My China Story: David Walker AM (Catch up online)

The event was held on Tuesday 4 May 2023.

My China Story is a conversation series hosted by the Institute for Australian and Chinese Arts and Culture (IAC) at Western Sydney University. Its aim is to widen and deepen the understanding of the multifaceted and humanised China through sharing lived experiences and knowledge of China by Australian public figures. This new episode featured a distinguished Australian cultural historian, Emeritus Professor David Walker AM.

Professor Walker has been Professor of Australian Studies at Deakin University from 1991 to 2016 and Emeritus Professor at Deakin University since 2016. He is recognised as a leading authority in the study of Australian perceptions of Asia. He has travelled widely in Asia including  Indonesia, Japan and India. His two highly influential books, Anxious Nation: Australia and the Rise of Asia 1850 – 1939 (1999) which was awarded the Ernest Scott prize for History in 2001 and Stranded Nation: White Australia in an Asian Region (2019) examine Australian responses to Asia from the 1850s to the 1970s. Together they argue that the response to Asia has played a critical role in the formation of the Australian nation, moving ‘Asia’ into the mainstream of Australian historical writing.

In 2004 Professor Walker suffered a sudden deterioration in his eyesight from macular degeneration. His subsequent loss of vision made him to reconsider his relation to the past and the history of his family leading to the publication of his memoir Not Dark Yet: a Personal History (2011), starting from his family’s settlement in the mid-north of South Australia in the late 19th century. The book connects the small, seemingly inconsequential events of daily life to larger historical themes that have defined the country.

Professor Walker made his first visit to China in 1993 when he gave talks at Yangzhou Normal University (YNU) in Jiangsu Province. Trips to China then continued as part of an exchange agreement between YNU and Deakin University. In 2005 he became a Visiting Professor at Renmin University, Beijing. In November 2012, Professor Walker was appointed as the inaugural BHP Chair Professor in Australian Studies at Peking University. The Chair was an initiative of the Foundation for Australian Studies in China (FASIC) supported by the Australia-China Council, BHP Billiton, Peking University and the Australian Department of Industry and was the first high-profile Australian professorial position in China. During his three-year appointment at Peking University, Professor Walker supported and made a remarkable contribution to Australian Studies in China.

In 2012 David Walker met Professor Li Yao, the foremost translator of Australian writing in China. After Professor Li Yao decided to translate Not Dark Yet, the two men got to know each other well and travelled together usually by train to visit as many of the 38 Australian Studies Centres throughout China as they could. Their friendship led to the idea of working on a parallel Australia-China memoir and family history to explore differences and similarities in their life experiences. According to the Chinese zodiac, they are both Roosters, of the same age but one was born in Adelaide, South Australia, the other in Li Village, Inner Mongolia. After much travel, discussion over shared meals and background research, a dual memoir Happy Together: Bridging the Australia China Divide was published by Melbourne University Press in 2022.

Professor Walker is an Alfred Deakin Professor, Deakin University, an Honorary Professorial Fellow at the Asia Institute, University of Melbourne and an Adjunct Professor at Western Sydney University. He is a Fellow of the Academy of the Social Sciences in Australia and the Australian Academy of the Humanities. He was awarded Membership of the Order of Australia (AM) in 2018. He is also a Visiting Professor at Beijing Foreign Studies University, Inner Mongolia Normal University, Renmin University and Liaocheng University in China.

In this episode of My China Story, Professor Walker shared his China experiences and talk about his collaboration with Professor Li Yao. The book Happy Together can be purchased via these links: