Australia, you might be surprised to know, has a Wild, Wild West. Just like America did 200 years ago. We may not have Jesse James or Wild Bill Hickok, but our West has just as many tough guys, and cowboys. These rough and ready characters don’t carry guns or rob banks. And they ride, horses of a different kind. Transportation, that’s not on four legs, but on four wings, with the horsepower to fly across vast distances, to outback mining jobs. Our West, as in Western Australia, is currently riding the coat tails of a mineral boom. Although, to be perfectly honest, the good times aren’t nearly as good as they used to be. Still, there’s money to be made in them thar hills, vast quantities of cash for the mining companies, and workers prepared to do the dirty work, digging up minerals, working in a mine or driving monster, earth moving trucks. These are just a few of the jobs on offer. It’s solitary and, at times, lonely and a long way from family and friends with nothing much to do in the down time. But never fear lonely men. The world’s oldest profession has come to your rescue. Where’s there’s money and precious little in the form of entertainment you’ll find prostitution doing a flourishing business. Boom-boom is booming.
Please note. I am taking extra care not to rush to judgment on prostitution but be warned that may have changed by the time I finish writing this. I admit I did see red, as in red light, when I read an article with the headline: ‘They’re selling part of their soul. Behind the scenes of Australia’s Prostitution boom.’
Not exactly a ringing endorsement for working girls but I am going to park my prejudices for the time being.
The article begins by relaying a conversation between receptionist and client at one of the West’s best known venues for working girls. “What kind of girl would you like? Narrow it down for me…..Yeah, I’ve got a nice blonde. Young, size 8, double D. You won’t be disappointed.”
It is 2am we are told on a Sunday in the back room of Langtrees. Lana, the receptionist, replaces the handset and puts on her spectacles to peer at her computer. There is more a look of the librarian about Lana, than spruiker of the amorous talents of Langtrees working girls. She points to a profile photograph showing only an enormous pair of breasts and reads out aloud the caption accompanying the photograph. “Bridgette Blue. She’s 23. “
Lana pauses and raises her eyebrows and says “they’re natural.” Bridgette is soon at the door. She wears gold sparkly stilettos, red lipstick, and thick foundation. Her brown eyebrows are painted on, and her long, blond hair is curled and hangs on one side. For about $400 per hour, Bridgette will visit your home or hotel for sex. Outside, in the brothel lounge, about 17 other women — mostly Australian but also Asian, African, and European — wait to be summoned for house calls or clients who walk in off the street. They talk among themselves on plush sofas and munch on chocolate bars from the snack machine. The Beatles’ song A Hard Day’s Night is blaring on the sound system. The West has grown fat off the back of Australia’s decade long mining boom. Residents are richer, and there are towering skyscrapers springing up in the business district of the main city of Perth, alongside hip cocktail bars and swanky restaurants.
That mineral boom has fuelled a massive demand for labour as contractors fly into Western Australia from all over the country for fast cash. They work for weeks at a time, offshore or in isolated mines. And humans, being as they are, and because there is little chance of finding a relationship if single, or far away from wives and families, if married, many turn to sex workers for intimacy. As one working girl says, “They’re young, they’re dumb, they’ve got lots of money, and there is no shame in going to a brothel.”
Local newspapers are full of classifieds ads for sex workers. Some charge as little as $40 an hour, often using the back seats of cars (or stretch limos). Or they can visit Langtrees, one of the oldest and most expensive upmarket brothels. The perfect venue for cashed up FIFO (Fly in fly out) workers ready to splash some serious cash. Entrance is through a discreet door located down a dark side street, Out of the $400 hourly rate for a Langtrees’ worker, half of the money goes to the brothel, and the other half is put in an envelope for the client to give directly to the woman. “Extras” cost more. Laminated menus placed on bar tables list the prices.
On this steamy summer night, a potential client loiters shyly near the reception. Seeing his resolve beginning to waver, the madam quickly whisks him away to introduce him to the women. Langtrees, prides itself on its lounge atmosphere. Women in skimpy clothes and sky-high, high heels parade before clients who take their pick. They all have online profiles listing age, bust size, hair colour, and height. We are told men come in with their mates, have a drink, play some pool, and chat with the women before heading upstairs. “It’s the whole experience,” Sue, the madam in charge, explains. “It’s not just a ‘wham bam thank you ma’am.’ The bar and lounge gives the guys the opportunity to relax.” Upstairs there are the private rooms with names such as Double Delight and Golden Dreams. Once the door is closed, the woman will ask the man to shower and only after she has inspected his equipment for signs of disease does the session begin.
In Western Australia, sex work operates in a grey zone: Prostitution is not illegal, but activities associated with it, such as brothels and pimping, are. But authorities have turned a blind eye to places like Langtrees. And, just like the mining contractors, sex workers have travelled from everywhere for the high demand and wages. They also spend long stretches living, working, and eating in the brothel. Many rent a bunk bed and locker for a small fee on top of paying the $50 per night to the brothel owner to work the floor. They are like private contractors who are renting the Langtrees brand. Working nine-hour shifts, the women can expect to earn more than $7,000 per week. The top women might earn double that. “There is no politics, no bitching. They are here to work, to do their job,” Sue, the Madam says. “They are looking for that golden ticket.”
