Is our State’s most fa­mous ‘Wild West’ min­ing town fi­nally bow­ing to the pres­sures of a chang­ing mod­ern world?

The Sunday Times - - News - Tony Bar­rass

IT is just past 8pm on Tues­day and in the cosy cor­ner bar of the Kal­go­or­lie Ho­tel, Mal­ibu and Tori are hold­ing court in a man­ner only two well-versed “skimpy” prac­ti­tion­ers can.

The place is heav­ing with its eclec­tic clien­tele — grubby, high-viz work­ers straight off site play­ing pool, a hand­ful of ogling quick-wit­ted bar flies and a gag­gle of out-of-town busi­ness­men do­ing a bad job of not star­ing at the semi-naked ladies serv­ing them pints of One Fifty Lashes.

Wel­come to Dig­gers and Deal­ers.

There would be few gath­er­ings like it in the world, where play­ers from around the globe hus­tle and spruik, chase the deal of a life­time, or hope to back a win­ner that could mean a new BMW in the garage, a get­away house in Tus­cany or the kids’ school fees in the bank.

On one side, you have prospec­tors, ge­ol­o­gists and wannabes who ex­plore, dis­cover and dream their ten­e­ment, out­back lease or small cap mine could be snapped up by the big boys.

On the other, you have the sharp-shoed money men, the slick-haired merchant bankers from Syd­ney, fund man­agers and Mel­bourne stock­bro­kers who fi­nance, gam­ble and sniff out the elu­sive “ten-bag­ger”, a rare deal in the sec­tor that can re­turn 10 times the ini­tial cap­i­tal in­vest­ment.

And in the mid­dle you have the world-fa­mous gold town whose rep­u­ta­tion for wild bars and even wilder women sees it open its arms to the hard-work­ing, hard-drink­ing min­ing del­e­gates ev­ery Au­gust.

But the times they are a changin’.

The #MeToo cru­sade has fi­nally ar­rived in the dusty out­back town, 550km east of Perth.

This year pro­fes­sional ser­vices firm EY de­clared it would not be hold­ing any of its event func­tions at the fa­mous Palace Ho­tel, one of five his­toric main-street pubs and reg­u­lar skimpy out­let.

It has joined the likes of New York-based in­vest­ment banker Gold­man Sachs, which along with McKin­sey & Co has in the past backed out of the event due to the scant­ily clad bar girls they fear lurk in ev­ery dark cor­ner.

The or­gan­is­ers are caught in the mid­dle, del­i­cately bal­anc­ing the de­sire to keep the event real, raw and in iconic Kal­go­or­lie, while ac­knowl­edg­ing chang­ing so­cial ex­pec­ta­tions.

They point to one of the big­gest gath­er­ings at this week’s three-day expo — the Women in Min­ing func­tion, hosted by the WA School of Mines, which at­tracted more than 600 del­e­gates.

They rightly ar­gue the min­ing in­dus­try has been as ac­tive as any in cre­at­ing more ca­reer paths for women.

So, are skimp­ies an anachro­nism, a relic that de­means women, or are the big city-based com­pa­nies show­ing once again the huge multi-level di­vide between city and bush.

Be­fore I ask the skimpy in front of me those very ques­tions, I ask her name. “Do you want my skimpy name or my real name?” Your skimpy name. “Mal­ibu . . . but my real name is Destiny,” she said, dead­pan, be­fore burst­ing out laugh­ing. “That’s a joke,” she said.

Mal­ibu is 26 and has a part­ner “back home”.

She is pretty, has had breast-en­hanc­ing surgery, which she con­stantly refers to, and is orig­i­nally from Queens­land.

She came to Kal­go­or­lie to earn some money, noth­ing more. She is not a pros­ti­tute. She de­scribes her­self as a “free­lanc­ing show­girl” and wants to earn as much as she can.

As part of her short-term con­tract, she gets her trans­port ex­penses from Perth paid, along with free ac­com­mo­da­tion and meals at the ho­tel she is work­ing in.

She will pocket roughly $2500 for the week and tend bar from 5pm to 10pm.

