I know I promised to move on to Audrey and her amazing eyes, but since I needed to write up Josie’s story today, I thought I’d offer it here for general consumption.
Regular readers will have seen most of the details before, but there are (hopefully) a couple of added twists.
What a story. What a dame. She was a peroxide blonde, French beauty who dominated Perth’s prostitution business for decades. She held wild, wild parties, was shot in the middle of the night, captured by Nazis, and owned a chain of service stations, one of which was the secret entrance to her Hooker HQ.
Ladies and gentlemen, I present Princess Josie De Bray. Widely thought to be the first peroxide blonde Perth had ever seen.
Of course, she wasn’t really a princess. Except to those men who whispered her name in the Weld Club or in the Officer’s Mess. Nor was she even Josie De Bray, although that was the only name people knew her by. She was, in fact, Marie-Louise Monnier, from the small French Town of St Nazaire. But we’ll call her Josie.
Josie started working in the goldfields during the boom years. She probably started off as a working girl herself, but it wasn’t to remain that way for long.
It’s hard to know when Josie first set up business on Roe Street, better known as the Rue de Roe, since gentlemen wouldn’t have two reasons to visit a house there. But at 98 Roe Street, quite near what was to become the Michelides Tobacco Factory (which will feature in our story in a minute, have patience) the first Josie Villa was undoubtedly established by 1919.
In August of that year, Josie was shot by drunk soldiers demanding entry to the brothel at 3 o’clock in the morning. They had been refused and fired through the peephole in the door, wounding Josie. She left a trail of blood all the way to the back of the building, where a doctor was summoned who arranged her transport to hospital.
Anyway, after all that excitement, back to the Tobacco Factory. Peter Michelides didn’t like working next to hookers, so the police forced them to go west. Not very far west, admittedly, but further along the Rue de Roe so that Mr Michelides wouldn’t feel dirty (or perhaps tempted?) going to work in the morning.
The shift had a radical effect on the prostitution scene. Whereas prior to the move there had been a number of Madams each operating their own venue, now only those who could afford to set up from scratch were likely to continue operating. Between them, Mary Ann Collins and Josie De Bray owned seven of the nine brothels operating on Roe Street.
The new Josie Villa was located at 222 Roe Street, and was purpose-built in 1924 for £2,000. Easily the largest whorehouse in Perth it was also the rowdiest—in a good way, if you weren’t the prudish owner of a tobacco factory—with “dancing, singing and piano playing up to two and two-thirty a.m.” Just think of all that piano playing.
Around 1930, Josie invested in a chain of garages, the ‘Modern Service Station’. While it doesn’t appear to have been a particularly good investment, she was the subject of a major exposé in the scandal mag, The Truth, which revealed that the Modern Service Station at 275 James Street was also a secret entrance into the back passage of Josie Villa.
The following year, this time in the name of Marie-Louise Monnier, Josie purchased 137 Joel Terrace, Norwood (now East Perth). The neighbours commented on the quality of the furniture moving in to the impressive two-storey mansion overlooking the river. Then they discovered that Marie-Louise was better known as Josie.
It can’t have helped relationships with the neighbours when large numbers of working girls would show up at Joel Terrace for what must have been some astounding parties. I just hope that, had I been alive in the 1930s, I would have received an invite.
Around 1937, Josie returned to her native France. St Nazaire was repeatedly bombed during World War II and it appears that Josie was captured by the Germans and held in a concentration camp.
She finally returned to Perth in 1949, no longer blonde, and tried to re-establish her business. It is difficult to know how much she succeeded, and she passed away (much missed by Perth gentlemen) in 1953.