Bruce Dawe (1930- )

Bruce Dawe was born in Geelong on the 15 February 1930, he left school at 16 and after a series of odd jobs returned to night school to complete his matriculation. He received a teaching scholarship and attended Melbourne University for a year during which he met a number of emerging Victorian poets and converted to Catholicism.

After failing the end of year exams he returned to odd jobs and for some time he worked as a postman.

This is a city which is all present:
It moves, but oh so slowly
You would have to sleep years,
Waking suddenly once in a decade
To surprise it in the act of change.

‘Provincial City,’ Bruce Dawe

In 1959 he joined the RAAF and four years later he was posted to Harristown, Toowoomba where he met his first wife, Gloria. By this time Dawe had already published his first book of verse No Fixed Address (1962). In 1968, after a brief stint in Malaysia and then Melbourne, he resigned from the RAAF and returned to Toowoomba, where he lived until relocating to Caloundra in the year 2000, with Liz his second wife. Initially he held a teaching appointment at Downlands College, but by 1972 he had been appointed to a lectureship in English at the Darling Downs Institute of Advanced Education. The University of Southern Queensland in Toowoomba nominated him as an Emeritus Professor upon his retirement in 1993.

Bruce Dawe has published 12 books of poetry, one book of short stories, one book of essays, and has edited two other books. Many articles have been published dealing with his writings. Adjacent Worlds: A Literary Life of Bruce Dawe, written by Professor Ken Goodwin, was published by Longman Cheshire, in 1988. A study of his work written by Peter Kuch was published in the Oxford Australian Authors series in 1995.

A further study of his work, Attuned to Alien Moonlight: the Poetry of Bruce Dawe, by Dennis Haskell, UQP, was published in 2002. There are also 12 study guides for students of his work written by various authors.

Saturday night, in the main street kerb,
The angle-parked cars are full of watchers,
their feet on invisible accelerators,
Going nowhere, fast.

‘Provincial City,’ Bruce Dawe

Bruce Dawe has received numerous awards for his poetry, including: the Ampol Arts Award for Creative Literature (1967), the Grace Leven Poetry Prize (1978), the Braille Book of the Year (1979), the Myer Poetry Prize (1965, 1968), the Patrick White Literary Award (1980), the Christopher Brennan Award (1984). In 1984, Dawe’s collected edition, Sometimes Gladness, was named by the National Book Council as one of the 10 best books published in Australia in the previous ten years and is presently in its 5th edition. In 1990, he was awarded a Paul Harris Fellowship of Rotary International.

Dawe was awarded the Inaugural Philip Hodgins Medal for Literary Excellence in 1997 and an Art Council Emeritus Writers Award in 2000 for his long and outstanding contribution to Australian literature.

His State honours include an Order of Australia (AO) in 1992 and a Centenary Medal “for distinguished service to the arts through poetry” in 2003.

Bruce Dawe’s most recent books are: This Side of Silence: Poems, 1987-1990; Bruce Dawe: Essays and Opinions (1990); Mortal Instruments: Poems, 1990-1995; Sometimes Gladness: Collected Poems, 1954-1997, A Poet’s People (1999) and The Headlong Traffic – poems and prose monologues (2003) (all published by Addison Wesley Longman). During 2002 the first of his children’s books were published by Penguin: No Cat – and That’s That and The Chewing Gum Kid, both of which are already in reprint.

A third children’s book, Show and Tell, also by Penguin, was published in 2003. A chapbook, Towards a War: Twelve Reflections was published by Picaro Press in 2003. A German language edition of Dawe’s poems, Hier und Anderswo (Here and Elsewhere), translated by Emeritus Professor Manfred Jurgensen, was published in 2003 by Peter Lang. Bruce Dawe wrote the lyrics for the children’s theatre play, Aesop’s Fables, performed in the Arts Theatre, USQ, Toowoomba, in April 2000. He also wrote the lyrics for the musical play, Muscle Dance, based on the life of polio crusader, Sister Elizabeth Kenny. This was performed in the Empire Theatre in Toowoomba in early August, the same year. Dawe has also written the lyrics for the play for secondary schools, Invisible Rivers. He is presently working on the lyrics for a musical based on the life of Houdini.


Further Reading

Ken Goodwin, Adjacent Worlds: A Literary Life of Bruce Dawe, Melbourne: Longmans, 1988.

Dennis Haskell, Attuned to Alien Moonlight: The Poetry of Bruce Dawe, St Lucia: University of Queensland Press, 2002.

Peter Kuch, Bruce Dawe, Melbourne: Oxford University Press, 1996.

Mark McLeod, ‘Bruce Dawe and the Americans.’ Australian Literary Studies 9.2 (1979): 143-55.