While she flirts, wrig­gles and writhes as she pours the next one, she says she has yet to en­counter any is­sues with drinkers over­step­ping the mark.

Mal­ibu has a time limit of two years in this job and wants to work her­self into a sit­u­a­tion where she is “fi­nan­cially safe”.

“It’s OK for women and men who have high-pay­ing jobs and de­grees to look down their nose at us, but we’ve got bills to pay as well. Heaps of skimp­ies have kids and stuff they’ve got to look af­ter, so bug­ger them,” she said.

“The more peo­ple out­law it (skimp­ies), the more peo­ple will want it . . . it’s like drugs, it’ll just go un­der­ground.”

Her bestie, Tori, 22, agrees. For some ex­tra money, she also does a break­fast shift at an­other pub, serv­ing up ba­con and egg sand­wiches and the like.

“If peo­ple don’t want to look at us, well don’t come to this par­tic­u­lar bar, or don’t come into places where skimp­ies are work­ing,” she said.

“To be hon­est, I re­ally don’t know what the fuss is about.

“There are plenty of other places that don’t have skimp­ies.”

While we’re talk­ing, a drinker walks around the bar with an empty beer jug, declar­ing that if the crowd can whip to­gether $200, the girls will change into some­thing even more re­veal­ing — an

It’s OK for women and men who have high-pay­ing jobs and de­grees to look down their nose at us, but we’ve got bills to pay as well. Heaps of skimp­ies have kids and stuff they’ve got to look af­ter, so bug­ger them. Kal­go­or­lie skimpy ‘Mal­ibu’

im­pos­si­bil­ity from where this writer is sit­ting.

Within two min­utes, the jug re­turns brim­ming with $20 notes.

All that goes into the back pock­ets of Tori and Mal­ibu — if they had them. In­stead, it’s straight into their purses be­hind the bar. Down the road at Han­nans Ho­tel, Leah is work­ing the af­ter­noon shift.

At 32, she does not do top­less be­cause “I’ll leave that to the younger girls”.

Her cus­tomers are lo­cals, and she oc­ca­sion­ally heads east from her coastal home for two-week pe­riod to earn money to pay her bills.

“I came to Kal 12 years ago to give it a go, and I’ve worked at the Cri­te­rion, the Ex­change and Boul­der over the years,” she said.

Self-dep­re­cat­ing, heav­ily tat­tooed with an easy laugh, Leah has four girls — 11, 9, 6 and 4.

While her pay rate is not as much as her younger col­leagues, she is happy she can oc­ca­sion­ally ac­cess good money.

“Peo­ple ap­pre­ci­ate the work I do and I love the guys here. They are very pro­tec­tive of me and kind and we have a good laugh when I’m here,” she said.

She will go back to Ger­ald­ton soon with about $4000 in the bank, “enough to keep me and the kids go­ing for a while”.

Holly Phillips is gen­eral man­ager of City Liv­ing for the City of Kal­go­or­lie-Boul­der. Proudly Kal born-and-bred, her back­ground is in re­gional de­vel­op­ment, com­mu­nity re­la­tions and cor­po­rate af­fairs.

Her job is to come up with in­no­va­tive strate­gies to bring work­ers — and more im­por­tantly, fam­i­lies — to the Gold­fields.

There are hun­dreds of jobs here, she says, across a broad range of sec­tors.

“It’s more than just a min­ing town,” Ms Phillips said.

“Peo­ple mis­tak­enly con­sider it red-neck, rough and re­mote, but we have a wide va­ri­ety of cul­tural and sport­ing or­gan­i­sa­tions, and a very lively arts scene.”

She also points to the 50 parks that pep­per the his­toric city and the fact Kal­go­or­lie now has the high­est per-capita in­come in the coun­try.

I ask her about the skimp­ies and the grow­ing ker­fuf­fle they seem to cause ev­ery year.

“It’s just part of Kal­go­or­lie,” she said.

“I don’t re­ally think about it, to be hon­est — but for some women it’s good for them to be earn­ing an in­come, I



Rolled gold: Kal’s pubs still hire skimp­ies like Leah, in­set above, and Mal­ibu and Tori, main pic­ture. Right: Holly Phillips.

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