Book Review: Ouyang Yu’s Billy Sing explores our Australian war heroes through descriptive prose

Stating that “no risk was too great for him to take”, William ‘Billy’ Sing, the real life protagonist of Ouyang Yu’s new book Billy Sing, arrived in Gallipoli in 1914 and became one of our greatest snipers. Whilst now regarded as a  war hero, his start in life wasn’t always so auspicious.

Born in 1886, Billy grew up, under the harsh Australian sun, on on a farm in Clermont and Prosperpine, QLD, along with his parents and two sisters. He was the Australian son of “Father Cathay” and “Mother England”, and because of this heritage Billy was bullied at school.  But he soon found some release in a nearby gun range, whilst also  getting in some practice shooting kangaroos, which undoubtedly led to him being a spectacular sniper with precision enough to get a target in his first shot. Sing was a day dreamer, full of raw emotions, often not saying what he’d really like to say to those who hurt him. Treated as a leper at times, he ultimately found friends in war.

Billy Sing is a novel that reflects both life and death. It’s poignant, at times sad, and often reflective. But it’s also fantastically descriptive novel that brings to life Sing’s triumphant, yet conflicted, life.

It isn’t though perhaps a book for those with set ideas, as I think the lack of chapters and way the book is pieced together, may frustrate those who prefer conformity. But for those readers who enjoy reading not only of wartime heroics, but also adolescence, growing up and finding love, then Billy Sing is perhaps the book for you. It’ll spring emotions at strangest times and you’ll find yourself reflecting on how times have changed.

With Billy Sing, Chinese born writer Ouynag Yu restores the character of Sing to his rightful place in Australian history, just as it threatened to erase him.

Billy Sing by Ouynag Yu is available now through Transit Lounge Publishing