After joining the Australian Foreign Service in 1963, Alison lived in Japan for a total of six years, and for shorter periods in Burma, Iran, the Philippines, Jordan, South Korea, the United States of America and Mexico, working alternately as an author and Australian diplomat. She speaks Japanese and French. In addition to numerous articles and reviews, her publications include six books of fact and fiction about the Australia/Asia interface, the latest being About Face: Asian Accounts of Australia (Scribe, 2003) and the forthcoming Howard's War (Scribe, 2003). Since leaving the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, she has received a PhD in Asian Studies from ANU, and has continued to lecture, write, and broadcast in Australia and abroad on Asian affairs and cultural and political issues.
She is a member of the Australian Republican Movement, the Asian Studies Association of Australia, the Asia-Pacific Council of Macquarie University, and is co-Patron of the Asian Association of Australian Studies.