The late Dawn O’Donnell was an important figure in Sydney’s LGBTIQ history. She is often credited as a driving force in the creation of our gay mile – Oxford Street – and for helping to make Sydney one of the gay capitals of the world.
Iconic venues, long gone but fundamental to our heritage such as Capriccio’s, Patchs, The Exchange, Newtown and Imperial Hotels, were all created by Dawn. She is remembered for being a tough businesswoman but also someone who was often quietly guiding and assisting those she knew were working for our greater good.
Long-time friend Bruce Pollack said Dawn 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.
It was from this respect and gratitude that a group of our community movers and shakers arranged a huge community event to celebrate Dawn’s 70th birthday. A sold-out fundraising dinner took place in the late summer of 1998 at the Paddington Town Hall with the proceeds benefiting the NSW Gay and Lesbian Rights Lobby and the Bobby Goldsmith Foundation.
It was such a massive success that some of those organisers, led by Bruce Pollack and encouraged by Dawn, began to think that this could be an annual event. It was workshopped and developed – and the next year, we all attended the first Aurora Dinner.
Bruce said he has always considered Aurora his baby and from the beginning wanted to raise monies to disburse to gay and lesbian community organisations in need of support. Thus the organisation’s many events, including the annual dinner, The Aurora Ball, have become important charity fundraisers that also bring fun, glamour and joy to our community.
|The Aurora Board of Directors and Trustees|
Among the key beneficiaries of Aurora funds are LGBTI youth agency Twenty10 incorporating GLCS NSW.
“The work of Twenty10 and the GLCS is just as important now as when we first started to fundraise,” Pollack said.
“It is a joy to see that Aurora has continued to grow and importantly, it is still an organisation run by a committed group of volunteers who have enormous fun serving the community.”
Aurora also prides itself on the support it provides other organisations, program and initiatives through its grants program.
Some of those that have benefit from Aurora grants in the last few years include The Benevolent Society, who used funds to produce a story book depicting LGBTQI foster care families. The Gender Centre used their Aurora grant to create a short film addressing transphobic bullying in schools. The Inner City Legal Centre were able to create a community campaign and provide legal assistance around the expungement of historical homosexual offences thanks to Aurora’s help.
“Through my time with Aurora I have become aware of some of the truly amazing work being done to support the different subsets of the LGBTQI community, addressing issues and needs that I was previously unaware of,” said Aurora Chair Alison King.
“We have to make sure appropriate support and services are available to those members of our community in need.”
|The Aurora Group founding Directors now Trustees|
It’s almost time to round up friends for this year’s Aurora Ball, to be held this year on Saturday, June 18. If you’ve never been, it’s a highlight in Sydney’s LGBTI social calendar, truly the grandest night of the year. It’s not cheap but everything you enjoy is of top quality and you contribute to the great work the Aurora group is doing.
As for the entertainment, rest assured, we’re in for a treat. I’ve always been blown away by the star power of the performers who drop by to entertain and show support for this organisation. Previous guest have included Todd McKenney, Paul Capsis, Caroline O’Connor, Debra Byrne, Joey Arias and Katie Noonan, to name just a few. Can’t wait to see what 2016 has in store.
And of course, the highlight for me is the keynote speaker. I recall being touched by the stories of Neil Armfield, David Marr, Georgina Beyer, Magda Szubanski and Virginia Bell in the past. With so many amazing people in our community today, we’re sure to get one that will move, rouse and inspire.
“Aurora always tries to find a keynote speaker relevant to LGBTQI people, the issues we’re currently facing and speak to a topic important to us as a community,” King said.
Save the date and join me.