The saga of the worst little whorehouse in Australia
Film tells story of farmer’s ill-fated attempt to make ends meet
Saturday 16 May 2009
Mounting debt, falling produce prices and a crippling drought are just some of the problems facing Australian farmers. However, few choose the route of Chris Rohrlach, a sheep farmer who branched out by opening a brothel in his small country town.
It seemed a good idea: Inverell, in northern New South Wales, had never had an establishment of that kind – not a legal one, anyway. Mr Rohrlach and his business partner, Danny Poulsen, consulted their wives, who gave their blessing with the proviso that "any funny business with the girls and you're out the door".
But the men quickly ran into opposition. Inverell is in a conservative Christian heartland. The pair discovered that mustering cattle and shearing sheep did not equip them to manage a brothel. And they could not attract suitable staff to their venue, First Choice Stress Relief, since prostitutes were flocking to booming mining towns in other parts of Australia.
Their story is told in a new documentary, A Good Man, to be screened at the Sydney Film Festival next month. The director, Safina Uberoi, said it was an irresistible subject. "They [the Rohrlachs] were having a baby and opening a brothel at the same time. You've got to ask, can a good father and a loving husband be a successful pimp?"
Chris Rohrlach is the "good man" of the title. Seventeen years ago, his pregnant girlfriend, Rachel, had a stroke that left her quadriplegic. She gave birth to a healthy boy and Mr Rohrlach married her and has looked after them both, spurning the option of full-time residential care for his wife.
It was when a second baby was due that he realised he had to find a way to supplement his income. Over "quite a few beers", he and Mr Poulsen, a fellow farmer, hit on the brothel idea. "We were looking to diversify and it seemed a good proposition," he said. "It was quite legal and unlike farming, not dependent on the climate."
He was unprepared, though, for the local opposition. Protest meetings were held, and The Inverell Times ran headlines such as "Moral decay" and "Brothel will defile town". The families involved were ostracised. "I was starting to think I was the devil incarnate," Mr Rohrlach said. "Our names were all over the paper with 'brothel' written next to them, which was hard to take.
"We also had a lot of support, with people saying there's a need for it in the community, and it's better the men pay for it than run down Girl Guides."
After a lengthy battle, he and Mr Poulsen won planning permission. The brothel, built from scratch, was "very nice, quite flash", with polished timber floors, a solid pine reception desk and four "working rooms", one with a spa, another with mirrored walls and ceiling. But they "simply couldn't attract the right kind of staff".
"We had some really nice older ladies and there was a big demand for them," Mr Rohrlach said. "But we couldn't attract enough young, attractive women to make the business a success." He was unsuited to the work. He hated the late hours, and felt uncomfortable around the staff and customers. Less than a year after it opened, First Choice Stress Relief closed. Mr Rohrlach lost $150,000 (£75,000). "It was definitely an experience, it was an education, and I'll be able to tell the grandchildren I used to own a brothel," he said. "But from a financial perspective, it was a spectacular failure."
Mr Rohrlach, who has resumed farming, hopes the documentary is not screened in Inverell.
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