The ins and outs of life in downtown "Kal"...

Trip Start Apr 13, 2011
Trip End Jul 13, 2011

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Flag of Australia  , Western Australia,
Wednesday, April 27, 2011

We both woke up feeling the same way this morning – weird and slightly out of sorts. After days in the bush in a kind of half-comatose state, something felt out of place here. Paddy had been awake for hours listening to the traffic. We meandered through all the back streets to find this caravan park yesterday and were so proud of ourselves to have found the ONE park in Boulder/Kalgoorlie that wasn't on the highway. I looked on the map and saw that it was near the airport, but our experience in Ceduna had taught us that this doesn’t have to be a problem. WRONG! This is a big town, and loads of people fly in and out at all hours of the day and night. Mistake number one. Mistake number two was not noticing that the OTHER way of getting to this park is to drive the hoons’ racetrack and major arterial that joins the two major highways into town together! It took us a while, but we did finally work out what was really wrong – camping is fine in the bush, but we wouldn’t normally book a tent site in Bendigo if we went there for four days, so why were we surprised that it was slightly uncomfortable here in the big smoke of central WA?

Not only that, it had rained in the night, and was still raining. The lovely weather has abandoned us, although the hoons are loving it, fishtailing around all the roundabouts in town and aquaplaning through deep puddles in all the main streets. We’d never seen anything like it, nor have they, which is the problem. Add the slightly weird mood that is created by almost every old building in Boulder being boarded up and covered in scaffolding due to a massive earthquake that came from nowhere exactly a year ago, and you have the perfect setting for a rather macabre movie. No need to even dip into the budget, the set is built and ready to go, and the hoons are all too happy to be the extras.

Feels like it’s been a long day, but we have really spent most of it simply going around in circles. It was time for a domestic day again, and we really only had two items on the agenda – find the Subaru dealer and get him to fix the doorhandle I accidentally wrenched off in Ceduna; and buy a charger for the rechargeable light we bought in Adelaide. We had already lost one of our two chargers early on and the new one stopped working after three days. Nonetheless, how hard could these two puzzles be in a town this size?

Ha, ha – well, think again – to cut a long story short, we have circumnavigated every corner of Kalgoorlie today. And we have met EVERY local involved in the selling of camping equipment, car parts and every other possible variation on those three themes. It’s been like a bad episode of the Chaser, each new acquaintance sending us to someone and somewhere else in town. But each time we’d arrive somewhere and tell our story, without fail they would shrug their shoulders and recommend the place we had just come from. Then we would point out that those people sent us to them. At least we have met heaps of locals. Yes, we have seen the real Kalgoorlie, not any of that flossy stuff you see in the brochures. And we’ve had lots of laughs and I suspect, brightened up the days of some of them who were regretting not taking a sickie on Easter/ANZAC Tuesday – which was it in the end?

Another accidental highlight for today was the Brothel Tour we didn’t know we were going to do. We had staggered the length and breadth of the inner "city" and I was nearly passing out with hunger, when I spotted a Rivers Clearance store. This is always an omen, especially in regional centres where there is heaps more stock. I ducked in to check whether they had any cheap tank tops for when the weather improves, and of course they did, although it was almost too dark to see in there. A throw-away comment about the mood lighting at the checkout led to a raucous exchange of giggles and useful information from two bored but very friendly locals. Apparently the building used to be the Majestic Theatre, hence the weird white wall (the old screen) and two columns up the back of the store – they were obliged to keep these in honour of the building’s heritage. The most useful tip they gave us, though, was not to miss the brothel tour – and they were most adamant about which one they meant - not the swanky one run by the newish brothel that calls itself a motel on its rates notice – the REAL one. They were not wrong, it was a highly informative and entertaining 80 minutes, made even more so by the poor bloke who couldn’t stand the heat and literally ran out the front door about mid-way through.

Things I remember from the madam’s talk:

-       The girls had to live on site in the house for which they worked.

-       They could not come to town unless they already had a job lined up in one of the houses, and had to register at the police station when they arrived.

-       They had to be on duty from dusk to dawn.

-       If they broke any rules, they had to leave town for two weeks, a detective would take them to the station and wait till the train left. Second offence – barred for life.

-       They were not allowed to socialise in town or hang out in places “where people congregated”. This rule only changed in 2007. When the girls had their day off, they would go to a pub out of town and come back in by taxi.

-       They were not allowed in town by themselves, as this was regarded as soliciting, so the madam had to accompany them on any shopping trips. They got 10% off in most shops.

-       The madam spoke as if these rules still apply.

-       The police still control what goes on in the street, and they are changed over every three years to make sure corruption doesn’t take hold.

-       These days, the first 15 minutes costs $120, a full hour is $280. You get five minutes to shower before the clock starts.

-       The quickest recorded visit was 4 minutes, the most visitors to a single girl in one night was 70 men!

-  They still use the "starting stall" concept from the "good old days", where the girl sits in her chair in a little alcove in one of the gates (see the photo with all the pink doors). The men wander past, and if they are interested, they nip in off the street so they can discreetly negotiate whether they'd like to go into the house itself for a "rendezvous". 

After our brothel tour, we resumed the hunt for someone who could help us with the door handle, finally finding Coventry’s Fasteners, a tip we’d been given earlier in the day but had half-forgotten in our goose chase for a charger. As luck would have it, though, ten minutes before close of business, we finally struck gold. We were in Kalgoorlie, after all. The nice lady at Coventry’s finally gave us what noone else was willing to hand over – the name of a good old-fashioned mechanic! She gave us four, actually, but pointed to the one who was most likely to take pity on us and actually help us out. Well, we hightailed it out of there and hooned around the bypass again, as familiar with all the shortcuts now as any seasoned local, only to screech to a halt outside Peter Hadfield’s premises just on five (and dusk). What a star! He was drowning in work from the mines and private customers, but he made time to have a look at our quirky little problem, whipped the inner door cladding off, and with the care and precision of any surgeon, extracted the missing screw from the depths of the door cavity and fixed the problem then and there. I was fascinated by the array of groovy gadgets he got out for this little piece of surgery, and have left with a list of things to look for when it’s next time to buy presents for my Dad – finally found something more useful than a hand-made comb holder, or another box of chocolates with a bottle of Baileys. Can’t say what it is, though, as I am hoping he will read this and the surprise will be ruined! Peter Hadfield turned out to be a goldmine in lots of ways – he was full of anecdotes about the bomb trucks on the mines and the stringent standards his work has to measure up to. 
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