Fathoming the orient: Australian narratives

David Walker

In the century from the 1880s to the 1980s there were numerous accounts of what ‘the rise of Asia’ would mean for Australia. While it can be reasonably argued that Australia underwent considerable change across this period there were also continuities in the way ‘Asia’ was represented, understood, and explained. The lecture will discuss some of the repeated stories or narratives that governed the Australian discussion of Asia across this period. High on the list were the ‘warning’ and the ‘opportunity’ narratives and in each case, Asia was understood to be moving towards an Asian future. There were often sharply polarised understandings of what this journey from a British/European past to an Asian future might mean, but the journey to Asia was often figured as a transformative encounter. Among those transformations was the shift from Australia as a remote outpost of the British Empire to a nation at the heart of the struggle for power between East and West. However Asia was understood, each of these competing narratives had implications for how Australians should respond to their changing circumstances thereby turning the response to Asia into a test of nationhood. Herein lies another story about the informed/visionary few who knew Asia and the ignorant many who did not.

This lecture is free and open to the public.

Light refreshments will be served from 5:30pm.

About the Speaker

David Walker took up his current position as the inaugural BHP Billiton Chair of Australian Studies at Peking University in February 2013. He has written extensively on Australian representations of Asia. His prize-winning book, Anxious Nation: Australia and the Rise of Asia, 1850 to 1939 (UQP, 1999) has been translated into Chinese and published by China Renmin University Press (2009). An English edition was published in India in the same year and a Hindi translation will be published in 2015. He is the co-editor with Agnieszka Sobocinska of Australia’s Asia: From Yellow Peril to Asian Century (UWA Publishing, 2012). A collection of his Asia-related essays has been published under the title Encountering Turbulence: Asia in the Australian Imaginary (Readworthy, 2013). His recently published personal history, Not Dark Yet (Giramondo, 2011) has been translated into Chinese by Professor Li Yao, with the Chinese title 光明行:家族的历史 and published by The People’s Literature Publishing House, Beijing (2014). His most recent publication, co-edited with Chengxin Pan, is Australia and China: Challenges and Ideas in Cross-cultural Engagement (Chinese Academy of the Social Sciences Press, 2015). David Walker is Alfred Deakin Professor at Deakin University in Melbourne and a Fellow of the Academy of the Social Sciences in Australia and the Australian Academy of the Humanities.

About the George E. Morrison Lecture series

The George Ernest Morrison Lecture series was founded by Chinese residents in Australia and others in honour of the late Dr G. E. Morrison (1862-1920), a native of Geelong, Victoria, Australia.

The objects of the foundation of the lectureship were to honour for all time the memory of a great Australian who rendered valuable services to China and to improve cultural relations between China and Australia. The annual Morrison Lecture is organised by a committee of ANU colleagues from the ANU College of Asia & the Pacific.

The George E Morrison Lecture Series is sponsored by the China Institute and the Australian Centre on China in the World.


Professor David Walker, Chair of Australian Studies, Peking University

Dates & times

Thursday, 3 September 2015

5.30pm - 7.30pm


Auditorium, China in the World Building (188), Fellows Lane, ANU

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