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In other ways their separateness was more positive. The fact that Aboriginal women usually traded sex in fringe-camps or on isolated stations rather than city streets meant that they escaped many of the moves by police and criminal organisations to control their activities and earnings. The balance of these factors must have varied considerably with the experience of individual women. The frontier years also had ramifications for non-Aboriginal sex workers.
The legacy is clearly evident in mining towns such as Kalgoorlie, where prostitution is openly carried on under the virtual supervision of the police. As in colonial days, the police and apparently the majority of the local community consider the brothels a necessary part of life in a mining town where men still outnumber women.
This acceptance and semi-official control has been a mixed blessing for the women concerned. The vigilance of the police ensures that criminal elements are kept away from the brothels and their inmates, making sex work in Kalgoorlie much safer than probably anywhere else in Australia.
However, this security comes at the price of excessive intrusion into the personal relationships and movements of sex workers. As one former Kalgoorlie prostitute recalled of her years in a Hay Street brothel in the s, after fleeing Sydney because of violence from the 'big fellas': The police won't let you I tell you what, I couldn't cop that, not being free' Frances, , p.
In addition to having their personal relationships vetted, sex workers were forbidden to shop in the town after midday and were not allowed to use the local restaurants, hotels, swimming pool or cinemas or to go to the racecourse. This situation persists to the present day Cohen, The sale of sexual services was not, however, simply a product of the sex imbalance in convict society or on the frontier.
On the contrary, prostitution flourished in every late nineteenth century city in Australia even where the sex ratios were more evenly matched. Of course, there were the perennial demands for commercial sex from enclaves of men, such as in the merchant marine and the armed forces. But colonial cities supplied other customers.
In this case the demand came from white men who sought sexual release with prostitutes because, in the context of prevailing moral codes, 'respectable' women were not available to meet these demands.
Middle class men, enjoined to defer marriage until they had attained a sufficient level of financial security, were not willing to stay virgins until they married in their late twenties or thirties. Single women of their own class were not generally willing to engage in premarital sex because to do so would spoil their marriage prospects.
After marriage, the desire to limit family size, increasingly evident in Australian middle class families from the s, meant that many couples severely curtailed their marital sexual activity. Men, 'naturally', it was thought, sought carnal solace in the arms of prostitutes. Bourgeois Australians had inherited from England the same double standard of sexual morality which insisted on women's chastity before marriage and faithfulness afterwards in the interests of guaranteeing the paternity of the heirs.
While men were expected to have strong sexual urges and extramarital sex was winked at on their part, respectable women were generally expected to feel little sexual desire of their own and were condemned should they seek gratification outside the marital bed. Working class men too were increasingly subject to this bourgeois code of morality, and because of relatively high wages in Australia may have been able to afford prostitutes' services more readily than were their British counterparts.
The supply of prostitutes in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries came principally from the working class. Despite the rhetoric of the working man's paradise, wages and conditions for Australian women were far from heavenly. While the growth of manufacturing in the major urban centres in the late nineteenth century did open up new opportunities for women as paid workers, the options were still very limited and none of them very alluring.
In domestic service was still the most popular female occupation, offering women a life of confinement, hard work, low wages and the strong possibility of sexual harassment from male employers and their sons.
Women who preferred the freedom of the factory had a narrow range of female jobs open to them, all of which paid around half the male rate for similar occupations.
For young women living at home, this was just enough to make the effort worthwhile. For older women, or those without family or friends to supplement their wages, life was difficult to say the least. Women with dependents found it almost impossible to subsist and support their children or other relatives on factory wages, while the logistics of balancing childcare and paid work outside the home were daunting. Prostitution was attractive to many such women because, like outwork for the clothing industry, it offered them the chance to work from home.
The increasing work opportunities in shops and offices offered slightly higher status but usually not much more in the way of remuneration.
Even if a woman took only one paying customer a day, at the going rate of two shillings and sixpence for a short- time at the bottom end of the market she would earn more in a week than as a skilled tailoress or a lady typist. In times of economic depression the gap between respectable and unrespectable earnings was even wider Scates, , pp.
Given these economic realities, it is hardly surprising that there was always a ready supply of women to meet the demands for commercial sex in Australia's colonial cities.
No doubt there were also women drawn to the prostitute's lifestyle for its own sake, as offering a more enjoyable and freer way of earning a living than other kinds of feminine work. Historians have been slower to recognise this aspect of prostitution than they have the economic one. The forces propelling women into sex work were therefore almost as strong in the post-convict era as they were during the earlier colonial period.
