Bruce Dawe RIP – the Larrikin Laureate


Bruce Dawe dead? On April Fools Day in the middle of a pandemic. The bastard even had a sense of timing – a sense of humour – in his passing.


The bloke who said it’s always 3/4 time in “Life Cycle” – blows the final siren on a season that has stopped before it really started – unlikely to start again this year.


Bruce Dawe is dead, but a writer’s words don’t die. It’s a way of being – of seeing the world – a sensibility shared that lingers in thousands of hearts.


Bruce Dawe wrote poems not poetry.  They were chats across the back fence – or down the park – with the next door neighbour who had a way of distilling our many confusions.


War, god, loyalty, fools, dogs, love – the things that passed for love – including footy.  It’s all in any Dawe anthology.  


“Mr Dawe’s “Sometimes Gladness” anthology is a constant source of joy and inspiration. No other writer whispers my grandfather’s voice and the endless days of childhood. Things that I carry inside me and are as alive today as they were 50 years ago. Wonderful to read his words and hear his spirit.”  (My comment on Dawe’s “High Mark” being included in the 2016 Doggies Almanac)


On hearing of his passing today it fell open at “Autobiography”:


I lived for a certain number of years on the earth’s surface,

like many of my kind,

Remote from the tsunami of wars, plagues, ‘quakes,

great floods, etc.,

Was loved by my family, loved in due course that family which I had

a small part in creating



Shared humankind’s inexhaustible dreams of freedom,

was comforted to know

Those dreams are passed on, like the gift of fire, from Periclean Athens

to Myanmar and beyond,

Never had an answer for fruits and flowers and candleshine,

But wouldn’t have missed for anything

Having lived (like you) for a certain number of years

on the earth’s surface.


Bruce knew when to leave.


His footy poems and previous Footy Almanac tributes can be read here.


Almanac Poetry: A greeting from Bruce Dawe



Poetry: Life Cycle



A short story based on Bruce Dawe’s “Drifters”



Poetry: The High Mark




Link to Stephen Romei’s Obituary in The Australian newspaper




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  1. Neil Kimpton says

    Vale Bruce
    As a teacher I often introduced my Tech school students to poetry through “Life Cycle”
    There are many poetry anthologies on our bookshelves – greats and not so famous but “Sometimes Gladness” is possibly the anthology most read.

  2. Therese Black says

    Loved so many of Bruce Dawe’s poems – thankyou for this tribute

  3. Rick Kane says

    PB, great observation in first para.

    And to Bruce Dawe, the glass is raised, the lid is tipped, the lamp shines on

  4. Thanks for this PB. Your words ring true for me too, especially the thought of Dawe “whispering”. Among his celebrated and national legacy the second stanza of “Suburban Lovers” always arrests me with its delicate beauty-

    Each evening they cross the line
    while the boom-gate’s slender arms constrain
    the lines of waiting cars.
    Stars now have flown up out of the east.
    They halt at her gate. next-door’s children
    scatter past, laughing. They smile. The moon,
    calm as a seashore, raises its pale face.
    Their hands dance in the breeze blowing
    from a hundred perfumed gardens. On the cliff of kissing
    they know this stillness come down upon them like a cone.
    All day it has been suspended there, above their heads.

  5. This is an excellent tribute. Thanks, PB.

    Bruce Dawe was one of our finest. Never a wasted word or phrase.


  6. Lovely PB. He folded the quotidian into the ethereal like they were ingredients in a cake he was baking. What a strange thing it must be to be a poet in a time of poetic obsolescence, when a writer is forced to smuggle poetry to a readership wrapped in other guises.

  7. The poetry must be wrapped in other guises. Not the readership. Let them dress how they will.

  8. Stephen G. Nuske says

    Thank you so much for this tribute… my introduction to the poems of Bruce Dawe was at Portland High School, Victoria, in 1973-1974, thanks to wonderful English teachers. The collection of his poems was in a set text called ‘Condolences of the Season’ (published 1971). …my condolences to all of you…

    The opening lines from ‘life-cycle for Big Jim Phelan’ (on pages 66/67):

    When children are born in Victoria,
    they are wrapped in the club-colours, laid in beribboned cots,
    having already begun a lifetime’s barracking.

  9. AJC – I always wear my facemark, gloves and dark glasses when shopping the P shelves at the local bookshop – Penthouse; Playboy; poetry. Can’t be too careful. Never know who’ll catch me.

  10. Ahh, PB, the furtive Penthouse purchase. Have the right change, wait for the newsagent to empty… That mag was great for social distancing.

    Poetry isn’t dead of course. But it is rare. There’s a very good American poet called Billy Collins. I have a collection of his called Taking Off Emily Dickinson’s Clothes (we seem to be on a theme here.) which I go to frequently.

  11. I have bad news for you Anson – given your memories of the Thomson family & your desecration of Arnold Palmer’s memory – Billy Collins is a keen golfer. He lives next door the reconstructed Winter Park 9 hole course in Florida – which is at the forefront of the communitarian golf movement in the US.
    Read ’em and weep.

  12. Jesus, Peter. This is a Philby/Burgess/McLean moment for me. Golf of all things. We are a depraved species and deserve our many rancid fates.
    (Golf has been banned in this state. Upside Number One.)

  13. Thank you all for the education.

  14. Roie Thomas says

    Could anyone tell me the title of the Dawe poem about the neighbours who can exchange cups of sugar but then one suffers a heart attack and the neighbour renders assistance. After than the person helped cannot speak to the their neighbour again as they can never reciprocate in kind.

    I’d appreciate it! Thanks

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