Vale: Bruce Dawe

Bruce Dawe. Photograph University of Southern Queensland

Rochford Street Review was saddened to hear of the death of renowned Australian poet Bruce Dawe on 1 April 2020. For many of my generation his poem  ‘The Victorian Hangman Tells His Love’, written in the days before the hanging of Ronald Ryan in 1967,  was one of the first Australian poems we studied at school. It is also a poem which left a huge impact on many of us.

On a personal level in the early 1990’s, when I was reading manuscripts for Longman Cheshire, I was sent a manuscript of Bruce Dawes poems to write a readers report for. My first reaction was to simply send back a single word ‘Yes’.

 – Mark Roberts

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The following biographical details are based on Bruce Dawe’s professional page at the University of Southern Queensland https://www.usq.edu.au/study/faculty-events/2018/02/bruce-dawe-poetry-prize/about

Dawe  was widely recognised as Australia’s most popular poet. He was born in Fitzroy, Victoria in 1930 and was educated at Northcote High School, Melbourne. After leaving school at 16, he worked in various occupations (labourer, farmhand, clerk, sawmill-hand, gardener and postman) before joining the RAAF in 1959. Upon leaving the RAAF in 1968, Bruce began a teaching career at Downlands College, Toowoomba in 1969. He holds four university degrees (BA, MLitt, MA and PhD), all completed by part-time study. Bruce was appointed as a Lecturer at the Darling Downs Institute of Advanced Education (DDIAE) in 1971, became a Senior Lecturer in 1980 and an Associate Professor following the status change to the University of Southern Queensland. 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. 

Dawe has published 13 books of poetry, one book of short stories, one book of essays, and has edited two other books. In 2016, at the age of 86, Bruce Dawe published his last book of poetry, Border Security, with UWAP. He has received numerous awards for his poetry including: the Ampol Arts Awards 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 10 years. In 1990 he was awarded a Paul Harris Fellowship of Rotary International. In 1992, Dawe was awarded the Order of Australia (AO) for his contribution to Australian literature and in 1997 he was awarded the Inaugural Philip Hodgins Medal for Literary Excellence. In 200 he was awarded an Art Council Emeritus Writers Award for his long and outstanding contribution to Australian literature. In 2003 Dawe was awarded a Centenary Medal ‘for distinguished service to the arts through poetry’.