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My father's poetry: The unpublished poems of Bruce Dawe

  • 28 June 2024

When David Halliday from Eureka Street asked me to pen an introduction to my father Bruce Dawe’s unpublished poems, I wasn’t quite sure at first. Even with the purest of intentions, bias tends to encroach upon subjective appraisals. I grew up amidst my father’s esoteric, impassioned recitations; his audience, consisting of my mother Gloria (his most ardent muse) and us children, was often called upon to critique his refined delivery. I could not have known then how much I would come to appreciate his wry and satirical sense of humour and the way his  sentiment crystallised from a uniquely Australian perspective. That was until my own exploration of the craft of writing poetry acted as a catalyst to delve more deeply into his work, discovering the profound linguistic pleasure it so generously offered. I remember calling my father in 2012 to read him my first poem, titled ‘Padstow at 4 pm’. ‘Talent is often found and developed in isolation’, he said. He encouraged me to send the poem to him. To my surprise, he saw potential in my tentative collection of thoughts, and so began years of written cursive correspondence. It was his encouragement that fostered my own curiosity and desire to see if I could follow in his footsteps.

Just as the grains of sand in an hourglass appear to flow more rapidly as their number diminishes, my father sensed the limited time remaining to him, also knowing the dementia diagnosed in 2013 had its own slow creep. Throughout our correspondence he shared some of his unpublished works with me. The last published book of his poetry was ‘Border Security’ in 2016; I sometimes wonder if the title was a reference to the borders of pages in which he could cement his observations and contemplations, or perhaps to the sandstone-laid resting place in Toowoomba awaiting him.

Dad’s observations encompassing parenthood, education, family, love, grief and his unwavering religious faith encapsulated how well he identified with the Aussie battler.

Laments such as ‘The Wholly Innocent’ and ‘Homecoming’; elicitations through ‘My Experiences of God’ and ‘And a Good Friday was had by All’; soliloquies like ‘A Victorian Hangman Tells his Love’, ‘White Water Rafting’ and ‘Palliative Care’; tongue-in-cheek works like ‘Nemesis Airlines: Some Notable Safety Features’ and ‘Doctor to Patient’; and the melancholic expressions of ‘You’ and ‘Sarajevo’, recited by Paul Kelly on YouTube; ‘Without so Much as Knocking’, the annotative ‘Smilesville’ and ‘Televistas’; each of