THERE was time in the 1970’s when a lesbian named Dawn O’Donnell ruled the Oxford St precinct and surrounding gay nightlife.

She ruled the nightclub underworld and legends have been made from stories of the methods she may have used to get to the top.

 O’Donnell made a lot of enemies back in those days, including the Star Observer’s own founder, Michael Glynn, who refused to publish advertisements from O’Donnell establishments in his publication.

However, O’Donnell has been credited with turning Sydney from a sleepy town to a international gay Mecca and her legacy is being relived in 2016, albeit in a more legal way.

Amanda Honey has revived Ruby Reds Bar – Sydney’s first lesbian bar, opened by O’Donnell – with a quarterly night called Red Raw, to honour the golden days of Sydney’s gay scene.

Dawn O’Donnell was one of the colourful characters of Sydney,” she said.

“But she did do a lot of it in the bad way. There were questions of rival venues that were burned down not long after opening and questions of police corruption.”


Honey said Ruby Reds was a place people knew was a safe place to be yourself and have a good time.

“It was probably the most popular bar in the 70’s, it was a really dykey kind of place,” she said.

“Lesbians would come with their male gay friends, if you were part of the community you were welcome.”

Red Raw has become a smash hit in Sydney, not only for its retro vibes (the nights include a coloured square dance floor and mirror ball), but because it is inclusive of all women, lesbians, bisexual, intersex and trans.

“This is a chance for me to be part of something that I like,” Honey said.

“What’s unique about it, is the different people that it brings together. It’s a different wedge of the community you don’t often see out.

“How often do you have a lawyer on the decks DJing?”

An exciting upcoming addition to the next Red Raw party will be a dance class hosted by Dancing with the Star’s Brendon Midson.

“We’re putting together dance classes for the night, from 5 to 6 pm so people can learn how to twirl and move and then disco dance the night away,” Honey said.

In 2017, the Red Raw team will host an extravagant but affordable ball at the Petersham Town Hall to give people the chance to get glammed up.

“We want to make it an affordable ball, because people do want to get dressed up and have fun,” Honey said.

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