ENTERTAINMENT

The Pink House: This 80-Year-Old Madam Runs Australia's Oldest Brothel In Kalgoorlie, Where Prostitution Is Illegal

Sex, drugs, murder and a mechanical feather duster, 'The Pink House' has seen it all.

26/10/2017 2:13 PM AEDT | Updated 26/10/2017 2:13 PM AEDT
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Everything Madam Carmel says sounds like it came out of an etiquette book, even when discussing bondage.

When she was 55, Carmel found herself a widow in Sydney looking for some way to make a living. Having previously run a chicken farm and boat hire business, her next move was less than conventional.

She bought a historic brothel in Kalgoorlie, Western Australia.

In the 25 years since, the now 80-year-old Madam Carmel has overseen Australia's longest running brothel, Questa Casa. There she has seen all sorts of sex, drugs and even murder run through the town, as she wanders through the rooms of Questa Casa with her mechanical feather duster.

Opening in the height of Australia's gold rush in 1904 the Pink House, as Carmel affectionately calls it, was an establishment located on Kalgoorlie's infamous Hay Street. The brothel has run for over 100 years just down the road from a police station, despite laws in Western Australia forbidding its operation.

A new documentary, 'The Pink House', takes a look inside Carmel's empire. After winning Best Australian Documentary at the Sydney Film Festival, the doco is heading to limited screens in November, giving audiences a taste of the incredible stories behind the Pink House's doors.

Like Questa Casa, Madam Carmel is somewhat of an anachronism. Speaking with utter elegance, everything she says sounds like it came out of an etiquette book, even when discussing bondage.

"I feel like I'm the caretaker of the Pink House," Carmel told HuffPost Australia. "That's my primary role in life, to make sure that it remains neat and nice.

"This is the only part of old Kalgoorlie left in Hay Street and I'm very proud of it. We've had triumph and tragedy here, and it's all encompassed."

After her husband passed away, Carmel bought the Pink House after struggling to find work in Sydney where she had lived prior.

"I had worked very hard all my life in various occupations but had no certificates. Of course, once at 55 no one is going to employ you, and that's the state of the world today."

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A still from 'The Pink House' which follows Madam Carmel and one of Questa Casa's girls, BJ, through triumph and tragedy.

The Madam weaves stories expertly; there's a rich purpose to everything Carmel says, from describing her first trip to "Kal" as she lovingly calls her adopted home, to joking about why "men give their willies a name" (it's so a stranger isn't making all their decisions for them, she explained).

"As we were coming to land I said to the bloke beside me, 'Do you live in Kalgoorlie?' He said yes, and I asked how long he had lived there. He said 14 years... I asked if he had ever regretted it and he said, 'Never. Kalgoorlie is like a pair of old slippers. You put them on, you're very comfortable and you just don't want to take them off'. I really don't know why people don't come up here in droves to retire."

Despite Carmel's affection for the town, the law has been less than kind to her vocation. Although brothels are illegal in Western Australia, authorities have a long history of turning a blind eye to their operations, instead turning to processes like containment.

"We were all contained to the street," Carmel explained. "The girls could leave the house during the day but all they could do was go on a walk around the block or visit friends in the suburbs.

"They were not permitted to go where people gathered because if they went where people gathered they'd be soliciting. But when they were on Hay Street there were so many men they never lacked a client."

With the shifts in cultural approaches of sex and the rise of the internet and mobile phones providing easier ways for sex workers to run their own businesses, the thriving houses of Hay Street began to close their doors.

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Keeping the house neat and tidy Madame Carmel attends to the dusting.

To combat lacking business, Carmel began running tours of the Pink House about 10 years ago.

"When I started I only had one or two people on each tour," she said. "And I only started to do it because it was obvious we needed to supplement income."

The tours have since grown, with curiosities in part due to the Pink House's connection to the gruesome 2014 murder of Kalgoorlie local Beau Davies.

One of the key witnesses in the trial was a former worker of Questa Casa, a woman named BJ.

The documentary offers unfettered access to both women, as Carmel fights to preserve the historic Pink House and BJ fights simply to survive. Carmel took on a maternal role in BJ's life, the Pink House acting as a refuge for a woman who had worked in the sex industry for decades.

After BJ was embroiled in the Davies case, Carmel forbid her to return to work at the Pink House.

"Kalgoorlie has always been a forgiving place," Carmel told HuffPost.

"I remember all the girls had come to Kal because this was regarded as the end of the Earth.

"A girl came racing down to the kitchen and said 'You'll never believe it, my brother-in-law just walked in and caught me... but I think it will be alright because he shouldn't have been here either'."

Intoxicated with her own anecdote, the Madam laughed before adding, "guilt is a wonderful thing".

'The Pink House' is being screened via demand.film, where you can find session times as well as request screenings near you.

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