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Watson grew up on a farm in Gippsland, took his undergraduate degree at La Trobe University and a Ph.D at Monash University and was for ten years an academic historian. He wrote three books on Australian history before turning his hand to TV and the stage. For several years he combined writing political satire for the actor Max Gillies with political speeches for the then Premier of Victoria, John Cain. In 1992 he became Prime Minister Paul Keating's speech-writer and adviser and his best-selling account of those years, Recollections of a Bleeding Heart: A Portrait of Paul Keating PM, won both The Age Book of the Year and non-fiction Prizes, the Brisbane Courier Mail Book of the Year, the National Biography Award and the Australian Literary Studies Association's Book of the Year. In addition to regular books, articles and essays, in recent years he has also written feature films, including The Man Who Sued God, starring Billy Connolly and Judy Davis, and Passion, a film about Percy Grainger starring Richard Roxburgh.
His 2001 Quarterly Essay Rabbit Syndrome: Australia and America won the inaugural Alfred Deakin Prize in the Victorian Premier's Literary Awards. Death Sentence, his book about the decay of public language, was also a best seller and won the Australian Booksellers Association Book of the Year. Watson's Dictionary of Weasel Words was published in 2004 and continued to encourage readers to renounce what he perceives to be meaningless corporate and government jargon that is spreading throughout Australia, and to embrace meaningful, precise language. More recently, Watson contributed the preface to a selection of Mark Twain's writings, The Wayward Tourist.
His latest book, American Journeys is a narrative of modern America from Watson's travels in the United States following Hurricane Katrina. It was published by Knopf in 2008 and won both The Age Book of the Year non-fiction and Book of the Year awards. It also won the 2008 Walkley Award for the best non-fiction book.
 Redfern Park Speech
In Recollections of a Bleeding Heart, Watson described his writing of the Redfern Park Speech in 1992, which, he claims, Paul Keating delivered without changing a single word. Keating has disputed Watson's authorship, saying the speech developed out of dozens of conversations between them. The issue of authorship of the speech has lead to a public falling out between the two former closer friends.
- Death Sentence: The Decay of Public Language (2003) ISBN 978-1-74051-278-7
- Watson's Dictionary of Weasel Words: Contemporary Cliches, Cant and Management Jargon (2004) ISBN 978-1-74051-366-1
- Bendable Learnings. The Wisdom of Modern Management. Sydney, Knopf. (2009) ISBN 978-1-74166-904-6
- American Journeys (2008) ISBN 978-1-74166-621-2
- "Don Watson – Prominent Monash Alumnus". Retrieved 2008-11-06.
- "The Alfred Deakin Prize for an Essay Advancing Public Debate". Retrieved 2008-11-06.[dead link]
- "Don Watson". Random House Australia. random house australia website. 15 April 2005. Retrieved 17 November 2008.
- Steger, Jason (2008) "US travel memoir wins Age Book of the Year Award" in theage.com.au, 2008-08-23
- Margaret Simons, "Unaccustomed as I am ... ", Sydney Morning Herald, 15 March 2003. Retrieved 5 March 2012.
- Paul Keating, "All mine, my dear Watson", Sydney Morning Herald, 26 August 2010. Retrieved 10 April 2013
- Don Watson at Perth Writers' Festival 2010 ABC Big Ideas
- Don Watson at Random House Australia
- The Unknown Soldier Speech
- The Wayward Tourist
- Age Article The Lives Sent Down The Drain
- Don Watson on speech-making in American politics on SlowTV
- ABC Fora MWF session with David Sedaris and David Rakoff
- Talking about Death Sentence on ABC Radio Life Matters
- Talking about Recollections of a Bleeding Heart Romana Koval - ABC Radio
- Watch a recording of the Redfern Address on australianscreen online
- The Redfern Address was added to the National Film and Sound Archive's Sounds of Australia Registry in 2010