Australia's Asia

New book corrects the balance of history.

Dr Agnieszka Sobocinska and Professor David Walker at a recent conference in India.
Dr Agnieszka Sobocinska and Professor David Walker at a recent conference in India.

Long before the recent Australian Government White Paper, Asia has been at the centre of Australian thinking, just not always for the best of reasons.

That's the argument put forward by Alfred Deakin Professor David Walker and his colleague from Monash University, Dr Agnieszka Sobocinska, the editors of a timely new book titled: Australia's Asia - From Yellow Peril to Asian Century.

"Proximity to Asia has appeared in extremes, both as a lurking threat and an offering of new opportunities for trade, travel and cultural exchanges," Professor Walker said.

"Our book corrects the balance of history, reminding us that whether it is a fear of immigrants, a fascination with the exotic, or anything in between, Australia has had a long and deeply complex relationship with Asia."

Nowhere is that more apparent than in the writings of the man after whom Deakin University is named.

Alfred Deakin, Australia's second Prime Minister, wrote in his book Irrigated India in 1893:

"The intellectual give and take which is everywhere a stimulus to thought should be especially quick and prolific between Australasia, or Southern Asia, and its northern continent.

"We are near enough to readily visit India, and to be visited. Its students might come to the universities of our milder climate, instead of facing the winters of  Oxford, Paris or Heidelberg.

"Our thinkers may yet become authorities upon questions which need personal acquaintance with India and its peoples."

Australia's Asia is the first sustained collection of writings on Australian perceptions of Asia in over 20 years.

It touches on a number of highly relevant issues including the rise of China, Australians in Bali, the "boat people" debate and the teaching of Asian history in Australian schools.

Professor Walker is Alfred Deakin Professor of Australian Studies at Deakin University, and is recognised as an outstanding cultural historian whose work has redrawn the boundaries of scholarship, moving ‘Asia’ into the mainstream of Australian historical writing.

His prize-winning book, Anxious Nation: Australia and the rise of Asia, 1850–1939, has been translated into Chinese and Hindi.

He is a Fellow of the Australian Academy of the Social Sciences and the Australian Academy of the Humanities and has recently been appointed as the inaugural BHP Billiton Chair of Australian Studies at Peking University.

Dr Sobocinska is Lecturer at the National Centre for Australian Studies at Monash University.

Her research interests lie in the intersection of popular attitudes and international affairs, particularly in Australian relations with Asia and in the foreign aid system.

Her recent publications in the Journal of Australian Studies and History Australia have been awarded prizes by the Australian Historical Association, the History Council of New South Wales and the International Australian Studies Association.

Australia's Asia is published by UWA Publishing


Australia’s Asia provides a critical overview of the field, integrating the carefully selected articles into an important statement for the twenty-first century. - Adrian Vickers, Professor of Southeast Asian Studies, University of Sydney

Australians seem reluctant to accept the long and rich history of our encounters with Asia, preferring, as David Walker and Agnieszka Sobocinska put it, the notion that ‘Asia is always unprecedented and probably disruptive’. - Angela Woollacott, Manning Clark Professor of History, Australian National University.

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