Catch us live on BlogTalkRadio every

Tuesday & Thursday at 6pm P.S.T.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Australia - Hookers vs. bikers: an Australian showdown

MORANBAH, Australia — It’s 3 p.m. here in this grey and dusty Queensland mining town, and in a beige motel room Di is getting ready for work. She has checked in under her married name so the motel owners don’t get suspicious and she has brought her own sheets and towels, along with condoms, sex toys and creams.

Her first client is a regular who booked her a couple of weeks ago via her website and he will be followed by a young miner who has just spent two hard weeks out in the mining camp at the edge of town and is ready to party.

By the end of the evening, Di will have made well over $1,800 and tomorrow she will move on to another mining town and then another before returning to her partner in Melbourne.

“Girls go where the guys are,” Di says matter-of-factly. “And there are a lot of guys in the mines.”

Di, blond, busty and thirtysomething, is what’s known in the trade as a FIFO — Fly In, Fly Out prostitute — one of the new generation of sex workers descending on the mining towns that dot the Outback from the Pilbara in Western Australia to the Bowen Basin in Queensland.

She can easily make $7,000 a week — 10 times the national average — which means she only has to go “on tour” every few months.

“It’s an easy way to make money for someone like me,” she says. “I don’t mind the work.”

Australia’s mining boom has led to huge salaries being offered to anyone with the right skills as long as they are willing to work in remote areas and live in isolated camps with only basic facilities. Easy money, nothing to spend it on and hours with nothing to do has its logical conclusion in a growth in prostitution.

“Those boys out in the camps have got plenty of money and nothing to do,” says Di. “They’re happy to pay for fun and we provide it.”

Prostitutes and mines have always gone hand in hand. In the Yukon and California gold rushes, they held a relatively privileged place in society.

Today, prostitution is legal across most of Australia and in Queensland state, where many of the mines are based, girls can work out of licensed brothels or individually from hotel and motel rooms. The result is the huge rise in FIFO sex workers, who use mobile phones and social media to connect with their clients.

“All our girls are FIFOs,” says Tania, a former nurse who is the manager of an upmarket brothel in Queensland’s northwest. “They come from all over the world, including England. The English girls are very popular — the guys love their accents.”

But it isn’t only the sex workers who are riding the mining boom.

Organized crime has moved in, infiltrating the mining camps in the form of motorcycle gxxg members who get jobs in the mines and use their positions to bring in prostitutes and drugs. Bikie gxxgs, as they are known here, run much of the organized crime in Australia and the mines have proved fertile ground, according to Paul Biggin, district inspector of Mount Isa police.

“It’s hard to get people with certain skills, like diesel mechanics, in the mines,” Inspector Biggin says. “Bikies take these jobs then work their way into management, and that makes it easy to run their business. They coerce young, vulnerable Asian girls into sex work and they take them from mine to mine, putting them to work for a week at a time in rooms on the perimeter of the camps.”

Rumours are rife in the legal sex industry about Asian girls being badly beaten up by their bikie minders, or even suddenly disappearing.

“There’s a lot of desert out there,” Tania says. “The men who run the Asians are quite prominent in the local community and no one can say anything against them. It’s too dangerous.”

The growth of the illegal sex industry is now putting the legal brothels at risk. The Asian girls, who are younger, cheaper and forced to work without a break, are undercutting legal sex workers.

Karlaa, a former teaching assistant from Yorkshire, England who leaves her two children with her ex-husband and tours the mines of Bowen Basin, says: “Clients ask why we charge $200 an hour when the Asians only charge $50. It’s bad for our business.”

Karlaa made headlines in August after successfully suing for discrimination a motel owner who had banned her from working from his premises. Her case has highlighted the problem that the boom in sex work has brought to mining towns, particularly for motel owners who feared that her win would lead to prostitutes swamping the towns and using their rooms as brothels.

But the opposite could happen. Increasingly, sex workers are being driven away by the prohibitive cost of motel rooms in mining towns.

“I can make $3,000 a day but I have to pay $200 a night for a motel room on top of flights, petrol and my nanny’s wages so I sometimes end up out of pocket,” Karlaa says. “A lot of girls don’t think it’s worth it any more.”

Tania warns: “If the working girls stay home, the illegal industry will just get bigger. I’m all for an even playing field but the odds are being stacked up against us now. And as the mines expand, it’s only going to get nastier.”