Do you want to know which of Australia’s red-light districts are the most famous?
Though street prostitution in the 21st century has diminished the traditional ‘character’ of red-light districts, a prevalence of legalised brothels, strip clubs and peek shows in any area of a city can produce the heady delights of a distinctly adult feel. Every major state capital has one such part of town which seems to bring out the bawdy in all of us with some being more famous than others.
In this feature, we take a look at those red light areas that are either historically important or are big names on the sex scene of Australia.
Red Light Districts of Australia: A Brief History
The red-light districts of Australia have similar roots to their European counterparts with prostitution activities mainly centring around the 19th century commuter hubs of the ports and, latterly, the train stations. The convenience for everyone is obvious and just makes good business sense; both these areas offered a passing trade of workmen, sailors and travellers.
However, times have changed since the colonial days and the sex industry has developed over history.
During the Vietnam War many of Australia’s cities and major port towns were used as rest and recuperation stations for soldiers (mainly) from the United States. The result of which changed the shape of some red-light areas with prostitutes taking up camp around these bases to provide sexual services. Some such zones were not just sanctioned by the authorities but were also funded by them
In the 21st century, red-light districts in Australia have become less defined. Many working women now use the internet to secure regular clients and a lot of cities no longer have a large community of street hookers.
Despite the shift from the streets to the web, there are still areas synonymous with the sex trade that will find it hard to ever shake their association as ‘red-light districts’.
We’ve selected the top eight city zones that have a colourful history and have helped (and, in some cases, continue to help) shape street prostitution and the adult entertainment scene of Australia.
8 Most Famous Red Light Districts in Australia
King’s Cross & Darlinghurst, Sydney, New South Wales
Brothels are legal in New South Wales and Sydney has plenty of bordellos in and around the city. However, it is the King’s Cross and Darlinghurst areas of town that have become synonymous with the sex industry. The area stretching south to include Darlinghurst incorporates a couple of brothels, adult massage parlours and a mix of street prostitutes.
The area came to prominence as a result of servicing American troops staying on recuperation breaks during the Vietnam War. King’s cross was a notorious centre of vice in its heyday and has become famous the world over for its association with cheap and easy sex.
Though no longer a swinging red-light district, King’s Cross still has a lot going for it and, beyond the new and trendy bars, there still beats the heart of an old-school sex industry.
Hindley Street, Adelaide, South Australia
A century ago, Hindley Street was home to a thriving population of street prostitutes and gained itself a notorious reputation for debauchery and impropriety. As well as ‘ladies of the night’, the street was home to many of the city’s brothels and running houses.
Though 21st century Hindley Street no longer has bordellos (illegal in South Australia), you can find much of Adelaide’s adult entertainment in the area. Sexual services are not legitimately offered for sale but some massage parlours do offer a rub and tug.
Fyshwick, Canberra, Australian Capital Territory
The Fyshwick area of Canberra has gained a reputation for being the unofficial red-light district of the city. Home to many of the Canberra’s legal brothels, including the Lollipop Lounge, and Tiffany’s Palace, Fyshwick also attracts street prostitutes.
If that wasn’t enough to tempt punters out of the city, you can also find adult massage studios and plenty of sex shops.
The authorities have granted licenses for adult venues in this retail and light industrial zone to encourage the sex industry out of the city and, largely, this seems to suit everyone.
Grey Street, St. Kilda, Melbourne, Victoria
The St. Kilda area of Melbourne is a popular tourist hotspot and the beach alone is a draw for many visitors. However, this area of the city has also gained a reputation for itself as a red light district; so much so that the headquarters for Victoria’s health and education for the sex industry (RhED) is situated here.
Brothels are legal in Victoria and the California Club can be found on St. Kilda Road.
Street prostitution in Victoria is illegal but you can still find hookers in St Kilda, specifically along Grey Street. Most women work during daylight hours as the police presence, designed to clampdown on solicitation, increases at night. The corners of Robe Street, Barkly Street and Dalgety Street are all popular haunts with the local punters.
Fitzroy Street in St. Kilda West is also known for its sex workers.
Northbridge, Perth, Western Australia
From the 1900s, with the advent of the railway line, prostitution in the city began to flourish in one particular location; Northbridge.
At the time, this area of the city had dozens of brothels and coffee houses where locals and visitors could pay for sex. A containment policy in the 1920s demarked the area around Roe Street as a red-light district. Though an ideal place for the sex trade to be legitimised as it had little immediate residential impact, was close to the police station and was blocked from expanded by the boundary of the railway line, there was pressure from various lobbyists to move the zone.
Local businesses afraid of the moral dangers posed to their employees, women’s rights campaigners and commercial groups seeking to expand their operations into the area all tried to exert pressure on Perth City Council to relocate the red-light district.
Gradually, as the central city area expanded, brothels were displaced and prostitutes moved to the suburbs. With the official closure of Northbridge as a red-light area in 1958 and clampdowns during the 1970s, this central prostitution zone seemed doomed to disappear. However, the natural migration of prostitutes to inner-city zones has seen the rise and return of Northbridge as a centre for the adult industry.
Fortitude Valley, Brisbane, Queensland
Known as the suburb that never sleeps, Fortitude Valley was once the centre of Brisbane’s sex scene and remains a popular place for adult entertainment.
Its proximity to the old port on the Brisbane River made it an ideal location as the base of bordellos and bawdy houses. This tradition continued throughout the 20th century with the area gaining notoriety during the 60s and 70s.
In modern day Brisbane, much of the licensed action in terms of brothels has moved further west to Spring Hill but the city’s strip clubs and massage parlours can still be found in the ‘Valley’. The proliferation of bars and clubs attract street prostitutes after dark and the area is still seen by locals as the red-light district of the city.
Surfer’s Paradise, Gold Coast, Queensland
It could be argued that much of Surfer’s Paradise is a red-light district with an abundance of brothels, swinging clubs and strip venues as well as bars and clubs full of NSA opportunities.
You can find brothels on Upton Street, but the street action in this hedonist’s playground centres around Cavill Avenue. One of the central routes connecting the esplanade to the central shopping zone, this route has a lot of hookers after dark.
There isn’t much massage action going on in town, but the gentleman’s clubs offer good titivation; two of these are on Orchid Avenue with a third on Surfer’s Paradise Boulevard.
Hay Street, Kalgoorlie-Boulder, Western Australia
Kalgoorlie is most famous for being one of the new towns that was founded on the back of the Coolgardie gold rush of 1892. The Hay Street area became a centre for prostitution and was backed by the town’s authorities in order to service the huge demand. Kalgoorlie became synonymous with hookers and was often reported in the mainstream media as a vice capital.
Kalgoorlie is home to Australia’s oldest and longest serving brothel, the Questa Casa, where you can get a tour of the premises by the current madam. This ‘Museum of Vice’ is a popular tourist destination but you can also use the facilities (after the tours are over) to get a full service just as prospectors from over a century ago would have done.
Featured image (Story Bridge, Brisbane: The Gateway to Fortitude Valley) via Wikimedia.