers to consider the treatment of others, regardless of their homeland or ‘tribe’, yet seems not to recognise the extensive history of Massacre Plains’ Aboriginal community – history that he undoubtedly would have utilised and been privy to when establishing himself there. This discussion could be supported by examining the recent change to the Australian national anthem to replace ‘young and free’ with ‘one and free’, an attempt to recognise Australia’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander history. More about this change and its reception by different people can be read here.
Text and meaning
In Albert’s dictionary, the Wiradjuri word for ‘yield’ (baayanha) is framed in terms of giving, and its English counterpart in terms of taking (p. 25). Consider the clash of understanding about the land and its role in The Yield; how do different characters align with either of these definitions? This definitions worksheet (PDF, KB) may be helpful in breaking down the connotations of each.
Brainstorm the events in the novel that demonstrate the Wiradjuri definition of ‘baayanha’. Next, list the events that highlight the English definition of ‘yield’. Consider Albert’s comment about Baiame, the creator spirit of the Dreaming for the Wiradjuri people; what events in the novel might reflect this sorrow and pain (p. 25)? Also consider Albert’s final comment about humiliation.
Linking language and place
The power of language (and of reclaiming language) form a strong thread that runs through The Yield. There are many references to language as a unifying factor in the characters’ lives, and Albert’s dictionary taps directly into the role it can play in both identity and storytelling.
Read and discuss the last two sentences of Albert’s entry for dhaganhu ngurambang (‘where is your country?’) on pp. 33–34.
- What is Albert implying here?
- How does Albert use the notion of time travel?
- How are language and place linked here?
The link between language and place, and place and identity, is ingrained in the opening pages of the text. Look at Albert’s comment about the country’s plan for him (p. 1):
- How does this comment reflect the enduring identity of Aboriginal peoples?
- How does it highlight the connection that Aboriginal peoples have to the land, and the importance of land to their identity?
Have students consider the following quotes from the text and the way they reflect on the power of language:
- ‘English changed their tongues, the formations of their minds, August thought … The language was the poem she had looked for, communicating what English failed to say.’ (p. 306)
- ‘words were paramount … they were like icebergs floating, melting … there were ocean depths to them that they couldn’t have talked about.’ (p. 306)
- ‘The evidence of their civilisation, after so many years of farming, was difficult to find on the surface of the land. But they said it was embedded in the language of Albert’s dictionary … that it would now be recognised as a resurrected language, brought back from extinction.’ (p. 307)
- ‘She realised she’d fled there for Jedda, but that she had stayed there looking for those words that she’d understand, that would explain what it all meant.’ (p. 308)
- ‘After all that time August had Jedda’s words again, too. No-one ever found Jedda in the water. But she wasn’t lost like they’d always feared.’ (p. 309)
How do these quotes show the interconnectedness of place, language and identity? This graphic organiser (PDF, KB) may help students to arrange their thoughts.
The truth, post-truth and truthiness
The notion of ‘the truth’ flows through The Yield, with all three narratives revolving around quests to uncover it. Ask students to identify Albert, August and Reverend Greenleaf’s references to ‘the truth’, and the contexts in which they can be found. They could organise their findings in a three-column table.
- Why is it important to each character that they tell/find out the truth?
- What is each character’s relationship with the truth?
- How truthful is each character?
- Are there any dishonest characters in the text? How are their actions different?
- Is it possible to have more than one truth?
Explore some notable sayings about truth. To what extent do students feel they apply to the overarching ideas and characters’ behaviour in The Yield? Similarly, share some idioms and common sayings about truth and see if students can match them to a development in the text:
- the naked truth
- fact is stranger than fiction
- nothing could be further from the truth
- a moment of truth
- to take something as gospel
- the truth will come out
- the truth of the matter
- if truth be told
- to be economical with the truth
Truth in the novel is closely linked to unspoken stories, and the idea that these ultimately hold the truth of a situation. This is especially true of Albert’s quest with his dictionary, which is linked to the disappearing Wiradjuri language and the stories and culture that are being lost with it. Recording the truth allows him to share unspoken stories from the past that are intrinsically linked to place, land, community and culture.
