I just finished reading Madame Brussels: This Moral Pandemonium, by L.M. Robinson. This slim and delightful volume describes the life and times of one of Melbourne’s most infamous brothel-keepers, and provides an insight into the inner workings of this fair city at a time when the streets were figuratively paved with gold (all the while being literally unpaved and little more than treacherous open sewers and outflows for overflowing cesspits).
If there is one take-home lesson from this book, it is the fact that the great and the good certainly liked frequenting the brothels and ‘bagnios’ of Melbourne, which were generally located at their peak in the ‘Little Lon’ part of Lonsdale Street. Reading this book made me feel that I have missed out on something, not being a brothel-frequenter myself. Or perhaps it is too easy to romanticise the trappings of the flesh trade when looking so far into the distant past? It certainly seemed to be the socialising environment of choice for some of the most powerful and superficially ‘upstanding’ men in Melbourne. I wonder: are there current establishments where the business of the city is conducted out of the public eye in a sex-soaked atmosphere? That is, places that exist additional to the list of the obvious candidates - the well-known clubs - of course.
Am I terribly naive for wondering this out loud? Probably. Let us just hope that the strip clubs of King Street are not the only remaining vestige of the burlesque in Melbourne. Such places seem only sad, and they appear to be lacking in anything approaching glamour. Never mind: I am sure that the rich and powerful are still procuring sex and socialisation somewhere out of the public gaze.
I assume that I will never know, being the snow-white innocent that I am.
Regardless of all that, I am always excited to stumble upon fragments of the history of Melbourne. I find that it grounds me more firmly in my time and place, which is here and now. Through some strange alchemy, it helps me to inhabit the ‘now’ when I become more aware of the ‘then’. And to this end, the good folk of Arcade Publications, the pubilshers of Madame Brussells, have made a mission out of just such alchemy. Check them out here. (I hope they don't mind, I stole the image of the book from their website.)