Bruce Dawe was born in Fitzroy, Victoria, in 1930. 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.
He joined the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) in 1959, initially as a trainee telegraphist but re-mustered as an education assistant. He was posted to Malaysia and returned to Melbourne after six months.
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 was appointed as 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 (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 has taught University of the Third Age classes since his retirement from full-time teaching.
He holds four university degrees (BA, MLitt, MA and PhD), all completed by part-time study.
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 has four degrees, all completed by part-time study: B.A. (Qld.), M.Litt. (U.N.E.), M.A. (Qld.), and Ph.D. (Qld.). He now teaches various literature courses in the U3A A (University of the Third Age), an organisation for senior citizens.
- 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 Writer's 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"
- No Fixed Address (Cheshire, 1962)
- A Need of Similar Name (Cheshire, 1965)
- An Eye for a Tooth (Cheshire, 1968)
- Beyond the subdivisions : poems (Cheshire, 1969)
- Heat-Wave. Melbourne (Sweeney Reed, 1970)
- Condolences of the season : selected poems (Cheshire, 1971)
- Just a Dugong at Twilight: Mainly Light Verse (Cheshire, 1975)
- Sometimes Gladness: Collected Poems 1954-1978. (Longman Cheshire, 1978)
- Selected Poems. (London, Longman, 1984)
- Towards sunrise: poems 1979-1986 (Longman Cheshire, 1986)
- This side of silence : poems 1987-1990 (Longman Cheshire, 1990)
- Mortal instruments : poems 1990-1995 (Longman, 1995)
- A Poet's People. (South Melbourne, Addison Wesley Longman, 1998)
- The Headlong Traffic : Poems and Prose Monologues 1997 to 2002 (Longman, 2003)
- Towards a War: Twelve Reflections (Picaro Press, 2003)
- Sometimes Gladness: collected poems, 1954-2005, 6th Edition (Longman Cheshire, 2006)
- Blind Spots (Picaro Press, 2013)
- Kevin Almighty (Picaro Press, 2013)
- The Man down the Street, edited by Ian V. Hansen, Melbourne, V.A.T.E., 1972
- Times and Seasons: An Introduction to Bruce Dawe, by Basil Shaw, Melbourne, Cheshire, 1974
- Adjacent Worlds: A Literary Life of Bruce Dawe, by Ken Goodwin, Melbourne, Longman Cheshire, 1988
- Bruce Dawe: Essays and Opinions,edited by K.L. Goodwin, Melbourne, Longman Cheshire, 1990
- Bruce Dawe, by Peter Kuch, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 1995 .
- The Wholly Innocent
- Search and Destroy (1970)
- Enter Without So Much as Knocking (1959)
- Drifters (1968)
- Homecoming (1968)
- The Corn Flake (1975)
- The Sadness of Madonnas (1985)
- Somewhere Friendly poem
- Weapons Training
- Miss Mac
- Life Cycle
- Homo Suburbiensis
- "Brisbane Writers Festival – Bruce Dawe". Brisbane Writers Festival. Archived from the original on 2007-08-06. Retrieved 2007-08-26.
- "Modern Australian poetry – Australia's Culture Portal". Australian Government – Culture and Recreation Portal. 2007-08-24. Retrieved 2007-08-26.
- "It's an Honour". Australian Government. Retrieved 2007-01-11.
- "USQ.EDU.AU". University of Southern Queensland. Retrieved 2011-11-22.
- "Mildura Writers' Festival, Thursday 20 – Sunday 23 July 2006". Arts Festival 07 Mildura/Wentworth. Archived from the original on 2007-06-08. Retrieved 2007-08-04.
- "It's an Honour". Australian Government. Retrieved 2007-01-11.
- AustLit entry for Dawe. (retrieved 29 July 2013)
- Mildura Writer's Festival (Retrieved 4 August 2007)
- Cwisfa Lim, 2007, "Bruce Dawe and his world", Australia, CWX Publishers.
- Portrait of Bruce Dawe taken at Canberra Writers' Week 1995, by Virginia Wallace-Crabbe, National Library of Australia (Retrieved 10 August 2007)
- Brisbane Writers Festival – Bruce Dawe (Retrieved 26 August 2007)
- Australian Biography – Bruce Dawe, 1930 – Poet (Retrieved 1 November 2007]
- Andrew Fuhrmann Reviews Bruce Dawe’s Plays in Verse: Kevin Almighty and Blind Spots