Originally trained as an anthropologist, Emeritus Professor Kay Saunders was Professor of Modern History and a Senator of the University of Queensland (2002-06). She was CEO of The Brisbane Institute from 2006 to 2009 and employed by Bond University from 2012 to 2014. She was elected as a Fellow of the Australian Academy of Social Sciences in 2001, followed by election to the Royal Historical Society (London) in 2003 along with the Royal Society of Arts (London).
In 1999, Professor Saunders was appointed as a Member of the Order of Australia for her contribution to Australian history and public debate, followed in 2021 by appointment as an Officer (AO). She was a Director of the national Australia Day Council (1994-97), Council Member of the Australian War Memorial (1994-97) and of the Australian National Maritime Museum (1994-96). She served as Chair of the Queensland Government’s Cultural Advisory Council (1994-97) as well as Premier Beattie’s advisor on women’s policy, 1999-2001.
Professor Saunders' published works are in the fields of race relations, plantation economies, global political economy of the nineteenth century, gender studies, Sir Samuel Griffith, Australian federation and World War 2. She was principal historical researcher for bandarra-gan chidna women’s walk along Kingsford Smith Drive (2019-20) which appeared as a book entitled Women of Brisbane in 2021. She was appointed as a principal researcher and author for the History Section of the Path to Treaty submission to the Queensland Parliament in 2020. Aboriginal Workers which she co-edited with Professor Ann McGrath AM and Dr Jackie Huggins AM has been released in 2020.