May 2nd 2020


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COVER STORY Gearing up to ditch free-trade policy

EDITORIAL Post-covid19, create a national development bank

CANBERRA OBSERVED Keelty water report misses the point on water shortage

ENERGY Pandemic has exposed our overreliance on imports

CARDINAL PELL Locating the golden thread

CARDINAL PELL High Court practically shouts 'not guilty'

FAMILY Dismantling myths around family tax benefits

REFLECTION Covid19 and the Church past, present and future

OBITUARY R.I.P. Bruce Dawe: poet of the people

FOREIGN AFFAIRS Doctors of WHO let the covid19 dogs out

INDUSTRY POLICY The rise and fall of Australian manufacturing and covid19

ASIAN AFFAIRS Politics done by stealth in the UN: China and the WHO

HUMOUR Get them hug-dealers off the streets

MUSIC Farewell to an Aussie jazz legend: Don Burrows

LOCKDOWN TV CLASSIC Unique, unsurpassed: The Avengers

BOOK REVIEW ENTIRE GENERATIONS ALONE

BOOK REVIEW WARNING TO THE WEST

POETRY

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NATIONAL AFFAIRS Crucial to get Virgin Australia flying again

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OBITUARY R.I.P.
Bruce Dawe: poet of the people


by Karl Schmude

News Weekly, May 2, 2020

Within a single year Australia has lost its two most popular poets. Les Murray died last April, and now Bruce Dawe, on April 1.

Bruce Dawe, R.I.P.

Born Fitzroy, Victoria, February 15, 1930.
Died Caloundra, Qld., April 1, 2020, aged 90.

Dawe was widely celebrated as the “people’s poet”. He had a sublime ordinariness about him – a deep affinity with the lived experience of everyday people. He expressed the distinctive idiom of the Australian experience, conveying in common language our loves and longings, our fears and despairs, our sorrows and resentments. He showed how poetry could articulate normal feelings and was not solely the preserve of a literary elite.

Dawe was commonly set on high-school curricula, thereby bringing to life for generations of students the inspiring ordinariness of Australian life.

Poet Thomas Shapcott noted of Dawe’s poetry that it was “at once vernacular and expressive of the new, postwar, outer-suburban hinterland. It was a language and a culture previously untapped in our writing and Dawe gave expression to it with humour and very considerable verbal skill. Not only was his accent right (unexpectedly so – we had not heard ourselves so accurately before) but his use of imagery and metaphor was sparkling and inventive.”

Another strand of literature that he exemplified was the tradition of Catholic converts among Australian poets – notably James McAuley and Les Murray, as well as Kevin Hart. Dawe was not from a religious background, and his conversion was impelled by the lives of the saints – as he made clear in his poem, Autobiography – as well as by the traditional ritual of the Church, of which he had received favourable intimations from High Church Anglican services.

He became a Catholic in 1954, after meeting various Catholics while studying at Melbourne University. Many years later, he described himself as “a kind of converted pagan” and “a traditionalist in religion”, who took “a conservative approach to religious belief”. He held that “good, imaginative teaching of basic truths is the way to get people to believe in faiths”.

He had strong moral and political convictions, which included an emphatic opposition to abortion. Among his most powerful poems is The Wholly Innocent, inspired by the Massacre of the Holy Innocents. The poem captured the double sense of the word – that the unborn are indeed “holy innocents” as well as “being wholly innocent, because they don’t have any say in what happens to them”.

The following excerpt reveals Dawe’s imagination at its most poignant – picturing himself among the most vulnerable and abandoned:

I never walked abroad in air
I never saw the sky
Nor knew the sovereign touch of care
Nor looked into an eye. …

Remember me next time you
Rejoice at sun or star
I would have loved to see them too
I never got that far.

Bruce Dawe spent the bulk of his working life in a university setting – at the University of Southern Queensland in Toowoomba. But his preparation for an academic career was anything but conventional. Leaving school at 16, he did various jobs – labourer, clerk, office boy, postman, gardener and farmhand – before joining the RAAF in 1959.

His upbringing had been rather unsettled, marked by frequent changes of school and limited opportunities for formal education, as evoked in his poem, Drifters. But he was enriched by an atmosphere of learning and folk wisdom in the home.

In one interview he recalled his parents’ influence on his development as a poet. They both came from a rural background, and his mother would recite poetry to him as a child while his father “could sing the songs and recite the poetry of the Bush”.

Thus his education was grounded in a direct experience of life’s realities. On his appointment in 1984 as Writer-in-Residence at the University of Queensland (from which he had earned three separate degrees, all completed part-time), he made clear the link between this temporary opportunity and his continuing vocation as a poet and university lecturer: “All writers are different, but for me it’s important to be inside the workforce. … I would hate to think that for the rest of my life I would do nothing else but write. I wouldn’t want to be excluded from the workforce.”

The poetry of Bruce Dawe represents a lasting legacy: first, as quintessentially Australian, in giving voice to the experiences of our people; and, second, as quintessentially Christian, in lifting these experiences to a higher level of meaning and purpose.

His best-known collection of poems passed through six editions as he added new works every few years. It was entitled Sometimes Gladness. We may nourish the hope that it could now be retitled Always Gladness.

Karl Schmude is a co-founder of Campion College in Sydney and was formerly University Librarian at the University of New England in Armidale, NSW.




























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