Tara June Winch has won the 2020 Prime Minister’s Literary Award for her novel The Yield, taking out the $80,000 fiction category.
The win makes Tara June Winch the first Indigenous author to win both of Australia’s major writing prizes in a single year, having previously won the Miles Franklin award in July.
Winch’s novel follows the journey of a young woman, August Gondiwindi, who returns home after the death of her grandfather, and discovers was in the middle of compiling a dictionary of traditions, customs and beliefs of his ancestors. The novel includes a dictionary of the Wiradjuri language, which can be sampled on the publisher’s website.
Fourteen judges presided over the entries, and they said Winch was a lyrical and generous writer.
“Observing and unflinching, Winch deftly intersperses the narrative with letters of a good-hearted, long-deceased church minister as she explores the tragedy of Wiradjuri children removed from their families and homes,” they said.
“Never didactic, Winch carefully and lovingly brings to life the story of a fractured family and their fight to retain their culture, their language and their land. A lyrical and generous writer, Winch’s prose shimmers through this extraordinary tale of cruelty, dislocation, love and resilience.”
In the non-fiction category, the Gay’wu Group of Women were recognised with the award for Songspirals: Sharing Women’s Wisdom of Country Through Songlines – a decade long collaboration of eight women.
“This is a fascinating reading and explanation of the systems of knowledge belonging to Aboriginal women in North East Arnhem Land which are expressed through song spirals handed down from generation to generation,” the judges said about Songspirals.
“It is also an exemplary collaborative work between Yolnu and European women, one that will surely serve as a model for future projects.
“While previous studies have focussed on men’s song spirals this is the story of the meaning of women’s songlines. Above all this insightful book reveals the deep spirituality of these song spirals and their creators. This book marks a major contribution to our understanding of contemporary Indigenous culture.”
The non-fiction category was also won by Christina Thompson for Sea People: The Puzzle of Polynesia.
“This book will become the standard account of where the Polynesian people came from and how they settled the Pacific,” the judges said.
“But that is not its only narrative for Thompson also relates a damning story of how the cultural and racial bias of Western explorers and later scholars led them to misunderstand the origins, nature and occupation history of Polynesians. With a neat sense of irony Thompson demonstrates how Polynesian oral traditions have proven to be more accurate than European discourses on the subject.”
For the full shortlist and winners, see here.