Dawn O'Donnell
Dawn O’Donnell

Croc-a-Dyke Dundee The Legend of Dawn O´Donnell, a documentary about the woman who opened some of the first gay and lesbian bars in Sydney, Australia in the fifties.

Dawn O’Donnell was a penniless lesbian in 1950s Australia. She wanted money, power and sex, but of course, it was the dark ages.  All women were third-class citizens, lesbians practically invisible. Everything was illegal, licensing laws were draconian, and you couldn’t even get a drink after 6.00 pm. Homosexuality was criminalised and demonised, and police brutality was commonplace.
Nevertheless, Dawn stormed her way through Sydney’s gay underworld and built herself an empire of drag clubs, car parks, real estate, bars, steam rooms and sex shops. Dawn married twice, once to a man and then to a woman.
The convent-girl turned ice-skater became the godmother of Sydney’s Golden Mile, Oxford Street.  She adored drag queens and many started their careers in Dawn’s pubs – after all, it was the entertainment in one of Dawn’s pubs that served as writing material for Stephan Elliott when crafting Priscilla, Queen of the Desert.
Dawn was a ruthless businesswoman, but was she a criminal?  Did she run brothels?  Did she commit arson?  Did she murder?  When Dawn died in 2007, the church was packed and a chunk of gay and lesbian history was lost forever.
But her legend endures. She was neither a feminist nor a gay activist, but for good or bad Dawn O’Donnell was instrumental in Sydney’s transformation from a sleepy provincial city to one of the gayest cities in the world. This film goes some way to sharing the myth and legend of her life.