David Walker (historian)

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David Walker
Born (1945-11-12)12 November 1945
Nationality Australian
Occupation Academic historian

David Robert Walker (born 12 November 1945) is an Australian academic historian who has been the professor of Australian studies at Deakin University since 1991. He is a leading authority in the study of Australian perceptions of Asia.

Early life and education[edit]

Walker was born in Adelaide in 1945 and received his early education in rural South Australian schools where his father was a teacher. The family settled in Adelaide in 1958 and Walker graduated from the University of Adelaide with a first class honours degree in Arts in 1967. Post-graduate studies were undertaken at the Australian National University (ANU) where he was awarded a Doctorate in 1972. His thesis, which explored Vance Palmer, Louis Esson and other twentieth-century Australian authors' hopes for the development of an Australian culture, was subsequently published as Dream and Disillusion: A Search for Australian Cultural Identity.

Academic career[edit]

Walker spent the next two years as a post doctoral research fellow at Australian National University (ANU), where he was the editor of Labor History. He then held a number of academic positions at the University of Auckland and the University of New South Wales until his appointment as the Professor of Australian Studies at Deakin University. He has a number of visiting appointments including a Distinguished Visiting Chair of Australian Studies at the University of Copenhagen, the Monash Chair of Australian Studies at Georgetown University and a Visiting Professorship in Australian Studies at the Australian Studies Centre, Renmin University, Beijing.[1]

Major Works[edit]

Walker has received more than 30 major research grants and published more than 120 books, book chapters, peer reviewed journal articles and peer reviewed lectures. Much of his work has concentrated on the history of Australia's engagement with Asia and, in particular, the ways in which Australians imagined Asian peoples and their cultures.

Anxious Nation[edit]

The results of his research on Asia were published as Anxious Nation: Australia and the Rise of Asia 1850–1939 in 1999. This landmark work explores the anxiety that Australians felt towards the people of Asia during the late nineteenth and early twentieth century.[2] While Australian images of Australia were overwhelmingly negative during this period, Walker makes the point that some Australians including Prime Minister Alfred Deakin saw much to admire in Asian cultures. Al Grassby, former Minister for Immigration who dismantled the White Australia Policy, described the book as "evocative and compelling prose …which shows how bigotry and myth making shaped the question of race which dominated the public and private discourse."[3] Anxious Nation has been reprinted in an India edition and translated into Chinese.

Not Dark Yet[edit]

In late 2004, David Walker, suffered a sudden and severe loss of sight that rendered him legally blind and limited his ability to continue archival research. He subsequently changed his research methods and drew on his family history as a tool to investigate the development of Australia’s national character and culture.[2] This led to the publication of Not Dark Yet: A personal history which has been described by Phillip Adams as "an evocative portrait of 20th century Australia …the attitudes, idiosyncrasies and prejudices of the era."[4]

Current Work[edit]

Walker has co-edited Australia’s Asia: from Yellow Peril to Asian Century a selection of essays on the Australian engagement with Asia which was released in late 2012.[5] In January 2013, Walker also published a collection of essays entitled Encountering Turbulence: Asia in the Australian Imaginary.[6]

He is currently completing Closed Minds: Opening White Australia to Asia, the sequel to "Anxious Nation" covering the period 1939–1972 which he hoped to publish in 2013, however, he has not announced an expected completion date.

BHP Billiton Chair of Australian Studies[edit]

In November 2012, Walker was appointed as the inaugural BHP Billiton Professor in Australian Studies at Peking University. The chair was an initiative of the Australia-China Council, the Foundation for Australian Studies in China, BHP Billiton, Peking University and the Australian Department of Industry and was the first high-profile, privately funded Australian professorial position in China.[6]

In announcing Professor Walker's appointment, the Australian Minister for Trade, Craig Emerson said that the chair was an indication of the Australian government's commitment to encouraging Australia students to look to Asia as their future. It was consistent with the government response to the "Australia in the Asian Century White Paper", which aimed to have more Australian university students studying overseas and a greater proportion undertaking part of their degree in an Asian country by 2025.

Emerson praised Walker as an outstanding ambassador for Australian education who would engage with Chinese researchers, students, government and the community to lift the profile of studies of Australian society, history and culture. Walker would also provide academic leadership to a network of more than 30 Australian Studies Centres in Chinese universities, which has been supported by the Australia-China Council for two decades.[7]

Awards and Fellowships[edit]

The Academy of the Social Sciences in Australia elected Walker a fellow in 2001 and the Australian Academy of the Humanities bestowed the same honor in 2005. He received the Ernest Scott prize following the publication of Anxious Nation.

In April 2012, Walker became the Alfred Deakin Professor of Australian Studies, the highest honour that Deakin University can bestow on its academic staff.[1]


  1. ^ a b "Alfred Deakin Professors" (Press release). Deakin University Australia. March 2012. Retrieved 2014-08-19. 
  2. ^ a b Griffiths, Tom (8 March 2011). "Not Dark Yet — A personal history". Deakin University. Archived from the original on 29 May 2014. Retrieved 2014-08-19. 
  3. ^ Grassby, Al (November 2002). "Book Review: David Walker, Anxious Nation: Australia and the Rise of Asia 1850-1939". Labour History. 83: 222. ISSN 1469-9702. Retrieved 2014-08-19. (Subscription required (help)). 
  4. ^ Presenter: Philip Adams (4 April 2011). "David Walker: Not Dark Yet". Late Night Live. Radio National. Retrieved 2014-08-19. 
  5. ^ Walker, David; Sobocinska, Agnieszka, eds. (13 November 2012). Australia's Asia: From Yellow Peril to Asian Century. Crawley, Western Australia: UWA Publishing. ISBN 978-1742583495. Retrieved 2014-08-19. 
  6. ^ a b "About the Chair". Australian Studies Centre; Peking University. Retrieved 2014-08-19. 
  7. ^ "Ministers welcome BHP Billiton chair appointment at Peking University" (Press release). Minister for Trade and Investment. 20 November 2012. Retrieved 2014-08-19.