Fremantle Stuff > Organisations > Prostitution
Prostitution is not exactly an organisation, but this page had to go somewhere. It exists at the outset mainly to draw attention to Leigh Straw's Drunks, Pests and Harlots, the best source of information on the subject of prostitution in Fremantle. My own interest is more in where brothels were situated in the early days. Streets that are mentioned include Essex, Cantonment, William, and particularly Bannister Street, where one of the port's best-known brothels was kept. There was a house of ill-repute called The Palms on the corner of Bannister and Pakenham. And there was another next to the Salvation Army Citadel, which used to be on the corner of William and Henderson Sts, where Queensgate is at the moment. I suspect some hotels may have supported the activities of prostitutes. The Stanley Beer Hall, for example, had its application for a renewal of its licence in 1897 opposed by police, as 'being the resort of thieves, prostitutes, and blackguards'.
Another section of the maritime service industry was prostitution. Some women chose this, but others were forced into it because of poverty. ‘Freelance’ prostitutes worked along Fremantle streets catering to a clientele of seamen who preferred street-walkers to prostitutes in brothels. These street-walkers may have had style and beauty to match the street-walkers of Sydney in the 1930s. May Aherne, for example, was judged by a prosecuting Fremantle magistrate to have had ‘some claim to good looks had she not set out on a profession not usually set out in a business directory.’ Rooms in particular hotels, namely the Terminus, the Duke of York, the Oceanic and the Esplanade, were used by freelancers as places of business. Other prostitutes worked from their own insalubrious accommodation. A certain Mr Houston, it was claimed by an investigative journalist from the Fremantle Times, ‘lived on rack rents forced out of prostitutes and poor unfortunates who cannot afford to do other than rent his fetid dens'. There were at least eight such ‘fetid dens’ in the vicinity of certain hotels, one of the worst near the Oddfellows.
Brothels sprouted in Fremantle as in any port city ‘sailors’ town’. Madame Marie Guidotti was madam of a brothel in Suffolk Street. She is remembered as always dressing beautifully in black and when promenading the town, leading two dogs. She engaged maids who doubled as prostitutes, and she herself took on that role when short-staffed. She also did the cooking for the establishment. She was considered by the police to be ‘operating a good house, well-conducted in an exemplary manner.’ Mary Ann Coates, also known as Collins, was the madam of Rose Cottage, a ‘smallish but superior establishment’ in Essex Street. She employed staff who had style and could tempt job applications with offers of good pay. Mrs Coates persuaded a girl that she could get more money as a prostitute than as a maid. The girl took her lure and hence worked not only for Mrs Coates but also for Madame Guidotti, ‘disporting herself on their verandahs scantily clad.’ Another brothel madam was Lena Ferrari, ‘a rather attractive Italian.’ The best-known brothels in the 1930s were The Palms, My Blue Heaven, Rose Cottage, and a ‘limestone cottage on the north side of Leake Street, just east of the Terminus Hotel'.
Some girls may have been forced into prostitution for reasons other than good pay or dire poverty. Madame Guidotti was imprisoned for two years in 1907 for ‘detaining a girl for purpose of prostitution.’ There was a beautiful Aboriginal girl with the pseudo name of Jilgie, who was supposedly forced into prostitution by her brother. Fremantle residents can recall Japanese sailors between the wars, coming ashore from naval vessels in port and queuing outside a brothel in High Street run for, and staffed by, Japanese. It is a possible scenario that girls in this establishment had been sold into prostitution in Japan and China and transported to a hideous life in Fremantle. This also raises the question as to how these Japanese women entered the country with the ‘White Australia Policy’ in operation. Could it have been that there was pressure from the British government to allow them to slip through the net because Japan was an ally? Patsy Brown 1999: 16-17.
Brown, Patsy 1999, 'She eateth not the bread of idleness: women and work in Fremantle 1900-1940', Fremantle Studies, 1: 12-24.
Davidson, Raelene 1980, Prostitution in Perth and Fremantle and on the Eastern Goldfields, 1895-September 1939, MA thesis, University of Western Australia, 1980.
Davidson, Raelene 1984, 'Dealing with the "Social Evil": prostitution and the
police in Perth and on the eastern goldﬁelds, 1895 -1924', in Kay Daniels (ed.)
So Much Hard Work: Women and Prostitution in Australian History, Fontana, Sydney.
Frances, Rae 1979, Prostitution in Perth, Fremantle and the Eastern Goldﬁelds 1895-1939, MA dissertation, UWA.
Frances, Rae 2007, Selling Sex: A Hidden History of Prostitution, UNSW Press, Sydney.
Perkins, R. 1985, ‘Being and becoming "Working Girls": an oral history of prostitution in Sydney 1935-1985’, in J. Shields (ed.), All Our Labours: Oral Histories of Working Life in Twentieth Century Sydney, Sydney, 1985.
Straw, Leigh S.L. 2013, Drunks, Pests and Harlots: Criminal Women in Perth and Fremantle, 1900-1939, humming earth, Kilkerran, Scotland.
Straw, Leigh 2016, 'Outcast women: crime, gender and the politics of respectability in Fremantle, 1900 to 1939', Studies in Western Australian History, 31: 81-93.
Straw, Leigh 2017, 'Outcast women: offending the good order in Fremantle, 1900-1939', Fremantle Studies, 9: 88-106.
Warren, James Francis 1993, Ah Ku and Karayuki-san: Prostitution in Singapore 1870-1940, Oxford University Press, Singapore.
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