But, late nineteenth century Australians were increasingly less willing to allow the open, uncontrolled activities of streetwalkers on their city streets and of bawdy houses in their neighbourhoods. The period from about through to the First World War saw concerted efforts by legislatures and police forces in all the colonies to 'clean-up' their streets, and prostitutes were a major target of this cleansing operation.
How can we explain these moves to reform urban street life in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries? There is no one explanation which covers the situation in all colonies, but certain common processes are identifiable. And these relate to transformations in the management of urban space common to cities in other English-speaking countries at about the same time. The growth of an urban middle class which accompanied the industrial expansion of the nineteenth century created a class of leisured wives and daughters who sought to use urban space in new ways, most notably by shopping and promenading in the central business districts.
A variant of this was the fashionable Melbourne pastime of 'doing the Block', or promenading around the Collins, Swanston, Bourke and Elizabeth Streets block of shops. With more 'respectable' women using the streets, the presence of what they regarded as 'nuisances' had to be minimised and preferably eliminated.
Hawkers, beggars and drunks were all targets of this campaign, but prostitutes were especially targeted. The reason for this is obvious: The attack on street culture can also be seen as part of a broader middle class assault on working class behaviour generally, aimed at reforming those aspects of life which did not fit with the demands of an ordered, industrial society Daniels, Colonial legislatures were thus responding to similar pressures on other recently industrialised societies when they introduced a series of legislative changes which sought to give the police greater powers to control street life.
Prostitutes were especially affected by changes to the vagrancy clauses of the police offences Acts, such as occurred in Victoria in and New South Wales in , which made soliciting by women an offence for the first time Arnot, ; Golder and Allen It should be noted, however, that the aim of this legislation was not to suppress prostitution entirely. Indeed, legislators generally accepted the inevitability of prostitution as a social institution - a 'necessary evil', as it was often referred to.
Assuming that men's sexual instincts would find some outlet, politicians argued that it was better that they were satisfied by prostitutes than translated into the seduction or rape of 'respectable' women.
The best one could do was control its more offensive side-effects. On the other hand I do not believe in its being carried on in an open, flagrant and almost insulting manner. I believe it should be kept in restraint' Davidson, , p. James's remarks sum up the dominant attitude of Australian authorities to the issue of prostitution from the late nineteenth century until the present day.
Pressures specific to new societies also saw increasing efforts to control the operation of prostitution in colonial Australia. Kay Daniels charts the changing attitude of the authorities to prostitution in Tasmania after the middle of the century, when colonial legislators were concerned to minimise the visibility of prostitution as part of the transition from a convict to a free society.
The passing of convict society saw a change in the attitude of middle class people to prostitution. While the sexual exploitation of convict women was widely acknowledged, it was accepted as a reflection of the immoral nature of the women themselves, who were not ordinary women but 'whores'.
With the move to a 'free' society, prostitution came to be seen in the same light as many other aspects of working class culture: Alongside sporadic and largely unsuccessful efforts to 'rescue' prostitutes was an increasing array of legislation designed to control prostitution.
Similar concerns were evident in Kalgoorlie in the early s. Here the intensely masculine, frontier-style town, with large numbers of alluvial prospectors, was being replaced by a more family-oriented society based upon wage-labour in deep mines. Such behaviour was considered inappropriate in the presence of increasing numbers of 'respectable' women and children so moves were taken by the police which eventually localised the brothels and severely curtailed the public movement of sex workers Davidson, , Other pressures also affected society's willingness to intervene in the lives of prostitutes.
Health considerations, for instance, became increasingly important in the context of British imperial expansion in the latter half of the nineteenth century. While venereal disease was not a new phenomenon in that century, governments saw it as an increasingly serious problem, especially as it affected the fitness of the nation's military personnel.
Prostitutes were targeted as the major carriers of VD and the most vulnerable to control. In Britain, the government enacted the controversial Contagious Diseases CD Acts of the s which aimed to provide a pool of disease- free prostitutes for the use of troops in English garrison towns.
The British military authorities also wanted similar legislation introduced in ports regularly visited by its troopships. Other colonies, notably Victoria and Queensland, introduced such CD Acts without any direct pressure from the military, their intention being more clearly designed for the protection of the civilian male population Evans, ; Arnot, It is clear that many in the colonies saw the CD Acts not only, although primarily, as a health measure.
They were also a way of controlling prostitutes' behaviour generally. As the editor of the Perth Sunday Times argued in It is wanted in the interests of morality and public decency; it is wanted for the protection of the prostitutes themselves; it is wanted because syphilis is becoming dangerously prevalent and because the only effective means of checking it is to put the women of the town under some restraint Davidson, , p.
