Langtree's Brothel, Kalgoorlie, Julia Harwood Photographer.
Let me introduce to the ‘Yuryevich’ name. Vladislav Yuryevich Surkov president of Rostelecom since 2010, Russia’s long distance telephone provider, Alexander Yuryevich Pichushkin Russia’s infamous serial killer (he claims to have killed 63) Rostislav Yuryevich’s hapless prince of a region in Russia, known for what he did do not rather than what he did in 1138, and Ron Yuryevich, mayor of Kalgoorlie.
Kalgoorlie's Open pit mine, photographer Julia Harwood.Kalgoorlie, Western Australia is a mining town with an open pit gold mine. Much in Kalgoorlie has dubious roots. The open pit was designed by Alan Bond, legendary yachtsman who bank rolled the secret keel of his “Australia 2” that won America’s Cup in 1982. He is a larger than life criminal and entrepreneur, a British transplant to Western Australia. Besides the pit Kalgoorlie is known for its lewd entertainment, world famous brothel, and more recently fly in fly out miners and their raucous life style. I wrote about this in my novel, The Con.
Mercedes knows about it. She claims to be 44 and makes up to $1400 per shift as a bar maid in a skimpie. Skimpies wears less underwear without clothing than most women wear with clothing, teaming a thong with a bikini top and nothing else. Mercedes “masterfully” flashes her bare breasts to customers, whether they want her to or not. Despite this behavior being illegal she has little fear. In her 12 years of flashing she has been arrested once.
She is treated like a rock star. "The big money is in the tips. You entertain, perform, make them laugh, serve their drinks, remember what they drink and their names. You remember their family and make them feel special. That's the secret of the trade. You don't have to be a genius."
Kalgoorlie is changing, the famous skimpies are forced to cover up and tone down their acts. No more see-through shirts or stickers over nipples as a lewdity loophole. No one can recall cleaning blood off bar floors for some time.
Still all breasts and bravado Mercedes is a reminder of days gone by when skimpies ruled the Goldfields bars. But she is an endangered species in a city undergoing a seismic moral shift. Long-serving mayor, Ron Yuryevich, takes credit for the slow clean-up of a frontier town founded on girls, gold, gambling and grog (alcohol).
In its 129 years, Kalgoorlie-Boulder has never seen anything like it. The city's iconic Langtrees brothel - an international tourist attraction for decades - closed last month. It will be converted into a hotel.
The main street that once proudly sported the largest number of bars per square kilometre in the world now has only a fraction of those.
Steve Pennells, a reporter notes, “The battle for the moral heart of one of the roughest, toughest towns in the country is in its last round and what was unthinkable barely 10 years ago is becoming a reality: the wild west appears to have been tamed”.
"I'm very happy," Mr Yuryevich says, claiming the changes are long overdue.
Last October, the conservative Christian was re-elected in the tightest mayoral race in the city in a decade, edging out his closest rival by a handful of votes.
"The days of Kalgoorlie-Boulder being a rough, tough, mining and men-only town are well and truly gone," he says.
"I'm not a wowser (non alcohol drinking prude) by any means. I was born and bred here. But pretty well everyone recognises that for a community to continue to exist and grow, you need families."
Most Skimpies are flown to Kalgoorlie from others Australian States, but Mr Yuryevich says there are fewer girls being brought over these days.
"You can't change cultures overnight," he says "It's been small steps but we are very happy with the progress."
The mayor is a major but not the only reason the Goldfields lifestyle is turning around.
The very culture of the place is shifting. Fewer people are drinking in the front bars on which Kalgoorlie-Boulder's reputation was built.
Earlier closing hours and the mining industry's tougher drug and alcohol testing and zero-tolerance approach has tamed the mining workers’ prior heavy drinking ways. This causes one pub to close every two years. They are not being replaced.
A prominent hotel owner describes the changes "...it has happened in such a quick time. Over one generation. When I got there our front bar was 98 per cent of our turnover. Now it is probably battling to be 25 per cent."
Even Mercedes notes that her own behaviour has toned down. "Everyone is just pulling their heads in (self regulating). I feel safer today than at any other time in the 12 years. I don't see it as a threat. It used to be way violent. You could not have one night here in the pub without someone getting a chair over their head. It was out of control. I've cleaned a lot of blood in my time.”
To see the closing of the world famous brothel, the lessening alcohol sales, the taming of the street culture is nothing less than revolutionary. And one of the major catalysts is one man who decries the town’s well entrenched vices and who won by merely 387 votes. He insists on open government, on financial responsibility that spends tax payers money “wisely”, he is building safe accommodation modules for the indigenous population from the remote communities of Tjuntjunjara and Coonana. Many travel, without accommodation plans. They visit family, access medical and other services and attend funerals. Without housing they sleep in doorways or on the streets or in the less than safe camp in Boulder. The mayor pushed the plans for short stay accommodation for these travelers.
One man, one vision, the right time and a town is changed.
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