Warning: Explicit Content.
I'm driving down an isolated industrial strip when I see it. The place is pretty hard to miss.
There's an oversized red flag at the entrance, flickering OPEN in bold white lettering as it struggles against the wind.
The building, which has been elaborately renovated to mimic an Elizabethan castle, towers high above the muted warehouses and car part depots neighbouring it.
It's fair to say, this is not what I was expecting.
You see, I've come here to spend the day in a brothel.
While I've spent many years writing about sex, I've never actually stepped inside an establishment where people make a living having it.
It seemed only fitting then that I jump on a plane and travel a thousand kilometres to visit one of the country's best known.
Like most people, I had a lot of ideas about what such a place would look like. Perhaps a discreet, unmarked red door, or a dingy storefront in a back alleyway for slinking out of after the hour is up. But a flamboyant stone fortress with medieval accents and ubiquitous signage was not in my vision.
"We're very proud of what we do here," beams Sue, one half of the couple who own and run Venus Babes, Melbourne's most popular brothel.
Sue is dressed in a pastel blue muumuu, with long gleaming silver hair and a maternal warmth that radiates from her the second she opens the large gothic door to greet me.
"We opened here about three years ago," explains her partner, Geoff – an older man with a whimsical upturned moustache nursing a cup of tea from behind the parlour's reception desk.
"We've both been working together in this industry for about 20 years, though," he adds with a smile.
We're standing in the brothel's foyer area – an expansive space festooned with dark velvet curtains, large ornate artwork and sleek black tiled flooring.
Sue and Geoff are about as far removed from the Hollywood archetype of brothel managers as you can imagine.
They look like they'd be more at home playing a pair of doting grandparents than exploiting hapless women down on their luck for fast cash.
Which probably explains why no one who works here looks like they're under any kind of duress.
"What's this about? Are you interviewing for a story?" interrupts an eager blonde woman who struts into the foyer as we're chatting.
"This is Shay," Geoff clarifies.
"The clients here love her. She's got a lot of regulars."
"Oh yes! I love my job. It keeps me young. I'll be doing this 'til I'm in my seventies if I can," she giggles, throwing a tuft of bright platinum hair back behind her shoulder as though auditioning for a Pantene commercial.
I'm introduced to another one of the brothel's staples, Mistress Lauren, who volunteers to give me a very hands-on kind of tour.
It's been proposed I go through the process of what the escorts do here daily and undergo what's referred to as a "line-up" before meeting with a real client and going back to a room with him (stopping short at the sex part).
Mistress Lauren leads me down a long narrow hallway with three doors along it, each opening up to small sitting area-style rooms.
"These are our interview rooms. When a client comes in, we put him in one of these, then start introducing him to each of the ladies, one by one," she explains.
"What exactly do they do in there?" I inquire, half-confused as to why it's so small and there's no bed.
"This is just an introduction. No sex acts take place in here. The ladies basically ask the gentleman what he's after and then let him know their services so he can choose who he'd like to go with," she clarifies.
As it turns out, no two escorts here offer the exact same service menu.
While some perform what's referred to as a "PSA" (Porn Star Experience), there are other escorts who don't even offer sex.
"Plenty of people that come here are just lonely and want companionship or cuddling," Mistress Lauren explains.
"Or they come and see me to have their kinks fulfilled and be tied up or whipped. There's no actual sex involved with any of my clients."
I'm ushered to a waiting area at the bottom of a tall staircase where I meet the brothel's other escorts and am pleasantly surprised by the body diversity among them.
While there are indeed petite, blonde busty women, so too, are there large curvaceous women proudly showing off their cellulite in sexy lingerie.
I suddenly feel way more at ease about getting into "costume" and having a go at joining the line-up.
"The client is here now," Mistress Lauren announces from the other side of the brothel's dressing room door, as I slip out of my jeans and into a tight latex skirt that leaves nothing to the imagination.
I rejoin the women at the base of the staircase where they're all forming a line.
They quickly begin taking turns filing into the interview room to chat with the client.
It's almost my turn, and my heart is pounding.
"Don't worry, he's a regular and he's harmless. We've told him you're just doing this for a story," Sue reassures me, upon seeing the terror building in my eyes.
She's so warm and welcoming; I feel instantly at peace in the presence of her motherly energy. I can see why all the women here relate to her more like a close friend than a manager.
"He's in interview room one," Mistress Lauren tells me, ushering me down the hallway.
This is it.
The moment of truth.
I open the door, take a seat opposite the client, and begin.
"Hi, I'm Naughty Nadia," I say.
"And there's nothing I won't do," I play-act, simultaneously realising this statement is more true than not, given the highly unconventional situation I've found myself in.
The client chuckles, amused.
I return to the foyer, where I'm handed a small tray containing condoms and packets of lube, then head back to one of the brothel's bedrooms with my new client in tow.
I'd divulge what happens next, but as I've learnt from my time at Venus Babes, a good escort never tells.