Like the British legislation, the colonial laws provided for compulsory examination of prostitutes and their forcible detention in so-called lock hospitals if found to be suffering from a venereal disease. Unlike the British legislation, however, the colonial versions were not geographically specific but applied to women throughout the colony as well as in the ports. The laws were obviously discriminatory, applying only to women and not to the men who must have infected them. While some politicians conceded the injustice and illogicality of this, none was prepared to extend the Act to cover men.
As the premier of Queensland, William Kidston, candidly admitted, 'In a Parliament, however, which was composed of 72 men, no seriously minded man would propose to introduce such an innovation' Evans, , p. Not all colonial governments were so insensitive to the civil rights of women. South Australia, for instance, prided itself on doing things differently from the former convict colonies, its Advocate General declaring that CD-style legislation was not in accordance 'with the sentiments of the Colony', representing as it did an infringement on the rights of women and official condoning of immorality Horan, , p.
Western Australian legislators were likewise sensitive to lobbying from religious, feminist and civil rights groups and deleted sections from the Health Act which provided for compulsory notification and treatment of venereal disease, fearing that this was a version of the CD Act Davidson, , pp. Those colonies which did introduce and enforce the CD Acts were arguably influenced by their heritage of female convictism. As Kay Daniels says of Tasmania, the upper classes. Decades during which the mere accusation that a woman was a whore had been sufficient to deny her protection and civil rights had no doubt blunted colonial sensibilities and left a society more anxious than most to draw a dividing line between the prostitute and the 'respectable' woman Daniels, , p.
The issue of the control of venereal disease raises important questions about not just the legislation on a colony's statute books but also the ways in which it was administered. Different emphasis and interpretation could result in radically different implementation of essentially similar laws, with significantly different consequences for individual sex workers. In Queensland, for instance, the Act for the Suppression of Contagious Diseases of was not applied universally but only to particular centres of population, largely because of the cost, the limited facilities and the fear of a backlash of organised protest Evans, , p.
However, within the gazetted areas women who found their names on the police list were subject to regular medical examinations and if diagnosed as having syphilis or gonorrhoea were incarcerated in special lock hospitals for periods of from three to six months. Inmates in these hospitals were treated more like prisoners than patients, subject to strict rules and regulations in the hope that such discipline would bring them 'to a sense of their past degradation' Evans, , p. Recalcitrant patients could be placed in solitary confinement, placed on a diet of bread and water or even removed to the lock-up and visitors were not permitted.
Medical treatment was largely ineffective, given that there was no effective cure until the introduction of Salvarsan treatment in gave relief to some victims of the disease.
More effective treatment was not available until the use of penicillin from the s. For Queensland prostitutes, the legislation was enormously intrusive, forcing them to keep on the move to avoid police notice or to relocate outside the gazetted areas. Once caught in the web of official notice life could become a tedious series of imprisonments in the dreaded lock hospital. By contrast to the Queensland situation the Victorian contagious diseases legislation, embodied in the Act for the Conservation of Public Health of , was never brought into operation.
According to Meg Arnot , pp. But, this did not mean that diseased prostitutes were free from official harassment. On the contrary, the Victorian police had ample flexibility under the vagrancy clauses of the Police Offences Act to cover this contingency. A similar strategy was employed by the Western Australian police after the deletion of the compulsory VD clauses from the Health Bill Davidson, , pp.
Concerns about the spread of venereal disease became especially acute in times of war when authorities became alarmed at the effect on the fighting potential of the armed forces.
In such circumstances, officials were prepared to take drastic action in the interests of national security. In Perth, for instance, several cases of syphilis amongst recruits at Blackboy Hill during late were attributed to prostitutes in Roe Street brothels. The police immediately instructed the Government Medical Officer, Dr Blanchard, to examine all the brothel inmates and report his findings. Any women found to be diseased were prosecuted as vagrants.
This initial inspection was followed by regular fortnightly checks, paid for at the cost of a guinea a visit by the prostitutes. The police and medical authorities had in effect introduced a system of regulation of the Roe Street inmates without any legislative sanction whatsoever.
The Second World War saw even more drastic official harassment of professional sex workers and so-called 'good-time girls' who provided sex for servicemen on a less commercial basis. Under the National Security Venereal Diseases and Contraceptives Regulations of September , the chief medical officer in each state was empowered to compel any person whom he had 'reasonable grounds' to suspect of suffering from a venereal infection to undergo a medical examination.
