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Kalgoorlie Australia, The Times Have Changed


The last Brothel in Kalgoorlie’s Hay Street

Kalgoorlie has come a long way since Hay Street was home to a row of brothels and scores of prostitutes worked out of “starting stalls” made of corrugated iron.

It is a sign of the times. 

In Kalgoorlie’s Hay Street, where miners have paid for sex since the town was founded in the 1890’s, the 2nd-last working brothel has just been converted into accommodation for a mining contractor and its expanding workforce.

Instead of sex, the new management at the Red House is offering secure parking for tradies and their equipment and a short walk to Woolies for groceries.

These days Madam Carmel says showing tourists around Questa Casa during the day is her primary business. 

And skimpy barmaids will be off tap at the Palace Hotel for the duration of the annual Diggers & Dealers mining conference, which kicks off in Kalgoorlie on Monday, even as the price of gold hits new heights.

The skimpy suspension at the Palace, where a lot of the networking and socialising associated with Diggers happens, is a nod to corporate reality as big companies shy away from any association with near-naked women serving beer for tips.

It is also a mark of progress made by women in the mining industry since the 1890’s gold rush that put Kalgoorlie on the map.

How much has Kalgoorlie changed in the decades since Hay Street was home to a row of brothels and scores of prostitutes working out of “starting stalls” made of corrugated iron?

Kalgoorlie mayor John Bowler says the world’s oldest profession is alive and kicking, it just doesn’t happen in Hay Street these days.

Mr Bowler says the collapse of the unofficial police containment policy after years of legislative inaction at state level had seen brothels “open anywhere at any time”.

Previously they were in all in that block, two blocks down from the police station, and any brothel that opened up in a residential area was raided and closed down. Now they just open up around town,” he says.

Mr Bowler would prefer the sex trade was centralised even if it is an imperfect system, but accepts Kalgoorlie, with a population of about 30,000, is no different now to other Australian cities and towns where prostitution springs up in the suburbs.

Madam Carmel, who owns the last working brothel on Hay Street, says there is no doubt Kalgoorlie has changed since she took over at Questa Casa, or the Pink House, in the early 1990’s.

Madam Carmel says the demise of containment at the start of the 2000’s was the beginning of the end for Hay Street.

When containment was on, there was always a bloke coming down the street. They all came to Hay Street for paid sex,” she says.

These days Madam Carmel says showing tourists around Questa Casa during the day is her primary business.

We only operate as a brothel at night and close at Midnight because after Midnight you only get drunks,” she says.

A lady has flown in today to join us but we have had no girls here for about three weeks. There is not the money to be made in Hay Street any more.

The tourists who venture into Hay Street hear “if these walls could talk” stories, like the one about a prostitute seeing 72 clients in one shift and making enough money to buy a house.

Madam Carmel says Kalgoorlie where, in the very early days, streets were paved with gold, and water was in such short supply it was more expensive than champagne was still a wild west town when she arrived but no longer fits that image.

Troy Anderson, the managing director of mining contractor Statewest Group, says some of the stereotypes associated with Kalgoorlie and mining generally are being wiped out.

“I was born here so I’ve seen it change over a long period. I think it is becoming more of a family town,” he says.

Statewest has leased the Red House and started to use it to house mining workers.

It has left the 4 previous “working rooms” almost untouched, with the brothel artwork and rules of engagement still on the walls, 12 other rooms are set up for accommodation.

Mr Anderson says Statewest saw the former brothel as a partial solution to its problem finding accommodation for workers often flown into town to cover skills shortages in the mining industry.

It happened a bit quicker than we anticipated but is fully operational now. It is centrally located, there’s secure parking next door, which helps stop theft off the back of vehicles. Woolies is 200 metres away,” he says.

The rooms are not overly modern but we get a lot of exploration guys that are still camping in swags, so when they are coming through it is like staying at the Hilton.

We are expanding as a company and as a contractor we get busy because mining companies run out or can’t use their own people, so we then have to fly people in and out.

Accommodation for those people is one of our biggest hurdles. The availability of accommodation to start with and the cost of accommodation, and as a contractor we don’t have the buckets of cash, or buckets of gold, of mining companies.

The time have changed…

By Brad Thompson

Paul Ebeling, Editor

Editor’s Note: Brad Thompson writes across business and politics from Western Australia for the Australian Financial Review.

Connect with Brad on Twitter. Email Bradat [email protected]

Have a terrific weekend.

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