Swallow the Air

by

Tara June Winch

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Billy Gibson Character Analysis

May’s brother. Older than May by some years, Billy has a different father, and is born with a heart condition; as a baby he goes through multiple surgeries, and he’s sickly for much of his early life. Eventually, Billy triumphs over his disability by learning to walk and run, a development that Mum views as evidence of his fighting spirit. Billy and May are extremely close during childhood; they both love to explore the beach and go fishing in the ocean near their home. It’s Billy as much as Aunty who takes care of May after Mum’s suicide. Accordingly, when Billy runs away after an altercation with Craig, May too becomes dissatisfied and restless, and soon leaves home. During his wandering, Billy starts to use drugs, and it seems as if he’s going to repeat Aunty’s mistakes and succumb to the substance abuse that menaces many Aboriginal communities. However, he stops using and returns home at the end of the novel, triumphing over his circumstances just as May does by coming to terms with her Aboriginal identity.

Billy Gibson Quotes in Swallow the Air

The Swallow the Air quotes below are all either spoken by Billy Gibson or refer to Billy Gibson. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
The Power of Memory Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the University of Queensland Press edition of Swallow the Air published in 2006.
6. Leaving Paradise Quotes

Billy and me were like shadows; we could merge into the walls without being noticed. We’d move on the same tides; when we were laughing we couldn’t stop each other, when we were talking neither of us could get a word in, when we were fishing, being sad, or being silent, we were both empty cups.

Related Characters: May Gibson (speaker), Billy Gibson
Related Symbols: Water
Page Number: 59
Explanation and Analysis:
20. Home Quotes

My mother knows that I am home, at the water I am always home. Aunty and my brother, we are from the same people, we are of the Wiradjuri nation, hard water. We are of the river country, and we have flowed down the rivers to estuaries to oceans.

Related Characters: May Gibson (speaker), Mum, Billy Gibson, Aunty
Related Symbols: Water
Page Number: 194
Explanation and Analysis:
Get the entire Swallow the Air LitChart as a printable PDF.
Swallow the Air PDF

