(photo by David Lenton)
Walter is a travel writer and speaker with a special interest in spirituality.
Born in 1970 I spent my childhood in rural North Queensland, including some years doing correspondence school on a remote tin mine. On returning to “town” I devoted my life to singing, acting and the arts, and was constantly performing from the age of 12 – 17.
In 1988 I moved to Bathurst to study Theatre at Charles Sturt University. In 1991 I went to UNSW to study Chinese. I didn’t manage to graduate from either of these courses.
For many years I was a bookseller, working at Berkelouw’s on Oxford St., and later at Adyar, the famous metaphysical bookshop in the Sydney CBD. I later moved into a key role in a buying group for independent booksellers, and spent several years working with many of the most famous and long-established bookshops in Australia. Later I worked in various low-level roles in publishing, mostly in the area of sales and marketing.
I first visited Vietnam in 1994, and have been back many times since (so many I have lost count – somewhere between 9 and 12). Most notably I spent 3 months there in 1996 travelling the country with an eccentric Vietnamese-Australian Buddhist monk, living in remote monasteries and hermitages; in 1999 I spent 6 months at the Ho Chi Minh Social Sciences University studying the Vietnamese language; and I spent three months travelling and writing Destination Saigon over 2008/2009.
My latest book, Destination Cambodia, was published in September 2013 by Allen & Unwin.
A lifelong interest in Eastern spirituality saw me involved with a quasi-Buddhist cult in my early 20s, but when the female leader (an overseas Vietnamese) stopped being a nun and dyed her hair platinum blonde I switched to a more orthodox form of Vietnamese Buddhism, inspired by the Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh. One of Master Nhat Hanh’s central teachings is that all religion is inspired from a place of goodness, and one of his most famous books is Living Buddha, Living Christ. Since the death of my beloved grandmother I have been re-connecting with the beautiful religion she lived, a simple Christianity characterised by love, acceptance and respect for all people. These days I am very hesitant to call myself a Buddhist, a Christian, or anything, really.
In 2005 (at the age of 35) I returned to University and did an undergraduate degree in English. On graduation I took the prize for the most outstanding degree in the humanities. I went on to do my Honours degree (1st Class), for which I received the University Medal. My Honours thesis was on the motif of the lonely queer in the writings of Sumner Locke Elliott. These days I am a part of the University of Western Sydney’s prestigious Writing & Society Research Unit, where I am pursuing my PhD on the history of self-help books in Australia.
My partner of 20+ years, Thang Ngo, is a prominent Vietnamese-Australian community leader, having served for many years as an independent on the Fairfield City Council representing the Cabramatta district.
I live in Cabramatta, and attend a Vietnamese Buddhist temple weekly, as well as going to church!
Contact details & links
Destination Saigon the book
Destination Saigon Twitter
Destination Saigon Facebook group