The mining company conducting work close to Prosperous also operates under its own version of the truth. The way that Rinepalm Mining (a portmanteau of Gina Rinehart and Clive Palmer) wins over the people of Massacre Plains, especially with their activity packs for school-aged children, borders on propaganda. August’s conversation with her former schoolmate Alena (pp. 87–89) highlights the community’s enthusiasm for the mine and its perceived benefits to the area. This contrasts with Elsie’s reflection on protests of the past, and her resignation about the forward march of so-called ‘progress’ (p. 93).
- Introduce students to the concept of ‘post-truth’ (the Oxford English Dictionary’s 2016 word of the year), which describes circumstances in which public opinion is swayed by emotion and personal belief rather than objective facts. Stephen Colbert’s term ‘truthiness’ also applies here, referring to opinions that are not true but that the speaker wishes were so (i.e. seem likely to be true, and sound true, but aren’t).
- To what extent are these concepts visible in the language used by Rinepalm Mining, the Massacre Plains community, the activist group, and the Gondiwindi and Falstaff families to refer to the mine? Use this chart (PDF, KB) to track the language.
- This article on the truthiness surrounding Adani’s Carmichael Mine may help facilitate discussion in the classroom.
- As an extension activity, students may like to investigate George Orwell’s concept of ‘doublethink’ (wherein people are expected to accept two mutually contradictory beliefs as true and correct, even if they contradict one’s own memories) and how this applies to the novel’s key ideas.
As mentioned at the beginning of this resource, The Yield deals with the displacement of Aboriginal peoples and their continued trauma as a result of lingering colonialism. This website explores some of the persistent impacts of colonisation on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, and may be useful in navigating insensitive commentary.
It is important that students grasp the concept of intergenerational trauma to better understand the novel. There are several characters whose actions result from the trauma they and those around them have experienced, including:
- Jolene (August’s mother)
- Joey (August’s cousin)
- Aunts Mary, Missy and Nicki
- Uncle Fred
- Uncle Jimmy Corvette
Unpack the following quotes with students in terms of what they understand about the impact of trauma:
- ‘“Please don’t be a victim, Augie. It’s an easy road, that one.”’ (p. 93)
- ‘“You can’t always see a thing that hurts.”’ (p. 117)
- ‘“Goes to show … The things people will do for pain relief.”’ (p. 117)
Encourage students to conduct additional research about the role that trauma can play in a person’s life and how it manifests in everyday situations. The Australian Indigenous HealthInfoNet is a good place to start, and the Healing Foundation has some excellent resources that explain the impact of trauma. There is also an SBS article about the ways that some Aboriginal people are using art therapy as a way to heal and overcome trauma.
Desecrating sites of cultural significance and protecting the environment
The subplot of Albert and August’s narratives is that the Prosperous site has been purchased – and is set to be destroyed – by Rinepalm Mining. It comes to light that it was the Falstaffs who called the miners out in the first place; now an activist group is attempting to protect the site for its importance as a natural spring water filter. In composing his dictionary, it was Albert’s aim to prove a cultural connection to Prosperous and have it recognised under the Native Title Act. The site is eventually declared to be of cultural significance, but only after the remains of over one hundred Aboriginal Mission residents are dug up.
The following quotes from the text will prompt students to consider the role of culture in this situation, and to what lengths one should go to protect and honour that culture. Have students reflect on the quotes individually before sharing and elaborating on their ideas with a partner. Encourage them to offer their interpretations to the rest of the class, gently facilitating discussion around cultural and historical conservation and the importance of protecting the land for future generations.
