Relax, maybe. But when it comes down to business things quickly become more regulated. Private rooms with names such as Double Delight and Golden Dreams are decked out with gaudy murals of sex acts and cheap sheets. Once the door is closed the girl will ask the man to shower. Only after she has inspected him for genital warts, suspicious discharge, and rashes (if needed she will call downstairs for a second opinion) will the session start.
In Western Australia, the sex work industry operates in a gray zone: prostitution is not illegal but activities associated with it, such as brothels and pimping, are. (In some other states it is legal). For years, however, authorities have turned a blind eye to places like Langtrees. And, like the miners, sex workers have flocked to Perth from homes elsewhere—sometimes travelling from as far a field as Europe or South America—for the high demand and wages. Known as “fly-in, fly-out” girls, they spend intense stretches living, working, and eating in the brothel. Many hire a bunk bed and locker for a small fee in addition to paying the $50 per night to work the floor: essentially they are renting the Langtrees brand.
The money makes it worth it. Working nine-hour shifts throughout the night, girls can expect to earn over $7,000 per week. The top girls might double that. “They are here to work, to do their job,” Sue says. “They are looking for that golden ticket.”
“Eliza Champagne,” a brunette whose hair is tied back primly with a clip and whose girl-next-door looks are at odds with her too-tight leopard print skirt, plops herself on the sofa with an instant coffee. Eliza, 25, divides her time between shifts at the hospital where she works at a nurse and escorting. (As an avid competitive horsewoman, she is also about to launch her own equestrian sportswear company). While she comes from a middle-class family—her father is high up in government—she is fiercely independent. “I can’t stand people giving me money,” she insists.
Now she has no need to. When she was only 18, on her first ever escort job, Eliza made a cool $4,500. Bubbly, fun, and bright, she lives in Perth with her partner, who works in the mining industry, but keeps her sideline income hidden from him, as well as friends and family. “No one knows that I do it. 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.” (“I just sneak off and my friends think I’m skiing,” fellow sex worker, and university student named Ruby, chimes in).
I’m not a porn star
Eliza recently told her gay male best friend what she did and the first thing he asked was, “‘Where do you stand?’ He thought I was a street walker!” she laughs, incredulous. “I only have sex around 50 percent of my bookings. I’m more of a girlfriend experience. I’m not a porn star. I don’t do screaming and anal. I have a fake name when I work but I offer the real me—[men] appreciate the realness because real women turn them on.”
Langtrees offers everything from the lithe, striking 19-year-old Caribbean “Diamond” to the peroxide blonde 40-something Russian single mum Alina. Often men ring up asking for a “MILF” (“Mum I’d Like to Fuck”) or a cougar. Two of the women working the floor are professionally trained as dominatrixes and the brothel has a separate swinger’s lounge for orgies, replete with rooms with glass windows where curtains can be drawn or opened for ogling. Drawing blood from whipping or other bondage is banned.
Brothels are an arena to act out fantasies. One of Langtree’s most popular ever sex workers was Sasha, a kittenish pre-operation male-to-female transsexual with a small waist and voluptuous breasts. Sasha looked all woman but had a penis intact. Clients would ring in advance then be ushered through the backdoor so as not to be seen—or judged—by the other men. Sue observes: “It was definitely guys over 30, not younger. Younger men are still dealing with their own sexuality.”
In the bunk room, Alina, the Russian, is taking a break. She adjusts her pink body-con dress and scraped back ponytail and takes a bite 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 accent.
Alina used to work in retail earning just $20 an hour at the Christian Dior store. But when her partner left her to bring up their small son alone she struggled and was forced to go on the dole: “I felt like a beggar.” Now things are different: she goes on holidays, buys luxury goods, and, when she’s not away at Langtrees, spends quality family time at home in Sydney.
The worst things are the secrecy and the late nights
“I’ll grab that handbag. I deserve it,” she states, wiping sauce from her mouth. “I have got a Louis Vuitton bag and I have Louboutin shoes. My baby can have everything.” This comes with sacrifices: Alina recalls once being pinned down by a man high on drugs, and just out of jail, who tried to force her to have sex without a condom. “It was rape,” she says matter-of-factly. It hasn’t put her off. “You go home with a grand in your hand and you have a good night. Why not?”
Not everyone agrees. “The worst things are the secrecy and the late nights. You’ll be here until nine in the morning sometimes,” says Laticia, 27, one of the two dominatrix. She adds: “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 from the shops?’ Some men have no boundaries.”
At times, when men have got too pushy, Laticia 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 girls claim to have experienced violence at Langtrees and the brothel will only hire girls who are legally allowed to work in the country.