In a loungeroom, women make coffee, swap stories about their kids and swear about their spouses as they get ready for the day. A middle-aged woman offers me a cup of tea. It's like a school P&C meeting except the women sitting at the table are professional sex workers dressed in gorgeous lingerie.
"People don't understand there's nothing sleazy or dirty about it, we're a normal business with normal workers," explains owner and manager Ruby*.
It's a decent amount of money for not a great deal of time
It's 9.40am on a weekday and 20 minutes before the brothel, a charming cottage on a quiet Wollongong street, is open for business. The phone has started ringing, customers want to know which ladies are on shift.
The receptionist politely rattles off a roster of exotic names, "Armani, Honey, Candy, Diamond …" names which I'm quietly confident wouldn't be found on any of the ladies' driver's licences.
Towels are being folded and chandeliers are being lit in rooms that share the same decor as a suburban beauty salon - all soft lighting, Buddhist statues and picture of Marilyn Monroe.
The only decorative feature that gives away the nature of the business is a condom sizing diagram and an informative poster on what to do in the event of a heart attack.
"We've never had to use it yet but in this industry you never know," laughs Ruby.
Given the 24 years Ruby has owned the Wollongong CBD sex parlour, she has had a surprising lack of bad experiences.
The establishment is one of the Illawarra's oldest legal bordellos and both workers and clients are answerable to a strict code of conduct. Drugs, alcohol and services without protection are strictly forbidden.
"Our clients sometimes try to get around things like get the girls to do unprotected services but once we say no, they understand that we mean it," she says.
"The only trouble I've had lately was a pretend customer who was trying to push drugs on the girls so they told me and we barred him straight away."
Ruby asserts that her business is free from issues stereotypically associated with sex work: violent customers, drug addiction and organised crime.
According to Ruby the biggest threat to her business is the humble local council inspector.
"We got fined thousands during the last inspection because one Band Aid, one, was out of date in the first aid kit."
Ruby estimates the business has spent more than $50,000 over the years on meeting legal regulations for sex service premises.
Modifications like disabled ramps, extra bathrooms, back to base security monitoring and hard wired doorbells are demanded by local council legislation for the business to retain its legitimate status.
Local councils and police can, and do, inspect registered sex parlours annually for which Ruby pays $400 for the privilege.
Approved brothels are subject to the same unsexy (but necessary) Workcover, taxation and superannuation regulations as any other workplace.
"It's really extensive what we do to stay legal, and out of trouble so when I hear of illegal places dodging the rules, I get really annoyed," she says.
"The police say it's not our job, it's council's job and council say it's the police's job and they can't investigate because they don't have the resources.
"In these illegal brothels anything could happen and what assurance have these girls that they'll be safe?"
On the panelled walls of the hallway, descriptions of the girls are printed out in dot-point lists, a cheat sheet for receptionists and customers.
Clients can choose from a two-page menu including: "Heidi..18 years old with long platinum hair and a very busty F cup"; "Candy - a mature lady with shoulder-length brown hair"; and "Lavender - the sweet girl next door".
Some of the parlour's girls have worked for Ruby for more than a decade.
"Our girls are great to the point that if we're doing renovations they'll even pitch in on the weekends," she says.
"We even had one girl help me put a floor in one Easter weekend, they're lovely and I get upset when people don't realise they're smart, normal women."
Lockers in the ladies' loungeroom bulge with clothes, make-up, heels and the odd costume for a fantasy booking.
Women choose sex work for range of reasons, according to Ruby.
"Some are paying for school, some for a divorce or just because they're good hours if you have kids. It's a decent amount of money for not a great deal of time," she says.
"It allows them to raise their kids and be at home more than you would at a 9 to 5 job or packing shelves at Woolies.
"Clients come in and see nice girls because we only have nice girls and say to us: 'What's a nice girl like you doing in a place like this?'
"It's the oldest line in the book and they still use it because they're shocked normal women are sex workers."
From the duress alarms in every room to the constant security monitoring, concern for employee safety is priority at the brothel.
The outcall procedure is militant and non-negotiable. If a client requests that a lady travel to them, an almost military like protocol is executed.
A worker can only visit a client if they are checked in to a hotel with a 24-hour reception. The receptionist will reconfirm the client's name and room number with the hotel concierge with outcalls to private residences forbidden.
"Most places will go anywhere: private homes, even workplaces. I've heard of girls going to truck stops which is really bloody unsafe," Ruby says.
"Our structure means if anything goes wrong the hotel has the customer's licence number and ID.
"We get a driver to check bathrooms, beds, cupboards in case there's people hiding, you don't want to leave a girl in a room and have three guys jump out of a cupboard when she's alone and vulnerable."
Sexual health is another fact of life when you're in the business of selling sex.
"We're one of the few parlours around that provide everything a girl needs to work, dental dams, condoms, everything, she just needs to bring herself and her clothes and that's it," Ruby says.
"Our girls have sexual health checks every three months, we have nurses from the health clinic in Shellharbour come in."
Customers' genitals must be inspected under a special light before a booking with employees receiving training on how to recognise different STDs.
"It's lovely wall art," one beautifully made-up worker laughs, pointing at a close-up picture of an inflamed penis hung in the break room.
Ruby's foray into the sex industry came early.
"I bought the business when I was in my early 20s, a family member was selling it. I got a loan from my partner and we ran it together for years until he decided to leave, he wanted me to be financially secure so he sold me his half and I've run it ever since."
Financial independence and freedom from a 9 to 5 schedule motivated the unusual career choice.
"I could set my own hours and make my own money and even now sometimes I feel like giving it up but what other job will let me stay home with my kids?"
Ruby's husband and family are well aware of her unconventional source of income.
"My family knows, my partner's family knows, there's no point trying to hide things from people you care about.
"My mum always asks me: 'When are you going to sell that business and be normal?' and I say: 'Mum I am normal!'" she laughs.
"She's 85 and really old school, she doesn't like it but she knows how much we've done to be safe so she comes to the business and drops off food because I'm her baby.
"My dad trims the hedges at the front of the business, it's not a family affair but like all parents they help when they can."
Now pregnant with her second child Ruby has scaled back her schedule at the brothel.
We bump into a customer on my way out who confuses me with a new employee and after an awkward correction he shakes my hand and introduces himself as Tim.
I'm told he's one the business' most loyal customers since his first visit at 18 and is now married with kids.
As a tradesman, he's reinforcing the back door for extra security.
Ruby offers to pay him but he waves her away.
"I just want the girls to feel safe," he says.
"Customers don't want anything more then to come and get a massage or a service and leave that behind so it doesn't affect their married life. It's non-committal, it's no strings attached," Ruby says.
"Christmas time is the most popular because men have an excuse to get out of the house but school holidays affect us because the kids are at home."
When I ask her if it was true that young busty blondes do the best with customers she laughs and shakes her head.
"Actually you can never tell, men want all shapes and sizes, particularly more mature ladies at the moment which is why you shouldn't feel bad about getting old!"
■ *Names have been changed.
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