Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Vale Dawn O'Donnell

She was perhaps Sydney's equivalent to Melbourne's Jan Hillier. I had heard of her and I knew she was a dyke and a Sydney VIP, but that was about my extent of knowledge.

I had no idea she was part of all the venues mentioned. Many of them I have been in or know/knew of them. She sure mixed some shady people. I book could be written on Roger-Claude Teyssedre and I expect one has been on Abe Saffron. I net searched Teyssedre and spent an hour reading about him. I already know quite a lot about Saffron.

Here is an obit written by D.D. McNichol. Although it does not say, I think he may write for The Australian, his father certainly did.

Although little known outside the gay scene, she was accepted as the
driving force in bringing gay clubs out ofthe shadows and into the
mainstream of Sydney entertainment. Ms O'Donnell, who was approaching
her 80th birthday, was still running gay pubs in Sydney's inner
western suburbs up until her death yesterday from ovarian cancer.

Born in Paddington in 1928, Ms O'Donnell first made a name for
herself as an ice-skater when she was a teenager. After she abandoned
competition, she continued as a coach before becoming a successful
butcher in the Sydney harbourside suburb of Rose Bay.

Her first venture into gay entertainment was in the late 60s when she
opened Capriccio's on Oxford Street. It was followed by Jools,
Ruby's, Patches, Flo's Palace and the Exchange Hotel. She also ran
the Toolshed sex shops and various steam baths where the still
illegal gay scene flourished.

Never keen to seek personal publicity, Ms O'Donnell was happy for her
business partners, the late controversial businessman Abe Saffron and
Roger Claude Teyssedre, to be caught in the public spotlight.

Teyssedre, who owned the profitable gay CBD haunt King Steam, died in
April 1990 and left his considerable fortune to his lover Ludwig
Gertsch - who was murdered a year later.

It was around that time that Ms O'Donnell started moving her
operations from Oxford Street and Darlinghurst to the inner-west
suburbs of Newtown and Erskineville, where she still owned the
Imperial Hotel.

She also took to calling herself Dawn O'Donnell Irwin.

Yesterday, her longtime friend Bruce Pollack said Ms O'Donnell was as
much noted for her quiet philanthropy as her commercial success.

"She was a tireless supporter of charities, both lesbian and gay and
mainstream," he said.

Ms O'Donnell is survived by her partner of many years, Aniek Baten.
D.D. McNicoll
June 12, 2007


  1. 80 very interesting years - what a book she could have written.

  2. Amazing story, I think there was a book written, but I have to research it all.

  3. Yes, bwca, Sydney had so many 'colourful' characters.

    I will look when I get motivated Cazzie.

  4. Colin Cole11:49 pm

    I worked at Caps, Patchs(there is no"e" in it, and the Exchange Hotel. A complicated, intelligent woman. Money hungry, but treated those who worked for her very well. Paid a pittance, but opened up the entire city of Sydney to a naive country boy. Did things illegally, yes. Helped the gay scene and the Sydney Tourist economy, DEFINATELY! They bred them differently then. Now Oxford Street Sydney is a mere shadow of it's former self. Dawn, Abe and Roger are gone now and so is an era.

    1. I wonder if you remember me?....Twiggy!

  5. Thanks for the brilliant colour Colin. Yes, in Melbourne we are aware of the sad state of Oxford Street. It has kind of happened here to our Commercial Road, but not the extent it has there. There will never be another time in Sydney like that period, for all the good and bad about it.

  6. When I first went to CAPS early 70's I was in awe of the sheer professionalism of the cast so much so I used to go to all show nights!
    One evening I was sitting talking to Rose Jackson and Dawn came and sat with us and she asked me if I would like to work there!..I stayed with the show until the fire in 1982 and they were the happiest years of my Sydney era.
    I got the nickname of Twiggy from one of the cast and it has stuck with me ever since.
    I like so many others have nothing but fond memories of

    1. Brian, that is some nice history. I am amazed how involved she was when I re-read what I post back then. The 70s and 80s in Sydney must have been an amazing place for young gay men.