William, or “Billy” Sing, was an Australian born and raised in rural Queensland, in 1886. He was to achieve greatness, but little is known of him today. His father was Chinese, and his mother was English, so from his earliest days he knew ostracism and racism. He falls into that awkward category of a hero who was known as “The Assassin”, and greatly decorated as a soldier in World War one.
Billy was a loner; he had no choice really, but went to school, and was a good student. His family had a small farm, but his father would go off droving for months at a time. As he grew he became interested in firing guns, and as a solitary sport, he enjoyed growing success. Billy signed up when war broke out and completed his training. He was sent to Gallipoli, and it was here that he really made his reputation as a sniper. He was highly decorated by both the Australian Government, and also the Belgian Government after serving time on the Western Front.
After the war, Billy married a Scottish woman he met while recuperating from a gunshot wound. The marriage was not to last though, and there are various accounts of the reasons why his wife Fenella left. After that Billy lived in obscurity and poverty. He was indeed a man of the land.
The unusual and interesting aspect of this short novel, is that it has been written by a Chinese author who migrated to Australia in 1991. Ouyang Yu gives Billy a voice that does his Chinese ancestry justice. He makes sense of the thoughts and actions of this young man as he grows up.
Billy’s father’s advice, to learn to ignore people, helped him as a lad. It seems his Chinese resilience coupled with Australian knowledge of the outback ensured his independent lifestyle. Ouyang has cleverly shown this is an authentic style.