If found to be infected the person could be detained in a stipulated hospital or other 'suitable place'. Although men were also technically covered by these regulations, in practice it was women who were its main targets. The regulations were applied with special enthusiasm in Queensland, where large numbers of Allied troops were either based or passing through during the war.
Queensland women designated as 'common prostitutes' were already subject to regular medical surveillance and compulsory confinement and treatment under the Public Health Act; the National Security Regulations extended this medical surveillance to the rest of the female population.
Information given by infected troops was used as the basis to 'contact and dispose of' any woman allegedly suffering from venereal disease Saunders and Taylor, , pp. Other aspects of the increasing State intervention in the prostitution industry had serious consequences for sex workers. Changes to the vagrancy laws across Australia in the early s made living off the proceeds of prostitution an offence under the various Police Offences Acts. The targets of these laws were 'bludgers' or pimps, men constructed in the popular imagination as villains who debauched and enslaved innocent girls and young women, then lived off their immoral earnings.
Concern about this practice was fuelled by sensationalist reports in the London press of an international 'white slave traffic' which lured innocent young girls to a life of shame in Continental and Oriental brothels. Similar reports appeared in the press across the English-speaking world throughout the s and s, prompting legislation to deal with the organisers of this 'trade in human flesh'.
In most cases these stories had racist overtones, with the villains being portrayed as 'foreigners' of one sort or another, corrupting the wholesome morals of women of British origin and descent. Australia was no exception to this pattern. In Western Australia, for instance, the villains were usually French or Italian, with the occasional 'Afghan buck' thrown in for additional colour.
A few sensational cases involving Italians added fuel to these beliefs Davidson, , pp. Ironically, the police were rarely successful in apprehending and convicting 'white slavers', although there is certainly historical evidence of the existence of syndicates who traded in prostitutes, with or without the full knowledge and consent of the women concerned Davidson, Indeed, a deputation of concerned feminists who lobbied the Premiers' Conference in Melbourne regarding the international traffic in women and girls were refused admission and told that the premiers did not believe in the existence of such a trade Davidson, , p.
The men who became the targets of this legislation were generally less villainous types - the husbands and relatives of prostitutes who willingly contributed their earnings to the upkeep of people they lived with and loved. Very often, too, the 'bludger' of popular imagination was in reality a necessary assistant to the prostitute, providing protection against violent clients and a less obvious way of soliciting custom.
The legislation rebounded on these women, who could no longer support family members or use their help without fearing the prosecution of their menfolk Golder and Allen, ; Arnot, , p. One can see this attack on 'bludgers' as the most extreme form of a move throughout Australian society from the late nineteenth century to sharpen the definition of men as breadwinners and women as dependents.
All these State interventions in combination had profound effects on the ways in which prostitution could be practised in twentieth century Australia. The increasing illegality of so many aspects of prostitution and related activities meant that police had more control over what prostitutes did and where they worked.
In Western Australia this power was used by the police, in collusion with magistrates, medical authorities and local governments, to establish red-light districts in major population centres such as Perth and Kalgoorlie. The breadth and flexibility provided for by the vagrancy laws meant that police could virtually dictate the behaviour of prostitutes and brothel-keepers on pain of imprisonment.
While this policy meant severe infringements on the ability of sex workers to choose the location of their workplaces, it also had ramifications for the structure of the sex industry. Before the policy of localisation ie: With the advent of the Hay Street brothels in Kalgoorlie and those of Roe Street in Perth, it became increasingly difficult for women to operate outside the tolerated brothels.
In order to escape police harassment women had to become either brothel inmates or keepers. While this meant big profits for the few who became keepers, for the majority of sex workers the change spelt a 'proletariatisation' of their occupation as they gave up self-employment for the position of brothel employees, handing over half their earnings to the madam Davidson, Police ensured that organised criminals were kept away from the tolerated brothels by using the vagrancy provisions against 'bludgers' to deter any men other than customers from associating with the inmates.
A similar process of proletariatisation occurred in New South Wales over the same period, although it took a different form. Hilary Golder and Judith Allen describe how the increased police powers encouraged corruption in the police force, with individual officers accepting bribes to administer the law selectively. Organised criminal gangs, already in existence to control the gambling industry as well as the opium and illicit liquor traffic, seized this opportunity to extract protection money from freelance prostitutes, brothel-keepers and individual pimps, since they were the only ones with enough capital to pay either the police or the new heavy fines.
