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Allan Wesley Dawes (1900–1969)

by H. N. Nelson

This article was published:

Allan Wesley Dawes (1900-1969), journalist, was born on 22 June 1900 at Camberwell, Melbourne, youngest of five sons of native-born parents Robert Wesley Dawes, printer, and his wife Rosina, née Fletcher. Allan was educated at state schools and at Scotch College, Hawthorn, where he edited the Scotch Collegian, won the J. D. Burns and Alexander Morrison prizes, and at the 1917 Leaving examinations gained honours in English and French. He was to be one of an editorial committee of seven which produced (1927) a celebratory history of the school. Matriculating at the University of Melbourne, Dawes was awarded the W. T. Mollison scholarship for the study of Japanese, but did not graduate. On 23 June 1921 he married Hazel Tasma Ward (d.1925) at St John's Anglican Church, Camberwell. At St Patrick's Cathedral, Melbourne, on 9 April 1928 he married with Catholic rites Agnes Mary McPhail.

Having begun his journalistic career at the Age in 1918, the 'restless genius' later worked for the Argus, the Sydney Sun and the Melbourne Star. Employed by the Commonwealth government, Dawes visited the mandated Territory of New Guinea in 1928 and 1929 to compile an official handbook: it was not completed, but his information provided the basis for the detailed volume published in 1937. When the Star closed in 1936, he joined the Sydney Daily Telegraph and its talented team put together by the new owner (Sir) Frank Packer and editor Sydney Deamer. Dawes wrote on a variety of topics, from crime to international affairs. He was one of the early journalists to cover Australian politics from Canberra and he travelled to Rabaul, New Britain, to write on the 1937 volcanic eruption. From 1938 he was a public-relations officer for the government, lasting just 'a few days' as spokesman for W. M. Hughes. In 1941 Dawes returned to Melbourne as a special writer on the Herald.

Best known as a war correspondent, he wrote for the Herald from Darwin and often from 'somewhere in New Guinea'. He flew in air-raids over Rabaul and Wewak, went north with Americans towards Tambu Bay, and was with the Australian infantry during the advance on Salamaua and the assaults on Lae and Finschhafen. Later he reported from Netherlands New Guinea and Morotai, and saw conditions in Malaya and Java after the Japanese surrendered. Dawes deliberately played down conflict between the Australian Imperial Force and the Militia, and between Australian and American troops; he emphasized that the loyalty of New Guineans was a result of benign Australian policies; and he propagated digger characteristics that Australians wanted to read about—shop-assistants and stockmen transformed into tough, independent soldiers, 'lean and hard and muscular'. Moreover, he fostered the Australians' belief in themselves as jungle fighters, men in loose, 'faded, sweaty, mud-stained green', with Owen guns slung. And, he laughed at himself: 'I was the last war correspondent to enter Lae . . .'. His focus on individuals, together with his vital prose, breadth of reference, wit and literary tricks made him an excellent writer for afternoon newspapers, but when sustained over Soldier Superb (Sydney, 1944), illustrated by (Sir) Russell Drysdale, his writing is contrived and jingoistic.

In 1944 Dawes was selected by John Curtin as one of three press delegates to visit Canada at that country's invitation. Don Whitington saw him as 'a born thespian and an enthusiastic drinker . . . an enormous attraction in the faded war correspondent's uniform he wore throughout the tour'. In the postwar years Dawes wrote a column, 'It strikes me', for the Herald, then worked freelance and as public-relations officer for the Royal Agricultural Society of Victoria. In 1948 he helped to organize the Liberal Party of Australia's press office.

Slender and effervescent when young, Dawes was about 17 stone (108 kg) by the time he was 40—'witty and weighty'. He quoted and wrote poetry and irreverent verses, published short stories and had the co-operation of (Sir) Robert Menzies to write his biography. Dawes, however, was drinking heavily and unable to meet deadlines. Admired as a journalist, he did not produce the lasting work that his facility with language might have allowed. He died of cerebral thrombosis on 7 September 1969 at Northcote and was buried in Fawkner cemetery; his wife and their two sons survived him.

Select Bibliography

  • History of Scotch College, Melbourne, 1851-1925 (Melb, 1926)
  • Official Handbook of the Territory of New Guinea (Canb, 1937)
  • C. Edwards, The Editor Regrets (Melb, 1972)
  • D. Whitington, Strive to be Fair (Canb, 1977)
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 25, 27 Mar 1941, 8, 12 Sept 1969
  • Age (Melbourne), 8 Sept 1969
  • Sun News-Pictorial (Melbourne), 8 Sept 1969.

Citation details

H. N. Nelson, 'Dawes, Allan Wesley (1900–1969)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1993, accessed online 20 June 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 13, (Melbourne University Press), 1993

View the front pages for Volume 13

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