- ‘“The land, the earth is the victim now – that needs an army, I reckon. She’s the one in real trouble.”’ (p. 93)
- ‘“– well, culture has no armies, does it?”’ (p. 93)
- ‘“Well, food isn’t just the things you can eat.” ’ (p. 94)
- ‘Joe pointed to Aunt Missy, who was wearing a t-shirt that read Treaty across the front.’ (p. 296)
It is not difficult to see the similarities between The Yield’s depiction of a culturally-significant site being desecrated, and other examples of this in the Australian media. Explore the following stories to help students build some empathy for the Gondiwindi family:
- Djab Wurrung birthing tree – cut down by the Victorian Government in October 2020
- Juukan Gorge – blown up by Rio Tinto in May 2020
- The closure of the Uluru climb in October 2019
- Two Women Sitting Down site – desecrated by OM Holdings in August 2013
Key questions to consider:
- Is there a tension between the activists, who are protecting the land as a significant water source, and the Gondiwindi family, who are protecting it as their homeland? How is it that protestors have gathered to protect the water source first, rather than the site?
- What kind of indictment do the above stories make on the priorities of different organisations and companies in Australia?
- How do you think reading about or witnessing these events would contribute to First Nations peoples continuing to feel marginalised and attacked?
- Based on your knowledge of how Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples have managed the lands on which they live, how do you think they would respond to the construction of a mine in any place in Australia? Encourage students to research the nuances of this issue, as there is not one uniform opinion on the matter (e.g. some individuals are supportive of mining).
- How does The Yield celebrate the importance of the land and taking care of the environment? What can be learned from the land?
The notion of protesting, allied to the power of speaking up and using your voice, is prevalent in The Yield. Have students study this timeline, which lists some significant acts of protest in the Indigenous rights movement. Home in on the 1972 Tent Embassy and explore the origins of this protest. Use the information curated by the National Museum of Australia, and this video by The Feed (SBS), to aid students’ understanding.
- How are the stories of the Gondiwindi family and those involved in the Tent Embassy similar?
- Have students search for images of the protestors at the embassy. How do these align with the image created in their mind when they read about the protest on Prosperous?
- Analyse select images that you think are most relevant or intriguing for your students.
- What kind of statement is made by the historical struggle for Aboriginal land rights, combined with the story of the Gondiwindi family?
- Think about how the struggle for land rights links with the need to use voice and language. In what way have the protestors (from 1972 and the novel) used their voice/words/language?
- Have students create a visual representation of this theme in the novel. They could collate images from online or draw their own.
Ways of reading the text
Offering a postcolonial reading
Postcolonial critics argue that the study of the Western literary canon has damaged our understanding of human nature by exposing us to just one privileged subset of characteristics, experiences and concerns above all others. In her Author’s Note at the end of The Yield, Winch explicitly highlights the ongoing colonial attitudes that persist in Australia (from place names to museum practices) to challenge readers’ assumptions about the past. Her writing draws attention to the reality of Australian history, examining the dominance of white Australian values and attitudes to power, politics and religion over the experiences of Aboriginal peoples.
Ask students to respond to the question:
Is The Yield a deliberately postcolonial text?
Give them the following prompts to organise their thoughts, and encourage them to draw on key moments from the text in their responses.
- What are the differences in the way Aboriginal characters are portrayed in this text compared to other more canonical texts?
- Has Winch included a range of Aboriginal perspectives and experiences?
- What concerns does the text directly deal with, and what issues are given a platform?
- How are the characters’ identities shaped by their heritage and culture?
- How are intercultural relationships treated in the text?
- Who is the ‘other’ in the text? How are they treated by other characters and by Winch?
- How are colonial oppression and racism represented in the text?
- Does the text reinforce or undermine a Eurocentric view of Australia/the world?
On p. 111 of The Yield, August and Eddie have a conversation about August’s heritage and her move to the UK. His comment about Australia being pink – a reference to the colour-coding of Commonwealth countries on world maps – is a reminder of British dominion.
- Consider the names of places in The Yield; to what extent do they reinforce colonial attitudes?
- Look at a map of your state or local area and see if students can identify colonial place names.
- Consider the impact of Australia Post’s recent decision to allow First Nations place names in mailing addresses.
- Look up the many Australian towns that take their names from Aboriginal words. This article is a good place to start.
