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Dawson, Claude Charles (1902–1945)

by R. E. Northey

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 13, (MUP), 1993

Claude Charles Dawson (1902-1945), journalist, was born on 7 January 1902 at Geelong, Victoria, only child of Thomas Charles Dawson, gardener, and his wife Emma Mary, née Sceney, both native-born. Known as 'Dick', he was schooled locally. He completed theological training at the Churches of Christ College of the Bible, Glen Iris, but, rather than becoming a pastor, enrolled at the University of Melbourne (B.A., 1927) where he studied philosophy. Joining the literary staff of the Argus, he was later its Federal political roundsman. On 1 June 1929 at the Church of Christ, North Melbourne, he married a schoolteacher Elizabeth May Woodbridge.

In the early 1930s Dawson was a regular preacher at the Church of Christ, Swanston Street. Approached by Joseph Lyons, he moved to Canberra in 1938 to take up the post of Commonwealth publicity officer (prime minister's press secretary). He worked closely with Lyons, who relied heavily on him for speeches, and was present when Lyons died on 7 April 1939 in Sydney. Dawson was then appointed press secretary to (Sir) Robert Menzies. In August 1941 Dawson succeeded C. E. Sayers as editor in the Department of Information, which had been established to influence public opinion during World War II. He had the sensitive task of disseminating material that was authoritative and factual, yet consistent with the requirements of official propaganda.

Following the outbreak of war in the Pacific in December 1941, the Australian government increased its efforts to publicize the country's contribution to the allied cause, especially in the United States of America and Britain. At H. V. Evatt's request, in 1943 Dawson reported on the operation of the Australian News and Information Bureau in New York. On Dawson's return, Prime Minister John Curtin asked him to open a similar office in London; in December the minister for information A. A. Calwell announced the appointment. The London bureau aimed to be 'an organised centre of reference on Australian problems, and a distributing house for Australian official statements, photographs and films', with the intention of making 'Australia and Australians better known to people overseas'.

Dawson and his wife arrived in London in early 1944. While he ran the bureau, she lectured on the Australian war effort. A brilliant writer and speaker, Dawson had not accepted a permanent appointment in the public service. His passion was writing, and he wanted to earn his living as an independent political journalist whose work would be syndicated to various newspapers. In building up the Australian information service, he was an effective consolidator, more at home with the British approach than the American.

Contracting a severe cold which complicated an existing kidney condition, Dawson died of acute pyelonephritis on 16 October 1945 in North Western Hospital, Hampstead. He was survived by his wife and two sons, one of whom (Sir) Daryl was appointed a justice of the High Court of Australia in 1982.

Select Bibliography

  • Sydney Morning Herald, 16 Sept 1938, 28 Aug, 17 Oct 1941, 27 July, 18 Dec 1943, 18 Oct 1945, 9 Oct 1946
  • Argus (Melbourne), 18 Oct 1945
  • Canberra Times, 19 Oct 1945
  • private information.

Citation details

R. E. Northey, 'Dawson, Claude Charles (1902–1945)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/dawson-claude-charles-9927/text17579, published first in hardcopy 1993, accessed online 18 November 2018.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 13, (MUP), 1993

View the front pages for Volume 13

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