“People ask me where did you come up with those great ideas, those great one liners and it was sitting in Dawns pubs listening” Stephan Elliott writer/director of The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert.
Dawn O’Donnell was a penniless lesbian in 1950s Australia. It was the dark ages. Dawn wanted money, power and sex. 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 6.00pm. 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 – and inspired Stephan Elliott when crafting The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert.
When Dawn died in 2007, the church was packed and a chunk of gay and lesbian history was lost forever. But her legend endures.
This fascinating and entertaining documentary brimming with archive explores the mythology – (was she a mobster? An arsonist? A murderer?) and life of this shrewd, silver-haired, butch businesswoman. 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.