- Various chapters in Aboriginal Placenames: Naming and re-naming the Australian landscape (open access) provide interesting commentary on place names around Australia.
Comparison with other texts
In 2020, The Yield won the prestigious Miles Franklin Literary Award for an Australian novel of the highest literary merit. Upon winning Winch acknowledged the other Aboriginal author shortlisted that year, Tony Birch, and the importance of Indigenous writers speaking for themselves (see the third paragraph of this news post). Winch’s success highlights that there is a space for First Nations writers in the Australian publishing landscape, and that there are contemporary readers who want to absorb their stories. Below is a list of other Aboriginal authors (to name a few) whose work is instrumental in revealing the experiences of Indigenous Australians:
- Ellen van Neerven
- Alexis Wright
- Tony Birch
- Bruce Pascoe
- Melissa Lucashenko
- Kim Scott
- Ali Cobby Eckermann
- Ambelin Kwaymullina
- Claire G. Coleman
- Jack Davis
- Anita Heiss
- Larissa Behrendt
Winch also recommends several texts for the study of personal Indigenous histories in her Author’s Note (p. 342).
Exploring the impact of The Yield, particularly in light of extensive use of the Wiradjuri language, is worth further study with your class. You may also like to discuss the importance of First Nations storytellers writing and sharing their own stories, and any controversy that arises when these experiences are authored by other voices.
Evaluation of the text
Australians are often accused of suffering from ‘wilful amnesia’: a purposeful forgetfulness of stories or anxiety-inducing memories. Despite the efforts of governments that have been and gone, various Royal Commissions and reports have found that the plight of First Nations peoples remains dire.
What events in Australian history do students think Australians wilfully forget?
- Why might that be the case?
- How does The Yield put some of these events and issues at the forefront of readers’ minds?
- In what ways does Winch confront Australia’s wilful amnesia?
- What parts of Winch’s text are most challenging for readers? Why is that the case?
- How can The Yield help with combating racism and other social inequalities?
Rich assessment tasks
1. Productive mode: creative response tasks
Write a letter from either August to Albert OR Albert to August. These characters share a special connection, but once Albert passes away, many of August’s lingering questions go unanswered until she encounters the dictionary.
|Albert to August
|Consider what Albert may like to say to August about her upbringing, Jedda’s disappearance, Prosperous’ role in the family’s heritage, and the significance of her Aboriginal background in shaping her identity.
|August to Albert
|Consider what questions arise for August once she arrives back at Prosperous. What kinds of stories does she want to hear about, what are her concerns and how can Albert shed light on these? What does she need from him to get closure?
Then, drawing inspiration from the changing perspectives in The Yield, choose one of the minor characters and offer their view on an event, issue or concern in the novel. This might be one of August’s aunts, Mr or Mrs Falstaff, or even Mandy or another activist; write a short vignette from their perspective that could easily be inserted into the existing body of The Yield.
2. Receptive mode: analytical essay response task
Students are to respond to one of the following questions in a formal analytical essay of approximately 1,000 to 1,500 words.
- How do the different definitions of the world ‘yield’ apply to the characters in the text? In what ways do the characters personify what it means to ‘yield’?
- Explain the connection between place and identity for August Gondiwindi.
- Albert Gondiwindi states that ‘nothing ever really dies’ (p. 1). How is this idea explored in the novel through the losses that the characters have experienced?
- On p. 46, Albert relays an important lesson from his great aunt about truth-telling. Discuss the nature of truth and the importance of hearing all peoples’ stories.
- Reverend Greenleaf believed that he was ‘protecting’ the Aboriginal people of Massacre Plains. Explore the tension between his actions and the accounts of forced removal and mistreatment, leading to ongoing trauma, as revealed in the novel.
- On p. 93, Elsie says, ‘“Please don’t be a victim, Augie. It’s an easy road, that one.”’ In what ways do characters in the text demonstrate how easy it is to be a victim? Who challenges this idea?
