Wherever men get together, whether in the curse-charged ribaldry of an army camp or in the deep chairs of some of our most exclusive clubs, the topic often switches to Josie.
On All Hallow’s Eve we presented the secret backside of Josie Villa. Today we expose the front of 222 Roe Street, now sadly demolished to make way for tedious commercial buildings.
In our opinion, ‘Princess’ Josie De Bray deserves to be one of the most famous residents Perth has ever had. But her story appears little known.
Her profession was the world’s oldest. But she was the undisputed leader of that profession in Western Australia.
In the boom days on the Goldfields, Josie—real name Mme Marie-Louise Monnier—operated houses of ill repute on Hay Street, Kalgoorlie. Her friends in those days included some of the biggest in the mining world.
In Perth she acquired houses in Roe Street. For years she ran her various establishments herself, with the same efficiency as any modern businesswoman. To her it was simply a (profitable) business.
Josie bought and lived in a big house in Mt. Lawley, 137 Joel Terrace, which fortunately still stands and deserves to be recognised for its history, which was certainly controversial among the neighbours in its day.
About 1937 she went home to her birthplace, St. Nazaire, France, and was trapped there when war started.
For years no one in Perth knew if she was alive or dead. While living in St. Nazaire it was bombed again and again. Josie spent some tough years as a German prisoner of war.
Finally she sold a portion of her inheritance and returned to Perth in 1949, seeking to re-establish her empire.
Josie died in 1953, leaving her Perth properties to a niece back in France.
Her story will be told here over the next few days.