Questa Casa, Kalgoorlie, Western Australia
When gold was discovered in Kalgoorlie, men arrived by the thousands. Apart from equipment to mine the precious mineral, they had other needs. Water, food, clothing, shelter and the services that could only be provided by a woman.
Women sex workers arrived at the same time as the men, and by 1897 there were an estimated 50 brothels in Coolgardie alone. With 20 men to every woman these brothels never lacked customers.
Built over 100 years ago, Questa Casa (Italian for "this house") in Hay Street, is the only original brothel left in Kalgoorlie, from the 18 that were once operating here. Hay Street is just one street over and a drunken stumble from the many pubs in Hannon St. “No other town in Australia is known to have so openly supported the presence of prostitution within its jurisdiction” (1) Elain Mckeowan, The Scarlet Mile: A Social History of Prostitution in Kalgoorlie 1894 – 2004.
Originally this street was named Brookman St. In 1902 it was renamed to Hay Street. Two stories describe the name change.
The police and court buildings were also in Brookman Street and they didn’t want to be in the same street as the brothels, so they divided the street in two and changed the brothel end to Hay St.
A Government official was sent to Kalgoorlie to shut down the brothels after many complaints. Seeing that they were a necessity to the area, he organised for the brothel end of Brookman St to be renamed Hay St and was truthfully able to report back to Perth that “there are no longer any brothels in Brookman St, Kalgoorlie.”
Either way, if you look closely you will see that the street numbering starts at 133 Hay Street, because of this renaming.
I had never been inside a brothel until I did the Questa Casa brothel tour in Kalgoorlie. Tickets can be booked at the local Tourist Information Centre, and group tours commence at 3pm on designated days. Quite a different way to book than in the past.
Carmel, the owner, came to Kalgoorlie to run the brothel after the death of her husband, and now operates it with the assistance of her daughter. We were ushered into an air-conditioned waiting area by the Questa Casa madam. Chairs surrounded the walls, and this is the same place that gentleman have waited over the years. The madam was very informative as she told us the history of the place and invited questions from those on the tour. Looking at the front of the building, there are pink doors called the starting stalls. The prostitutes would sit inside these doors and men walking by could chat with them and make their choice of women.
There are ten starting stalls, a maximum of ten women a night, and there are ten working rooms to accommodate them. Some women could entertain ten customers a night. The oldest prostitute was 76 years old and did well. The madam said that the best workers are usually over 30 as they have a bit of life experience by then.
Prostitution in Kalgoorlie was run under the Containment Policy until 1994. Under this policy the workers were contained to the establishment they worked at. They were not permitted to leave to go shopping or to the theatre. The police could check on them at any time of the day or night, and they had to be at the premises. The girls were not able to see clients in hotels or private homes. They were protected. Since the demise of this policy, prostitutes and brothels can be anywhere in the city, even residential areas of Kalgoorlie. Without regulations, this has been a detriment to both the health and welfare of the girls and their clients.
Operating hours are from 7pm until late. Questa Casa is not currently open as there are no women available to work. Currently the 2020 price can be $170 for half an hour, or $280 for an hour. Extra requests can be accommodated at a cost.
We were shown through three of the ten working rooms. Two of the rooms were similar containing a double bed, soft lighting etc. The third room contained a variety of accessories and devices that could be utilized for an extra price. A customer once run up a bill of $2000 during one session. It makes the mind boggle!
With the decline of workers and customers the brothel has become a tourist attraction. I found the visit interesting, especially the history of prostitution in the town. I never thought I would say this… but I highly recommend a visit to the Questa Casa brothel when in Kalgoorlie.