GAVAN DAWS came to Hawai'i from Australia in 1958, to work as a graduate assistant in the history department at the University of Hawai'I, Manoa.
He was the university's first PhD in Pacific history. He joined the history faculty as an instructor in 1963, and in 1965 was the first recipient of the Regents Medal for Excellence in Teaching. In a decade of teaching and directing the required first-year history course, World Civilizations, he lectured to classes of 850 freshmen in the Varsity Theater in Moiliili – 60,000 students in all.
Daws published his first book in 1968 – Shoal of Time: A History of the Hawaiian Islands, now 49 years in print and still a local bestseller. He has written nine books, co-authored five, and co-edited two, on a range of subjects: general history, biography, military history, environment, and political corruption. He has had three national book club choices, and three of his books have been acquired for film/TV. Several have gone into foreign editions, including Holy Man: Father Damien of Molokai (now Saint Damien), 44 years in print in seven languages, and Prisoners of the Japanese, 23 years in print in the United States, Australia, Britain, and Europe. Land and Power in Hawaii, co-authored with George Cooper (1985) was the fastest-selling local nonfiction title ever. Honolulu Stories (2008) received the Hawaii Book Publishers Association Samuel M. Kamakau Award for Hawai'i Book of the Year; and Wayfinding Through the Storm: Speaking Truth to Power at Kamehameha Schools (2009) received the HBPA award for Excellence in Hawaiian Culture.
In 1980 Daws received the Hawai'i Award for Literature. In 1982, the University of Hawaiʻiʻs seventy-fifth anniversary year, he was named one of 75 distinguished alumni. In 1992, the hundredth anniversary year of the Hawaiian Historical Society, he was named a Distinguished Historian. He served on the first state committee on preservation of historic sites, and he was a founding member and president of one of the earliest activist environmental organizations in Hawai'i, Life of the Land.
Beyond Hawai'i, in the Institute of Advanced Studies at the Australian National University, he headed historical research on the Pacific and Southeast Asia for fifteen years. He was elected a Fellow of the Academy of Humanities in Australia, and he served as the Pacific member of the UNESCO Commission on the Scientific and Cultural History of Humankind.
Daws has received grants from, among others, the National Endowment for the Humanities, the National Endowment for the Arts, the American Philosophical Society, and the Australian Film Commission. His documentary films on the Pacific have won awards internationally, including the gold medal at the leading European documentary festival; the Australian Film Institute Award, the national Oscar-equivalent; and Best Documentary at the Hawai'i International Film Festival. He has written screenplays, a stage play with music and choreography, the libretto for a new opera, and his songs have been performed at the Waikiki Shell and the Hollywood Bowl, and in clubs from San Francisco to Greenwich Village.
Daws's work has taken him back and forth between Hawai'i, the mainland, and Australia, with stints in Europe and Asia. He and his wife, Carolyn, have always been happily at home in Manoa Valley.
- Hawai'i, April 2017