One of those, is “Eliza Champagne,” her working name. She is a brunette whose hair is tied back with a clip and whose girl next door looks seemingly are at odds with her tight leopard print skirt. She is sitting on the sofa drinking an instant coffee. Twenty-five-year old Eliza, divides her time between shifts at the hospital where she works as a nurse and escorting. We are told she is also an avid competitive horsewoman, who is about to start her own equestrian sportswear company. Eliza says she comes from a middle class family — her father has a senior government job — but she is not interested in any family handouts. “I can’t stand people giving me money,” she says. Even if she did Eliza has no need. On her first escort job at the age of 18, Eliza earned $4,500 and she’s been earning big money ever since. She says she lives in Perth with her partner, who works in the mining industry, but keeps that side of her life hidden from him, as well as friends and family. I personally would be curious to know how she achieves such secrecy? They must wonder how she manages to earn all of that extra money working as a nurse. “No one knows that I do It,” she says. “The job is taboo as such — it’s not something to be proud of to say you sleep with X amount of men a day. That annoys me because it is purely just a job.”
Sorry but can’t let that one pass without comment. I guess that would be true if you saw yourself as a functioning machine rather than a human being.
Eliza says only 50 per cent of her bookings involve sex. “ I’m more of a girlfriend experience. I’m not a porn star. I have a fake name when I work but I offer the real me —men appreciate the realness because real women turn them on.”
Ok. So she has a fake name but she’s a real woman. She has fake feelings but her clients appreciate her ‘realness.’ Come on Liza. None of this is real.
In the bunk room, Alina, the Russian, is on a break. She adjusts her ponytail and takes a bite out of her Big Mac. “The stigma that we are all alcoholics and drug addicts and we all have pimp boyfriends is not true,” she says in a strong Russian accent. Alina used to work in retail, earning $20 an hour at the Christian Dior store. But when her partner abandoned her to bring up their small son alone, she struggled and was forced to go on the dole: “I felt like a beggar,” she says. Not any more. Since working at Langtree, Alina goes on holiday, buys luxury goods, and, when she’s not away working we are told, she spends quality family time at home in Sydney. “I’ll grab that handbag. I deserve it,” she says. “I have got a Louis Vuitton bag and I have Louboutin shoes. My baby can have everything.”
But Alina has paid a high personal price for that lifestyle. Most would say way too high a price. A client high on drugs, and just out of jail, forced her to have sex without a condom. “It was rape,” she says matter of fact. But it hasn’t put her off. “You go home with a grand in your hand and you have a good night. Why not?”
I guess money isn’t everything unless you don’t have any.
Fortunately not everyone who works at Langtrees agrees with Alina. “The worst things are the secrecy and the late nights. You’ll be here until 9 in the morning sometimes,” says Laticia, 27, one of the two dominatrixes who work at Langtrees. “Older guys are more respectful. Younger guys just think that they shouldn’t have to pay. They think they should just get it for free. One guy at a house call said, ‘Can we be quick because my wife is coming back fromthe shops?’ Some men have no boundaries.” At times, when men have gotten too pushy, Laticia says has felt abandoned by the law. She shrugs: “The police, as soon as they find out you’re a working girl, they don’t care. They figure that it’s your fault for getting into that industry.” None of the women who featured in the story said they experienced violence at Langtrees. But rape, sex trafficking, and physical safety, especially regarding sexually transmitted diseases, are all concerns in the industry.
So if all of this is true, the question I ask is how can this in any way be described as just a job? It’s the only job I have ever heard of where you must accept those risks simply for choosing to work in that industry.
Sue adjusts the security cameras to check that everything is in order, inhales her cigarette, and slumps into her chair at the desk in her office. We are told she is a middle aged madam — has four children —and wears black framed square glasses and a grey t-shirt. She is tough but kind. Sue calls the women “sweetheart” and listens to their problems. On this evening one of the women has to leave early to bathe in Epsom salts; too much sex has left her in pain. Sue understands: In her past life she too worked the floor at Langtrees. “My husband and I really wanted to get ahead,” she says. What I find slightly disturbing about that comment on wanting to get ahead is that Sue’s husband seemingly had nothing to offer as a means of jointly achieving that goal.
Sue sees sex, at $400 per hour, as an “art”: She gives the women respect and in return expects them to perform. She insists the women have the last word: “I always say to the girls, the first time you say to the gentleman, ‘Honey I don’t like that. No.’ The second time you sit up and say, ‘I said no, if you do it again, end of booking.’ Third time you put on a towel, walk out, and give them the envelope back. When a lady says ‘no,’ that’s it. The men generally behave. Once guys are naked, they’re vulnerable.”
I don’t care much for that last sweeping generalization about men being naked and vulnerable. For one thing it simply isn’t true. In fact I would have thought the reverse was true.
“Langtrees is good,” Sue says. “We see a lot of success but we also see a lot of failure. I lost a really good friend to suicide. It all was too much for her. She hanged herself in a Perth Park. Today a 36 year old woman came in to ask about work. Even though she was 36, we still sent her away to think about it. We always send them away. It’s very important. Because, you know, each time they are sleeping with someone, they are selling part of their soul.”
For me, that says it all really. But as I pointed out, at the start, I make no judgments on women and men choosing to become prostitutes. In any case whatever I might say will not make a jot of difference. Prostitution will flourish whether I approve or disapprove. To those who think there is nothing to worry about here, and a working girl is simply a working girl, I will say this: just do me a favour? Throw away the rose coloured glasses and don’t ever describe it as a job just like any other job because it isn’t and never will be.