The Queensland Supreme Court subsequently overturned the appeals court ruling anyway, saying last month that Drovers Rest did have the right to deny Karlaa a room, even before the law was amended.
Tougher limits on prostitution are also on the table in the state of Western Australia, where iron ore is excavated from its sparsely populated north. Proposed laws would limit the sex trade to a few designated areas and require self-employed sex workers to be licensed. No more than two such licensed prostitutes could work from the same premises.
John Scott, a criminologist at Australia’s University of New England, said that Queensland and Western Australia are tightening restrictions after a loosening of controls by Australian states that began in the 1990s.
Some say that a more open sex industry and even a legal brothel would be good for Moranbah.
Real-estate agent Marie Plahn sees a brothel as a better option than miners potentially spreading disease or impregnating women they meet in bars.
“Paying for sex is cheaper than child support if it resulted in that,” she said.
However, Roger Ferguson, a former deputy mayor and a motel owner also sued by Karlaa, said the Moranbah council would probably reject a brothel.
Miners often drive 190km to the nearest brothel in the port city of Mackay, a regional support center for mining.
Club 7 sits discretely on the fringe of an industrial estate on a cul-de-sac called Enterprise Street. Nearby, boilermakers weld day and night in aircraft hangar-sized workshops, repairing the giant dragline buckets that excavate coal-bearing earth, 45m3 at a time.
It was one of Queensland’s original legal brothels, built 12 years ago as the state was relaxing prostitution laws.
Manager Warwick Bumstead said all but one of the 60 sex workers are FIFO, working four to 10-day stints before flying home to distant cities. He said a typical “mattress actress” at his brothel makes between AU$5,000 and AU$9,000 a week.
A Club 7 worker, a New Zealander in her late 20s, said she is thinking of branching out to some of the smaller mining towns such as Moranbah, where she has heard she can make more money working on her own.
It may no longer be as lucrative as she thinks. Karlaa said the money is not as good or consistent as it was when she started coming to mining towns five years ago. It is not the new law, she said, but the economy: Hundreds of miners have been laid off as falling coal prices take some of the sheen off Australia’s mining boom.