Bruce Dawe was born in Fitzroy, Melbourne in 1930. He attended six schools before leaving Northcote High School at 16 without completing his Leaving Certificate. Of four children in the family, he was the only one to attend a secondary school.
Until he went to University on a teaching scholarship in 1954, he worked as a clerk in various firms, as well as a sales assistant, an office-boy in an advertising agency, and a copy-boy at Melbourne newspapers Truth and Sun. 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 Cam River valley.
He completed his Adult Matriculation by part-time study in 1953 and enrolled at Melbourne University. He left the 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 RAAF in 1959 as a trainee telegraphist, but re-mustered as an education assistant. He was married toGloria Desley Blain on 27 January 1964. He was posted to Malaysia and returned to Melbourne after six months. Between Dec 1964 and Jul 1969, Bruce and Gloria had four children: Brian, Jamie and Katrina (twins) and Melissa. Gloria died on 30 Dec 1997 after a long battle with cancer.
Leaving the RAAF in 1968, Dawe began teaching at Downlands College, a Catholic boys college...Dawe became Catholic in 1954...in Toowoomba, Queensland. After teaching English and History at secondary level for two and a half years, he became a tertiary lecturer in English Literature at the Darling Downs Institute of Advanced Education in Toowoomba. He taught there from 1971, retiring in 1993 as an Associate Professor at what had become the University of Southern Queensland. He was awarded the Inaugural Award for Excellence in Teaching.
He has four degrees, all completed by part-time study: B.A. (Qld.), M.Litt. (U.N.E.), M.A. (Qld.), and Ph.D. (Qld.). Bruce Dawe was awarded an Honorary Doctor of Letters by USQ for his services to literature in 1995. In 1996 he was awarded a Distinguished Alumni Award by the University of New England, and in 1997 he was awarded an Honorary Doctor of Letters by the University of New South Wales. He now teaches various literature courses in the U3A (an organisation for senior citizens).
Bruce Dawe's mother and father were from farming backgrounds in Victoria and, like his own sisters and brother, 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, would often recite poems she had learned in her 19th century childhood. Dawe's father's ancestors came from Wyke Regis in Dorset, England, in the mid-nineteenth century.