Billy Gibson Character Timeline in Swallow the Air

The timeline below shows where the character Billy Gibson appears in Swallow the Air. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
1. Swallow the Air
The Power of Memory Theme Icon
Family Theme Icon
...sick,” or mentally ill. That morning, Mum makes helmets for May and her older brother, Billy, out of ice cream boxes, and sends them to go fishing in the ocean. She... (full context)
Aboriginal Identity Theme Icon
Displacement Theme Icon
Family Theme Icon
May rides fast to keep up with Billy, who is carrying the fishing gear. Both children ditch their bikes on the dunes and... (full context)
Aboriginal Identity Theme Icon
Displacement Theme Icon
Neither Billy nor May catches any fish, only some small shellfish called pipis. Billy says they should... (full context)
Family Theme Icon
Substance Abuse Theme Icon
When May and Billy arrive at Aunty’s house, they find a police car outside. In the house, Aunty sobs... (full context)
2. Grab
Displacement Theme Icon
...carts. One day she comes home elated, having won the contest. She promises May and Billy that this year they’ll have a real Christmas turkey. (full context)
Displacement Theme Icon
Family Theme Icon
At the Grocery Grab, Billy and May watch and cheer while Aunty runs down the aisles frantically throwing food into... (full context)
3. Cloud Busting
The Power of Memory Theme Icon
Aboriginal Identity Theme Icon
Family Theme Icon
In a flashback, May describes her childhood habit of “cloud busting” with Billy, biking down to the beach in order to explore the dunes and look at the... (full context)
The Power of Memory Theme Icon
Family Theme Icon
When May and Billy get home, they decorate the house with shells and Mum fries any fish they’ve caught.... (full context)
4. My Bleeding Palm
Family Theme Icon
...times, too. When May is in eighth grade, she wins the school art prize and Billy gets a job delivering milk. Sometimes Aunty has good days at the poker table and... (full context)
The Power of Memory Theme Icon
Family Theme Icon
...Aunty” anymore. May decides to go for a walk. On her way out, she passes Billy, smoking a bong on the couch. (full context)
Aboriginal Identity Theme Icon
Displacement Theme Icon
When May was younger, she often rode down the cycleway with Billy to reach the creek where they could find crabs. As they grow older, they don’t... (full context)
Aboriginal Identity Theme Icon
Displacement Theme Icon
...shirt, the popping sound of the buttons remind May of playing with bubble wrap with Billy as a child. After the man gets up and leaves, May lies in the sand... (full context)
6. Leaving Paradise
Family Theme Icon
Mum once told May that although “no one taught Billy how to fight,” he was tough ever since he was a baby, “before he could... (full context)
Aboriginal Identity Theme Icon
Family Theme Icon
...partner, this one a white man, and gave birth to May a few years later. Billy was still sickly, often fainting or weak, but when he finally learned to walk, he... (full context)
Family Theme Icon
When Billy turns eighteen, he and May are still living with Aunty. Along with her boyfriend Craig,... (full context)
Family Theme Icon
On Billy’s birthday, May buys a cake and Aunty gives him a flask filled with bourbon. She... (full context)
Aboriginal Identity Theme Icon
Family Theme Icon
When Billy and May get home, they find Craig holding Aunty’s face next to the red-hot stovetop.... (full context)
Aboriginal Identity Theme Icon
Family Theme Icon
From then on, whenever May walks through Paradise Parade or to the beach, she feels Billy’s absence acutely. She’s always been close with her brother, sensitive to his emotions and rarely... (full context)
7. To Run
Family Theme Icon
Substance Abuse Theme Icon
...arrives home, there are two new men and a woman in the house. One is Billy. She’s elated, but horrified to see that he’s clearly high. Billy sloppily hugs May and... (full context)
Displacement Theme Icon
Family Theme Icon
Substance Abuse Theme Icon
...a cold shower and slaps her gently, to no avail. Sheepa and the others, including Billy, drag her corpse downstairs and abandon it “like evidence” on one of the waiting train... (full context)
8. Territory
Aboriginal Identity Theme Icon
Displacement Theme Icon
...she can breathe freely and finally stop thinking about the overdose girl. She wonders if Billy will ever wake up from his drug trance. (full context)
11. Wantok
Aboriginal Identity Theme Icon
Displacement Theme Icon
Family Theme Icon
...she is his wantok, or “black girl ally,” and May says he reminds her of Billy. (full context)
15. Cocoon
Aboriginal Identity Theme Icon
Family Theme Icon
...her bike, carrying food. May always loved nights around the fire pit, which she and Billy built themselves. While Mum told stories, she carved small animals and flowers in the rocks... (full context)
The Power of Memory Theme Icon
Aboriginal Identity Theme Icon
Family Theme Icon
While he was normally quiet, Billy talked volubly, telling them about finding a canoe in the garden and bringing it home... (full context)
20. Home
Displacement Theme Icon
...knows that she’ll always be at home wherever there’s water—after all, she, Aunty, Mum, and Billy are all of the Wiradjuri, or “hard water” people. Even though this beach isn’t her... (full context)
Family Theme Icon
...to leave her family behind. It occurs to May that when Mum died, she and Billy both became lost. It was as if they were in the ocean and “forgot to... (full context)
Displacement Theme Icon
Family Theme Icon
...Aunty drinking a beer in the kitchen; when her aunt sees her, she starts crying. Billy comes in from the living room and supports Aunty, as she sobs to May that... (full context)
The Power of Memory Theme Icon
Aboriginal Identity Theme Icon
Displacement Theme Icon
Family Theme Icon
...suggests that they all go out and buy a new tablecloth—an orange one, she specifies. Billy looks up from the table and Aunty smiles. Suddenly, she cheers up and slaps the... (full context)