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Image for Film: Croc-A-Dyke-Dundee

Film: Croc-A-Dyke-Dundee

Dawn O’Donnell was a Sydney identify. Croc-A-Dyke-Dundee, the Mardi Gras directors’ favourite festival film title, does not shy away from the rumours, the stories, the colour and glamour of this convent girl, turned ice skater turned ruthless businesswoman.

She was a wheeler-dealer and main-chancer in Underbelly style mainly from the 1970s onward until her death from ovarian cancer in 2007.

The film, like her career, rattled along with little analysis and fewer misgivings. Director Fiona Cunningham-Reid is to be commended for sticking with her subject for 20 years to collect together documentary footage, family photographs and images of Sydney’s early gay and lesbian movement to its marches, parades, Oxford Street night-times and then the Priscilla, Queen of the Desert burgeoning of Newtown.

O’Donnell, as we know, loved drag queens, but the interviews span school friends, gay club owners and others who lived through her penchant for massage parlours, steam rooms, clubs and sex shows.

The mainstay is Aniek Baten, her wife of 30 years. Dawn’s unconscionable treatment of Aniek after her death is not explained; Aniek is pretty restrained about the whole thing though at one point she sighs that she never expected to be running sex shops. She looks upward, “Thanks Dawn”. The will is still being contested.

Dawn O’Donnell put out-lesbian businesswomen on the map and was her own rumour mill – did she deliberately burn down her shops for insurance payouts is just one of the endless questions – but you sense she could not have given a damn what people thought. That was her strength – and weakness.

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