One of the biggest selling and most highly regarded of all Australian poets is Bruce Dawe. He drifted through his early years showing promise as a writer but finding little direction in his life. The variety of his many occupations – labourer, postman, university failure, air force officer, father and teacher – has served to give Dawe extraordinary empathy with people from all backgrounds, which characterises his poetry and gives a voice to ordinary Australians.
After working as a postman, Dawe decided to join the airforce: ‘I suppose I wanted companionship more than anything.’ It was while working in the forces, that the Vietnam War was fought in the 1960s and early 1970s. The United States of America and its allies supported South Vietnam against communist insurgents and their North Vietnam comrades. Australia conscripted civilians in 1964 and together with the nation’s regular army, they fought at Nui Dat, Phouc Tuy province, Long Tan and in other key locations. As in the USA, many citizens of Australia believed this was not their war, and thus, in 1970, anti-Vietnam moratorium marches began to be held in most capital cities. The people won and by Christmas 1972 the war was all but over.
Based on his own reading and reflection, Dawe was opposed to this war, believing it to be lacking sense historically and ultimately futile. However, he has said that he’s not ‘an absolute pacifist at all. There are times, I believe, when people have to fight for what they believe, and fight to the point of…even if it means killing somebody else.’ His poetry has continued to explore further conflicts and acts of senseless violence, including the massacre of protestors in Tiananmen Square, the bombing of the Sari Club in Bali and the Iraqi wars.