Bruce Dawe was born in Fitzroy, Melbourne in 1930. Bruce Dawe's mother and father were from farming backgrounds in Victoria and, like his own sisters and brother, 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, would often recite poems 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 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 various occupations (labourer, farmhand, clerk, sawmill-hand, gardener and postman) before joining the RAAF in1959. He left the RAAF in 1968 and began a teaching career at Downlands College, Toowoomba in 1969. 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 Dec 1964 and Jul 1969, Bruce and Gloria had four children: Brian, twins Jamie and Katrina, and Melissa. Gloria died on 30 Dec 1997 after a long battle with cancer.
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"