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My Mother Sat Me Down And Explained Why She Was Once A Pimp

Some have called the 1970s the "Golden Age Of Pimps" and as strange as this is for me to concede, this rang true for my mother.

At 21, my mother decided to dip her pedicured toes into the business of procuring men for a determined sex worker she'd met through her sister.

The young lady, who was 19, had moved from country New South Wales to Sydney days earlier. She'd applied for a job as a waitress at the Burwood restaurant where my auntie worked, but was unsuccessful. After my auntie's shift finished, they stayed back to chat. The young lady told her she was a sex worker in her hometown, and was applying for hospitality gigs till she met someone to introduce her to the city streets.

“You gotta know someone when you’re going to start being a prostitute, Simone," Mum advised when she told me the story.

Mum in the 1970s while on holiday in Greece. Image: Supplied

After my auntie told Mum and her best friend about the young lady, they met with her. My mother, who was a virgin at the time, became intrigued. Mum said she knew a pimp from The Athena, a Greek bar on Cleveland Street where she worked six nights a week, and the young lady urged her to introduce them.

After tossing up whether or not to make the connection, Mum decided against it when her and her friend both acknowledged the man's sordid reputation.

"He treated the women horribly. We tried to reason with her and said we would help find her a job. She said no and told us she would do it with or without us.

"So we thought we better watch over and help her then, instead of some dirty, rotten bastard."

They quickly learned of the Tiki Coffee Lounge in Wollongong. It was a double-level terrace that housed brothel rooms and gambling areas upstairs. The former manager, Charles Berry, was murdered there in January 1971. It was where sex workers were known to entertain local iron and steel workers.

READ MORE: Sex Workers Are Being Forgotten By The #metoo Movement

Mum, her friend and the young lady took the almost two-hour drive from Sydney to Wollongong. When they arrived at the Tiki, Mum and her friend instructed the young lady to stay in the car while they headed inside.

"We walked into the Tiki and my friend asked, 'Is anyone looking for a girl, is this the place we were told about?' I remember one older man looking at us and saying, 'I'm interested, is it you two?' That frightened me a little."

They told a trio of men the young lady was waiting downstairs in the car, and walked outside to meet her. They liked what they saw, so an arrangement was made for the men to follow them to a room they had rented the night before.

"She got started straight away and all I remember is waiting in the car, glancing towards the room to see her legs in the air each time. I almost fainted.

"We felt like her bodyguards, staying close to make sure not one of them hurt her. I wanted to somehow protect her. We were so nervous."

Signage in support of the Scarlet Alliance, Australian Sex Workers Association, during a  rally demanding better service from local council candidates outside NSW parliament on September 7, 2012. Image: GREG WOOD/AFP/Getty

The men took turns while the other two remained in their car, and once all three were finished, they left. The young lady made somewhere around $60.

"I think she only made enough to get a hotel room that night. We didn't take a cent. It felt so wrong for us. We thought, what are we doing?"

On their drive home to Sydney, Mum and her friend told the young lady while they hoped to help her more, this would be their first and last time doing so.

"She understood. We didn’t introduce her to the pimps we knew, because they were bastards. We dropped her off in the city and never saw her again."

READ MORE: Australia's Sex Work Industry, Already Marginalised, Is Under Attack

It would be over 15 years later that a movement was finally founded to protect Australian sex workers. The Scarlet Alliance was formed by volunteers in 1989 to promote peer education, community engagement and advocacy. It is maintained entirely by current and former sex workers.

"In those days, girls like the one we met had absolutely no protection. We were around the same age, and I remember that while I didn't understand her choices, I respected them and wanted her to be safe. That's all it comes down to."

Contact the author: samelia@networkten.com.au