IN Australia, William Yang's latest show ''left more than half the audience sniffling or openly crying'', wrote an observer. But will Sadness, with its often harrowing images, have the same effect in Hong Kong? ''I felt apprehensive about bringing it here because it's so attuned to Sydney and its social life,'' admits the acclaimed Australian-Chinese photographer whose two-hour monologue with slides opens tonight at the Fringe Club and continues till Tuesday aspart of Fringe 94. ''I even wondered if it would translate to Melbourne - there's always been that funny rivalry between Melbourne and Sydney - but it went over well. ''Hong Kong is totally different culturally, but I feel fairly confident, because Sadness also deals with my search for my Chinese identity and that should strike a chord with the Hong Kong Chinese who are thinking of migrating.'' The traumas of settling in the land Down Under will never affect this third-generation Australian whose maternal grandfather arrived in Darwin in the 1880s eager to strike it rich on the goldfields. But William Yang, born in northen Queensland, raised on a tobacco farm and educated at the University of Queensland before moving to Sydney in 1969, knows very well what it is to feel different. As he recounts in Sadness: ''One day when I was six years old, at school, one of the kids called me 'Ching Chong Chinaman'. I didn't understand what he meant, but I knew from his expression he was being horrible to me. ''I went home to my mother and I said to her, 'Mum, I'm not Chinese, am I?' My mother looked at me very sternly and she said, 'Yes you are.' ''Her tone shocked me. I knew in that instant that being Chinese was like some terrible curse and I could not rely on my mother for help.'' At 50, Yang has long reconciled himself to both his race and and his sexual orientation. He is Chinese and gay, says this urbane Australian whose celebrity went up another notch last year when he won the Higashikawa-Cho International Photographer of the Year Award. He did his first slide presentation at the 1982 Adelaide Festival, but the inspiration to talk on stage was born when, in 1986, he heard the brilliant American monologist Spalding Gray and was ''astonished'' by his stories. Yang created two shows - The Face of Buddha in which he recounted 100 years of family history starting with the gold rush days, and China Diary, which dealt with his intensely emotional reaction to ''China, the Motherland, the Homeland'' - then decided to weave together two compelling themes. The result was Sadness, covering a four-year period of work during which William Yang, best-known as a social photographer, found himself going to more wakes than parties and reflecting anew on his youth and heritage. ''It must be the only show in recent history dealing with death which has been a sell-out,'' wrote Australia's Peter Blazey after seeing such seering images as the great writer Patrick White at the end of his life and the wasted body of AIDS victim Nicholaas van Schalkwyk - a close friend of Yang's - lying naked, except for a towel, on a bed in a Sydney hospital. None of it is macabre, much less sensation-seeking, note critics. Rather, the 600 slides, accompanied by Yang's anecdotes - many of them lightened by his wry humour - inspire compassion and a real understanding of what it is like to be Chinese in a predominantly white country. They also add up to what Blazey called ''the ultimate slide night.'' ''In my early shows, I experimented with music and movement - lots of dashing across the stage - to try and jazz them up, but now I find that just talking is the most effective way,'' says the photographer-raconteur. ''Sadness is quite long, but I need two hours to say everything I want to say and besides, true story-telling is a slow process. ''It's meant to engage you. 'Mesmerising', said one reviewer. I like to think that's true.'' His story about his uncle Fang Yuen is certainly gripping. As he recounts, the rich, middle-aged Queensland landowner who married into the Yang family was considered quite a catch even though his bride - ''my mother's sister Bessie'' - was only 16. The couple prospered, then out of the blue, tragedy struck, leaving the Yangs devastated and deeply embittered. ''Fang Yuen employed a White Russian called Peter Danelchanko as manager on one of his sugar cane farms, then one day they had an argument over money and the Russian shot my uncle dead. There was a trial, but Danelchanko was acquitted and that was seen as huge scandal by the Chinese community. ''I never knew my uncle because he was murdered 21 years before I was born, but what fascinates me is the attitudes which existed in those days. In the 20s, killing a Chinaman wasn't considered a crime in Australia.'' Prejudice took its toll in many subtle ways, says Yang who, like his brother and sister, was brought in the ''Western way''. ''My father was Hakka and spoke a form of Mandarin and my mother came from See-Yup near Canton, so at home they always spoke in English. Apart from that, my mother badly wanted us to assimilate and all that suppressing of our Chinese side created real problems for me as I grew up - always, that conflict between the way I looked and the way I felt. ''Looking back, I realise my mother's attitudes were mostly protective. Her message was: never rock the boat; blend in so no one will notice you're Chinese. It's what I call the tyranny of appearance. ''Things have changed in Australia, but even five years ago, I couldn't have done Sadness. There comes a time when people are prepared to listen and right now, it's fashionable to be doing shows like mine.'' Partly, that may be because so many Australians can identify with the Yangs: not just Chinese these days, but a small United Nations. ''We're fairly biologically blended. We have Irish, Latvian, Italian, Japanese, Vietnamese - all sorts in our family. I'm all for hybrids.''