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Skimpy Culture In Kalagoorlie: Wanna Know More

Tahlia Palmer: Steady Eye

Skimpy Culture In Kalagoorlie: Wanna Know More

Andrew Ryan

This weekend, I spent about 24 hours in Kalgoorlie. I’d never been there before, and all I knew of the place was: my mother lived there as a youth, it has a reputation for being “wild”, and it is on the edge of the desert.

Only 24 hours, but that amount of time was long enough to start me on all kinds of thought-trails, thought-trails I believe could lead to some interesting projects later on once I’ve got a car and can legally drive it… The next 1000 or so words might be difficult to write because I didn’t take any notes; I felt as if those 24 hours could not be wasted with my face pressed in to a notebook. I didn’t even want to sleep. I also didn’t want to be too conspicuous- I was quickly aware of the fascination my presence was met with in certain bars… regardless, I’ll attempt to explain briefly what the hell is going on out there.

The town’s economy has always run on mining, booze and prostitution, but it would appear that it has become more… urbanised of late? I guess? Slightly more gentrified, with day spas and what not dotted around the centre-of-town streets. It is the largest urban centre in the wheat-belt/goldfields with a population of around 30,000 (interestingly, the same population it had in 1903), but with all the FIFO workers, back-packers and tourists, the transient population would have to be a lot higher.

However, what I saw of the street culture is still prrrrretty rough-and-tumble. Big ol’ bikers, a bunch of very dark skinned bush folk gathering on corners and patches of shade with children and dogs in tow, lots of miners and high-vis work gear, super skinny old-fellas in akubra hats muttering in to their beers, bouncers smashing noses… And skimpies.

I stayed in a hotel on the main street: a huge old building with a recently refurbished, contemporarily styled family oriented restaurant and separate skimpy bar on the ground level. The juxtaposition of these two businesses- so close physically, yet so insanely far removed culturally- has to be experienced. I need to spend more time there to describe it properly. I want to go back and write a fucking book about it.

My companion (who picked me up in Southern Cross) and I walked through the bar to drop off our bags in the hotel. A woman wearing a bikini in a horrible shade of turquoise attended us at the bar. The turquoise clashed terribly with her skin tone, and I hope I didn’t wince at her (I’ll never understand bad colour choices). We were directed to the manager, who gave us the keys, free of charge woooooooooooo and I put my guitar and laptop on the bed, sat down, and tried to prepare myself for god knows what.

After a delightful meal- a gift from the hotel owner- we (my companion, myself, the hotel owner and his oldest friend) spent 3 or 4 hours/beers in what is apparently the dodgiest nightclub in Kalagoorlie, which was across the road; the only bar in town with a cabaret license. Cabaret license means the girls are legally allowed to show nipple. Also, G-strings are acceptable. From what I heard, many skimpy waitresses in the bars without a cabaret license will often sneakily flash some nipple in the corner for an extra tip. Apparently, $700 in tips per night is average.

The next morning, I had a cigarette on the hotel balcony with the woman who was wearing the turquoise bikini the day before. This time she was wearing a tiny, tight pink crop-top, and tiny, tight denim shorts that showed off her butt-cheeks. She had a scar that went down over her right eye. It was covered pretty well in makeup, but I saw it. I’ve always wanted a scar like that. I wonder if she got it from walking in to a door. That is how I imagine I would get such a scar.

She was 32 years old, a self-proclaimed booze-hound born in to a family of prawn fishermen and women, and she had a lot to say about the role of the skimpy in Kalgoorlian culture.

Essentially, she believes that skimpies are what keep the town together and running smoothly (whatever smoothly means, because the local paper makes me think that a smooth life in Kalgoorlie isn’t easy). They’ve always been there, the skimpies and the prostitutes, arriving shortly after the area struck gold. Without them, she said (I never got her name) the miners would go crazy. The miners work hard all day digging minerals out of the super-pit (which has its own micro-climate and can be seen from space btw) and other such holes in the land around it, and with all that physicality they gotta let off that built up masculine-gaze-steam. Better in a titty bar than in the streets harassing uninviting women I suppose. Let’s not go in to the negative stereotype about men that statement speaks of…

The bars don’t hire local girls, because their fathers and brothers and boyfriends etc would find the strain too much to bear (Oh, the hypocrisy of patriarchal desires). Instead, they are shipped over from Queensland, all employed by an agency, and the bars pay that agency. The patrons treat the girls with utmost respect, according to the one I spoke to; the relationship is akin to counsellor/patient, much like your fully clothed bar tenders in regular pubs around the country, though the boobs and skin probably lead to an environment injected with a heightened exchange of vulnerability.

It is this relationship I want to explore further. The mayor of Kalgoorlie is apparently looking to shut down the skimpy culture, presumably to clean the place up, or something… so I want to get in and explore the change over from this lifestyle in to something I assume will be a more shiny, “clean”, corporate state of being.

Gotta stay in Perth long enough to get my license first. It’s interesting to be home.