Synthesising core ideas
Safely exiting the text
After exploring the key ideas and themes of The Yield with students, it is important to bring them safely out of the text. This means allowing time and space to unpack the concepts, respond to questions and continue any dialogue should students wish to engage further with the material. The Yield covers a number of culturally sensitive and challenging themes, and it is important that students do not feel confused or further confronted by the text and the issues it raises.
Below are some strategies to help bring students out of the text in a safe manner:
- allow time for debriefing after class if students want to talk more
- use exit cards or short surveys to ascertain students’ comfort levels
- use private journaling as a means of responding to and processing difficult themes
- model an appropriate response to the text
- follow up answers to any questions
- provide practical ways that students can respond to a need to get involved with issues they feel passionately about after reading the text
Revisiting the significance of language and connection to country
Much of the work undertaken earlier in this unit involved familiarising students with the significance of language and country for Aboriginal peoples. After reading the novel and completing the relevant activities, they can hopefully appreciate the importance of language for identity and belonging, as well as the role that the land plays in cultural life.
Print out the attached statements (PDF, KB) and place them around the classroom to undertake a graffiti board task. As students move around the room to read the prompts, they will write their responses/answers on sticky notes and add them underneath. This will allow you to collect a variety of responses to each statement, which can be shared and unpacked further through class discussion.
Illuminating Australia’s colonial past
Have students undertake a personal reflection to record their learnings and thoughts about the impact of white colonists’ actions towards Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, as well as the lingering effects of colonisation today. The three narratives of August, Albert and Reverend Greenleaf – each focusing on their own ideas, motivations and histories – should provide adequate starting points for this exercise. The text also suggests particular futures for Aboriginal peoples through the narrative surrounding August.
Some questions from which to springboard:
- What have you learned from The Yield about Australia’s colonial history?
- How did reading about the struggles of the town and the Gondiwindi family make you feel?
- What was the purpose of Reverend Greenleaf’s letter? How did his voice and stories illuminate those of August and Albert, if at all?
- Has your perception of Aboriginal peoples changed at all? If so, in what ways?
- What ideas did you have about Australian values before reading The Yield? Were any of these challenged when you read it?
- Have you been able to take anything you have learned from The Yield into your everyday life? For example, do you feel more empathetic when you see news stories with an Aboriginal focus?
A call to action?
Read the last line of the Author’s Note about Australia not having a treaty with its Indigenous peoples (p. 342). It is hard to ignore this sentence, especially as Australians are being invited to support the Uluru Statement from the Heart’s call for a First Nations voice to parliament. Learning about our lack of treaty, and the impact of this, would be worthwhile for young Australians.
- Where and how does The Yield sit alongside the policies and practices of contemporary Australian governments?
- What issues or concerns might Winch be attempting to bring to the forefront in her text?
- Does The Yield empower the reader to take action in pushing and campaigning for a treaty?
Consider the message of The Yield alongside other popular references to the need for a treaty, such as Midnight Oil’s ‘Beds are Burning’ and Yothu Yindi’s ‘Treaty’. How can popular culture and media galvanise people into action on this matter?
Rich assessment task (productive and receptive modes)
On p. 261, Aunt Missy accuses the Historic Museum Australia of being tokenistic. Tokenism refers to practices or gestures that are merely symbolic or perfunctory. This is how Missy describes the display of artefacts as representative of ‘Indigenous Australia’; she suggests that it would be more accurate to build an exhibit around the violence suffered at the hands of white colonists (p. 262).
Moving beyond tokenism to demonstrate real respect is important in creating a safe and welcoming space for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, and in recognising their enduring and ongoing contributions to Australian society. Using what students have learned from studying The Yield, create a class museum that highlights the complex and varied experiences of Aboriginal peoples. This could focus on your local community or Australia more broadly. A task sheet is available here (PDF, KB); ensure that students understand the importance of being culturally appropriate and authentic.
Further reading around cultural heritage and the Eurocentric concept of the museum is available from IndigenousX. Students may like to research their own state/territory museum, or the National Museum of Australia, for examples of how they curate cultural material. Viewing online collections, such as the Australian Museum’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Collection, may also provide helpful guidelines and inspiration.