Want to know more about the brothels which made Kalgoorlie famous for being a hub of prostitution?
Kalgoorlie, WA shot to fame in the 1890s on the back of the Coolgardie Gold Rush and, due to the high male population, prostitution was regarded as a necessity in order to serve the community’s ‘special needs’. With a town full of cash-rich, sex starved men women flocked to Kalgoorlie to earn a very decent living. Once perceived to be the country’s vice capital, Kalgoorlie now has just two brothels, both of which offer historical tours to day visitors as well as offering traditional ‘starting-stalls’ services by night.
In this guide, we take a look at the history of prostitution in Kalgoorlie and find out what has happened to the famous brothels of this Western Australia town. We also review the last two brothels left operating within the infamous red-light district of Hay Street.
A History of Prostitution in Kalgoorlie
Following years of significant discoveries of gold in Victoria, New South Wales and Tasmania, Western Australia was only responsible for small finds of the precious metal until 1882. However, sizeable finds were located by geologist, Edward Hardman in 1884 starting a gold rush in WA.
In 1892, a find near Coolgardie sparked the largest gold rush in West Australia history and resulting in a mass migration of people to the area. The following year saw a further discovery of gold in a town called Hannan which later became known as Kalgoorlie. Within three days of this discovery by the prospector, Patrick Hannan, a further 700 men were chancing their luck in Kalgoorlie.
The potential rewards of striking a find were so tempting that men from across the country flocked to the region, increasing the population of Western Australia from 46,290 people in 1891 to 184,124 by the year 1901.
In Kalgoorlie, the one-horse town quickly grew to a population of 2,018 people by 1898 (1,516 men and 502 women).
Whilst the majority of this increase is due to the number of panhandlers, a significant proportion is also reported to be prostitutes.
In fact, whilst the number of men doubled by 1903 to 3,904, the female population increased almost six-fold to 2,886 in less than five years.
Gold rush stations were commonly isolated communities of mainly men and prostitution was an accepted part of establishing law and order (a sort of ‘safety valve’)and Kalgoorlie was no different, earning itself a notorious reputation as a ‘wild-west’ town.
To try and establish some form of order, the community de-marked one street in the town as a designated area for prostitution and the Hay Street red-light area was born. Prostitutes were not allowed to reside or convene in any other area of the town, resulting in a kind of ‘containment’ policy. Hay Street now has a reputation for being one of Australia’s most famous red-light districts.
Although prostitution was illegal in WA at the time, this unofficial, ‘official’ code allowed the brothels to operate. However, the girls were required to register with the local authorities and were not allowed out of Hay Street without their madam accompanying them; even to go shopping during their time off. Doing so was interpreted as ‘soliciting’ and this was strictly forbidden outside of the red-light area.
This strict policy was active until a few decades ago and effectively meant that prostitutes were not allowed to live among the general community or venture into places where ‘people gathered’. With this ban lifted and prostitution now being legal across town, the appeal of Hay Street’s once exclusive brothels has diminished.
Once the centre of a thriving number of brothels, Kalgoorlie, famously built on gold, girls and grog, now has just two bordellos left standing; The Red House and Quest Casa (see below).
Both have had to diversify their businesses in order to maintain an income and now offer tours to curious tourists as well as providing a more traditional ‘evening’ menu of services.
Prostitution in Kalgoorlie is not the market it once was and with many working women offering cheap, independent services in-call and out-call, the famous brothels of Kalgoorlie may not be around for much longer.
Questa Casa: Last Original Brothel in Kalgoorlie
133 Hay St, Kalgoorlie WA 6430
Situated on the northern end of Hay Street, Questa Casa is one of the oldest working brothels in the world and has been known to be in operation since around 1900.
Commonly known as the ‘Pink House’ due to its colorful pink and white corrugated iron exterior, Questa Casa is one of the original brothels of Kalgoorlie and the only bordello left standing from those heady days of the gold rush infamy.
Despite being a working house, the Quest Casa also operates tours during the day where guests can get an intimate look inside the building from the infamous ‘starting stalls’ to the working bedrooms which still service customers.
It is a stark place and does not have any of the modern comforts that many would expect from a contemporary brothel in other parts of Oz, including no air-conditioning or even insulation. It offers an authentic experience of what the community of mining men would have enjoyed; an oven in the summer and an esky in the winter.
Tours run every day at 3.00pm and take around an hour and a half to complete at a cost of $25 (seniors $20).
It’s a fascinating ‘must-do’ tour for anyone who is interested in seeing the workings behind an old brothel and also takes in some of the more colourful stories of the town’s relationship with prostitution. Some of Kalgoorlie’s 30,000+ residents can trace their family history to the brothels with working women losing their hearts to a customer and settling down to raise a family.
Other stories include some heart-warming tales of women who turned their lives around with the money they were able to earn at Questa Casa including one lady who arrived at the brothel at the age of 44, unskilled and a battered woman. The safety offered by a legitimate working house and the wealth she could accumulate meant that 14 years later, the same woman now owns three houses, mortgage free. The brothel-owner, Madam Carmel Galvin, reports that she passed the woman off as being 33 years old by keeping the lights turned down low!
The tales are as entertaining as the guides who tell them and you really get a sense of the history of the place when you are being shown around. It’s not hard to see why the tours are so popular.
The 2017 documentary film The Pink House, also offers some of this same insight and can be streamed or downloaded online from Screen Australia.
A working brothel, you can also still book some private time with the ladies of the Pink House from 7.00pm to midnight.
The Red House
143 Hay Street, Kalgoorlie, WA 6430
Situated just a few doors down from the Pink House, the Red House (or ‘Stellas’) is another historic brothel in Kalgoorlie.
Though no longer offering guests a choice of girls from the traditional stable doors, the Red House is of a similar age to the Pink House. The interior is, however, more modern.
You can pick up a traditional service at the Red House of a sensual message and more with prices starting at $200 for 30-minutes. All extras must be negotiated with the girl of your choosing.
The Red House is open as follows:
- Monday to Thursday: 8.00pm to 3.00am
- Friday and Saturday: 8.00pm until late
- Sunday: 7.00pm to 1.00am
181 Hay Street, Kalgoorlie, WA 6430
Now closed, Langtrees Guest Hotel was operational for several years servicing up to a quarter of a million clients per annum in its 17 individually themed rooms.
It was a boutique, motel-style, bordello and tried to replicate some of the historic charm of the old mining community including an 1840s style piano bar and even offering high-tea.
It opened in 2000 on the former site of one of Hay Street’s stable-door parlours. The building is now leased to Cecilia’s on Hay; a fine-dining restaurant and hotel.
Featured image via Wikipedia.