“Some scary shit is going on”
, says a distracted BJ between hearty cackles and Cheshire cat smiles, “the best and safest place for me is Questa Casa, The Pink House, you know, and Carmel – and now I’ve ruined all that”
. She is no longer permitted to work at Australia’s oldest brothel, run by the pristine, platinum-bobbed Madam Carmel. Despite what you might think about the prostitution industry, Carmel’s world is one of propriety and even prudishness, where drugs and certain types of sex are entirely unwelcome. Embroiled in a murder case, BJ is bad for business and the Pink House is struggling as it is.
The Pink House first opened its doors for business in 1904, 12 years after the criminalisation of brothels in Australia. Its presence on the infamous Hay Street is one of few remaining mementos of Kalgoorlie’s past. “I love this house. We’re sort of holding it in time as an icon of what the town once was, and I believe history should never be just thrown away”
, says Madam Carmel.
BJ has worked and lived at The Pink House for years, but she has a tendency to disappear for months at a time, enticed away by drugs and alcohol. “We’ve saved her from herself so many times. She can resist anything but temptation”
, explains Carmel. Promised all the drugs she could want, BJ moves into a new home, but she is soon involved in a terrible crime that takes place there. Beau Davies is brutally tortured and murdered by BJ’s housemates over his drug debt. She helps clean up after the incident, afraid for her own safety. “When you swim with sharks, you have to expect to be eaten”
, remarks an ever-composed Carmel. But it seems there is no way out for the troubled BJ; sex work is all she has ever known. Pushed into prostitution at 14 to settle a family debt, she has been stuck in the industry ever since.
BJ’s reputation is ruined, and the Pink House can’t risk the disrepute she would bring if she returned. The brothel is already in trouble, in fact. Former madam, Mary-Anne Kenworthy says that it has simply failed to move with the times, unlike her own brothel. Madam Carmel disagrees, seeing the Asian brothels as the biggest threat to her business. The reality for Asian sex workers remains uncertain, with some people claiming that they are held against their will or are spreading sexually transmitted diseases, and others denying it all as vicious hearsay. Whatever the truth, it’s clear that Australia lacks the legislation to properly protect these women. “No bad whores, just bad laws”
, says one sex worker.
Despite scandals and a dwindling number of customers, Carmel remains hopeful for the future of her brothel: “girls have come, girls have gone”
, she says, “I’d like to see it just continue on and be The Pink House always”