Tara June Winch
Miles Franklin Literary Award 2020
Here is an important book about the patience of country. What it endures, witnesses. How it waits until we are ready and then calls us in.
When her grandfather, Poppy Albert, dies, August Gondiwindi goes home for his funeral. August has been away for a long time. She is welcomed back to country by a loving Nan, exhausted by life on exhausted land. Still missing is her sister, Jedda, still in jail is her mother.
‘Reckons she’ll get day release, but don’t count your eggs,’ Nan tells her.
Poppy has been writing a dictionary of the language of his people. Words he finds ‘on the wind’, but more than mere words – each contains a little story, a learning, a gift from the past for the future. Continuity.
The narrative finds its way in one chapter, Poppy’s dictionary in the next. Words to speak out loud. To savour. ‘I was born on Ngurambang…’ says Poppy, ‘If you say it right it hits the back of your mouth and you should taste blood in your words.’
Sandwiched inbetween are more words. This time from the church. Letters from Reverend Ferdinand Greenleaf back home to Britain. From the mission reporting back to the colonial masters. A confession of sorts. How one culture, even with the best of intentions, can still corrupt another. Wound generations. Silent in the background looms the overwhelming spectre of the Mining Company. Sharpening its ravenous teeth.
And all the time, country waits. Ready when you are. This book holds lessons for us all. Share it with your children.
Review by John Dickson