Thursday, February 16, 2012

Women of ill repute: Prostitution in Wagga Wagga 1870 - 1890

Recently an extremely valuable addition to the local studies collection at the Wagga Wagga City Library was donated by Danielle Gamble , who studied at the University of Melbourne.
Danielle has written : "Just another job? A study of prostitution in late Nineteenth Century Wagga Wagga, 1870 - 1890", as her dissertation for the award of the Bachelor of Arts (Honours) 2011.

Amongst her resources were Wagga Wagga's Goal Entrance Description books. The information within these records showed the pressures and poverty these women suffered, that led to the use of prostitution as a way of survival.
Ms Gamble also used material from the Daily Advertiser of the time, and the Court of Petty Sessions.

This quote from the study is most telling, illustrating the difference between how society saw these women and how the women saw themselves: " If they were taken to court and labelled a common prostitute, they would respond with 'incomprehension and at times indignation'. Whilst they might accept that they had sexual intercourse with a man for money they would refuse the inference that this made them a common prostitute." (p.38).

There were different "categories" of prostitutes : the Rowdy, the Quiet, the Common. Most prostitutes were also charged with vagrancy, drunk and disorderly, larceny, or simply behaving in a "riotous manner" (p 41). Oh, and sometimes obscene language as well.

Ms Gamble identifies a third group : the Chinese camp prostitutes, who plied their trade on the banks of the Murrumbidgee. And reveals the location of two brothels in Wagga Wagga - one in Peter Street, and another in Crampton Street.

This research document is a truly valuable and respectful insight into the real world of late 19th century Wagga Wagga , a groundbreaking work, and a refreshing reminder that Wagga Wagga's history is not so dull and respectable as it looks on the surface.

The study is currently being processed and will be available for view shortly in the local studies collection. Email me : with your comments, thoughts, or information.

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