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 6pm. Homosexuality was criminalised and demonised, and police brutality was commonplace.
A lot of the truth behind O’Donnell’s legacy has become nothing more than legend. The film explores her incredible history in the Sydney community and will have its premiere screening on the festival’s closing night.
O’Donnell 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. O’Donnell married twice, once to a man and then to a woman.
Rumours of murder and secret brothels swirled around her, and she adored drag queens. In fact, many started their careers in O’Donnell’s
pubs, and it was the entertainment in one of her pubs that served as writing material for Stephan Elliott when crafting Priscilla, Queen of the Desert.
Mardi Gras Film Festival director Paul Struthers was taken by this film, saying: “I believe a film festival should celebrate the local industry, and I am pleased to be in a position to do so with MGFF this year. (Croc A Dyke Dundee) is a strong film, and many people who built up Sydney’s queer community in previous decades will see themselves and their friends in these films.”
The film’s director Fiona Cunningham-Reid spoke about the time she spent researching O’Donnell in a pilgrimage that took her from England more than once and over three years.
She spoke of the intensity of the project and how at times she thought it might not make it to the screen and how she was now very glad and “honoured” that her film would be closing off the one of the country’s most respected queer film festivals.
Cunningham-Reid will also be present for a Q&A with the audience after the screening of the film.
INFO: Croc-A-Dyke Dundee, The Legend of Dawn O’Donnell will screen at 7.30pm on February 23 at Event Cinemas George Street as part of the Mardi Gras Film Festival. Details: queerscreen.org.au