Increasingly, sex-workers were forced to relinquish their former independence for the dubious protection of criminal networks. As Golder and Allen , p. Her work could be deployed and incorporated into the service context of the drug, liquor or gambling traffic, whether she liked it or not. Increasingly she could be pushed into positions of risk, both as regards rival underworld gangs and the agents of the state. And where pimps survived, they tended to survive as employees of the criminal interests and acted in a managerial or supervisory capacity.
The changes to the New South Wales Summary Offences Act in thus provided the structural preconditions for the rise of the rival 'gang queens', Tilly Devine and Kate Leigh, who dominated Sydney prostitution from the s to the s.
The changes which occurred in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries set the framework for the operation of prostitution for most of the twentieth century. Only since the late s have governments started experimenting with new ways of treating prostitution, generally moving towards less punitive models of legislation.
These changes reflect changes in public attitudes towards sexual relations between consenting adults generally and a greater awareness of the deficiencies and injustices embodied in the previous approach.
The evolution of new approaches is an ongoing process and the end of the twentieth century promises to be another crucial period in the history of Australian prostitution as state governments and local councils grapple with the various civil rights, health and planning issues associated with prostitution Gerull and Halstead, What is certain is that we will continue to see 'the State' behaving in complex and sometimes contradictory ways. Different levels of government federal, state, local have different priorities and responsibilities and these are not always compatible.
Likewise, different state agencies eg: Although State activities have been enormously important in influencing the nature and experience of prostitution in Australian cities, they are by no means the only factor explaining changes in the industry over time.
For instance, the State does not simply apply its policies to a passive prostitution industry. Sex workers have been able in the past, and will no doubt continue in the future to resist and negotiate attempts to control them. Since the s this has been expressed most effectively through organised groups such as the Australian Prostitutes Collective and the Scarlet Alliance, but even before this there is evidence that prostitutes acted individually and collectively to protect their rights and to shape their working lives.
Roberta Perkins notes the way in which Sydney street prostitutes acted collectively to retain certain working conditions, such as the refusal of 'kinky' services to clients.
Oral evidence from my own research on Kalgoorlie reveals a similar collective control of the services offered in Hay Street brothels until the late s Frances, Individual acts of resistance are harder for the historian using written sources to uncover, but occasionally we get glimpses which suggest that prostitutes did not always accept the official view of their lives and behaviour. Prostitutes in Western Australia, for instance, complained to higher officials if they felt police officers were abusing their powers and these complaints appear to have been taken seriously and acted upon.
Individual women also frequently abused arresting police in terms which reversed the supposed moral value of prostitute and policeman. Thus a Parramatta woman shouted at police who arrested her in a hotel in Popular attitudes and practices regarding sexuality and morality must also be recognised as a factor in the changing nature of prostitution.
Different class and demographic patterns also affect the type of clientele seeking the services of prostitutes and hence the type of services demanded.
Kalgoorlie sex workers, for instance, comment on the less complicated demands made by the miners and 'bushies' who form the bulk of their customers.
Into 'good old fashioned sex', they make fewer demands on the women's time and ingenuity, in sharp contrast to the 'deviants' amongst the Perth businessmen who frequent prostitutes in that city Cohen, , p. But even Kalgoorlie has seen an expansion in the variety of its services over the last 20 years. Ex-prostitute Rita, talking to me in , described how things had changed in the nine years since she began working in Hay Street: But now, there's that many perversions, that many things This transition reflects the changing nature of the demand for prostitutes' services.
Essentially, prostitutes provide services which men cannot get easily elsewhere. Where there are large numbers of single men and few available women this tends to be simple sex, the kind they would expect to enjoy with girlfriends or wives.
In the past, clients were also drawn from single men who could not expect their girlfriends to contravene prevailing sexual mores by engaging in sex outside marriage and from married men whose wives did not want to have sex for fear of pregnancy or because of ill health. A relaxation of social taboos concerning extra-marital sex and better contraception has meant that more men can find sexual partners without having to resort to prostitutes.
As non-prostitutes become more sexually adventurous, prostitutes are sought for increasingly bizarre kinds of services, a situation which is resisted and resented by many sex workers. Other factors independent of legislation have affected the demand for and supply of prostitutes. Social and economic crises such as wars and depressions have had particular importance in this respect. In both the s and s depressions more women were drawn into prostitution, as both single and married women sought other ways to make money when they or their husbands were unable to find enough work at their regular occupations.
The population of Perth's Roe Street brothels rose from 50 to 70 during , as both single and married women took desperate measures to survive the economic downturn Davidson, , p. The increased numbers of women selling sexual services and the reduced spending power of men in the community meant that earnings for individual prostitutes and madams suffered considerably during this period.
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