• Tara June Winch. (Supplied.. )Source: Supplied..
Indigenous authors have taken out three of six prizes - for fiction, non-fiction and children's literature- at this year's Prime Minister's Literary Awards.
Keira Jenkins

11 Dec 2020 - 2:04 PM  UPDATED 11 Dec 2020 - 2:04 PM

The fiction, non-fiction and children's literature prizes at the Prime Minister's Literary Awards have been taken out by Indigenous authors this year.

Wiradjuri author Tara June Winch won the fiction prize for her novel 'The Yield'.

'Songspirals: Sharing women's wisdom of Country through songlines' by the Gay'wu Group of Women was the joint winner of the non-fiction prize alongside 'Sea People: The Puzzle of Polynesia' by Christina Thompson.

'Cooee Mittigar: A story on Darug Songlines' by Jasmine Seymour, illustrated by Leanne Mulgo Watson won the Children's Literature prize.

The $80,000 fiction prize is the latest accolade for Ms Winch, who has also taken out the NSW Premier's Literary Awards Book of the Year, the Christina Stead Prize for Fiction and the Miles Franklin Literary Award.

Ms Winch, who is based in France, is the first Indigenous author to win both the Miles Franklin and Prime Minister's Literary Award in one year.

'The Yield' follows August, a woman returning home from overseas to the small town of Massacre Plains for her grandfather's funeral, and learns that her home will be repossessed. 

The book also centres around Albert Gondiwindi - August's grandfather - who, knowing that he will soon die and determined to pass on his language, starts to write a Wiradjuri dictionary.

In deciding the prize, the judges said 'The Yield' is a "powerfully moving" story.

"Observant and unflinching, Winch deftly intersperses the narrative with letter of a good-hearted, long-deceased church minister as she explores the tragedy of Wiradjuri children removed from their family 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."

The Gay'wu Group of Women is a collaboration between five Yolngu women and three non-Indigenous women.

The group members are Merrikiyawuy Ganambarr-Stubbs, Banapuy Ganambarr, Djawundil Maymuru, Laklak Burarrwanga, Ritjilili Ganambarr, Sarah Wright, Kate Lloyd and Sandie Suchet-Pearson.

In describing  'Songspirals: Sharing Women's Wisdom of Country through Songlines' the judges said it was a "fascinating reading and explanation of the systems of knowledge belonging to Aboriginal women in North East Arnhem Land".

"While previous studies have focussed on men's song spirals this is the story of the meaning of women's songlines," they said.

"Above all the 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."

Jasmine Seymour and Leanne Mulgo Watson, both Darug women, are behind 'Cooee Mittigar: A Story on Darug Songlines' . 

'Cooee mittigar' means 'come here friend' and is an invitation for readers to 'yana' (walk) on Darug Country.

The judges described the book as "moving, informative, immersive, welcoming and potentially healing".

"It is a work of art that is beautiful and accessible, and with wonder on each new page for children and adults alike," they said.

"In keeping with the promise contained in the full title, it lifts us on the rhythms of days and seasons, and carries us on a journey across Darug country and far beyond in a respectful, reverent paean to a land which two centuries ago boasted hundreds of distinct languages and dialects, most of which have since become extinct.

"In addition to the wonderful depictions of flora and fauna, the sky is a constant throughout this book, subtly reminding the reader of the enormity of what we still have, and its beauty that we can ill afford to spurn."

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