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Bruce Dawe

Born Donald Bruce Dawe
(1930-02-15)15 February 1930
Fitzroy, Victoria
Died 1 April 2020(2020-04-01) (aged 90)
Caloundra, Queensland. Australia
Language English
Nationality Australian
Notable awards Officer of the Order of Australia
Years active 1947–2020

Donald Bruce Dawe AO (15 February 1930 – 1 April 2020) was an Australian poet, considered by some as one of the most influential Australian poets of all time.

Early life

Bruce Dawe was born in 1930 in the Melbourne suburb of Fitzroy. His mother and father were from farming backgrounds in Victoria and, like his own sisters and brother, had never had the opportunity to complete primary school. He always had encouragement from them (the younger of his two sisters also wrote poetry) and his mother, proud of her Lowlands Scots ancestry, often recited poems that she had learned in her 19th-century childhood. Dawe's father's ancestors came from Wyke Regis in Dorset, England, in the mid-19th century. Dawe attended six schools before leaving Northcote High School in Melbourne at 16 without completing his Leaving Certificate. Of the four children in the family, he was the only one to attend secondary school.

After leaving school at 16, he worked in a wide range of jobs: as a clerk in various firms as well as a labourer, sales assistant, office boy in an advertising agency and a copy boy at the Melbourne newspapers The Truth and The Sun News-Pictorial. He also worked as a labourer in the Public Works Department, as a tailer-out in various Melbourne saw-mills and as a farm-hand in the Cann River valley.

Dawe completed his adult matriculation by part-time study in 1953 and enrolled at Melbourne University on a teaching scholarship in 1954. He left university at the end of 1954 and moved to Sydney, where he worked as a labourer in a glass factory and later in a factory manufacturing batteries. Returning to Melbourne in 1956, he worked as a postman for two years and as a self-employed gardener.

Dawe joined the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) in 1959, initially as a trainee telegraphist but remustered as an education assistant. After completing his recruit training at the RAAF base in Rathmines he was posted to Ballarat. On commencing duties as an education assistant he undertook postings to RAAF Base Wagga, Victoria Barracks Melbourne and Toowoomba.

Dawe also completed a short posting to Malaysia, returning to Melbourne after six months. During this posting Dawe, on request, wrote a poem to be used as the lyrics for a school song for the RAAF School on the island of Penang, attended by the children of personnel posted to the nearby RAAF base at Butterworth, Malaysia. This version of the school song was used from 1966 until the school’s closing in 1988.


Leaving the RAAF in 1968, Dawe began teaching at Downlands College, a Catholic boys college (he became a Catholic in 1954) in Toowoomba, Queensland. After teaching English and history at the secondary level for two and a half years, he became a tertiary lecturer in English literature at the Darling Downs Institute of Advanced Education (DDIAE) in Toowoomba.

He was appointed as a lecturer at DDIAE in 1971, became a senior lecturer in 1980 and an associate professor following the status change to the University of Southern Queensland (USQ). He was awarded the inaugural DDIAE Award for Excellence in Teaching in 1988. He retired from full-time teaching in 1993 and was appointed as the first honorary professor of USQ in recognition of his contribution to the university. He taught University of the Third Age classes after his retirement from full-time teaching.

He held four university degrees (BA, MLitt, MA, PhD), all completed by part-time study.

In 1999, in appreciation of the opportunities he had had while teaching at the University of Southern Queensland, Dawe endowed a national poetry prize of $2,500 awarded annually to help support poets and recognise the important contribution they make to Australian society. This endowment, for the Bruce Dawe National Poetry Prize, is held in trust by the University of Southern Queensland, administered by its Faculty of Arts with the awarding of the prize judged by the English Literature staff of the faculty.

Personal life

Dawe married Gloria Desley Blain on 27 January 1964. Between December 1964 and July 1969, they had four children: Brian, twins Jamie and Katrina, and Melissa. Gloria died in 1997.

Dawe died in Caloundra, Queensland, on 1 April 2020 aged 90.


  • 1965 – winner of the Myer Poetry Prize
  • 1967 – winner of the Ampol Arts Award for Creative Literature
  • 1968 – winner of the Myer Poetry Prize
  • 1973 – winner of the Dame Mary Gilmore Medal
  • 1978 – winner of the Grace Leven Prize for Poetry
  • 1979 – winner of the Braille Book of the Year
  • 1980 – winner of the Patrick White Literary Award
  • 1984 – winner of the Christopher Brennan Award
  • 1990 – Paul Harris Fellowship of Rotary International
  • 1992 – made an Officer of the Order of Australia: "In recognition of service to Australian literature, particularly in the field of poetry"
  • 1996 – Alumni Award by the University of New England
  • 1997 – winner of the inaugural Philip Hodgins Memorial Medal at the Mildura Writers' Festival
  • 2000 – Australian Council for the Arts Emeritus Writers Award for his long and outstanding contribution to Australian literature
  • 2001 – awarded the Centenary Medal for "distinguished service to the arts through poetry"
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