Hotel Coolgardie is a raw, documentary-style film that puts a spotlight on a harsh side of hospitality in outback pubs, following the story of a 3-month deployment of two female Finnish backpackers to a depleted WA mining town.
The industry of sending backpackers (invariably female) to remote towns struggling to get workers (particularly young females) has been operating for decades, pioneered by organisations such as Workstay, and its Outbackpackers Country Pub program. These programs have been highly successful, exchanging cheap labour for a real outback Aussie experience and some travelling money.
The film, shot in 2012 (see trailer below), follows Finnish travellers Lina and Stephie, who are recruited by a company that hires women like them to do bar work in remote towns for a contract term such as three months.
Lina and Stephie are driven to Coolgardie, a gold-mining ‘ghost’ town founded in 1892, west of Kalgoorlie and six hours from Perth, that was once the third-largest town in Western Australia. They arrive to a sign pronouncing “NEW GIRLS TONITE!!” and soon realise they are as much entertainment as bar worker.
Their boss at Coolgardie’s Denver City Hotel is unconcerned about the unwanted and increasingly unconcealed harassment, only about their speed of service. The girls, who are provided residence upstairs, are left attempting to fend off advances while trying to not offend or get offside too much with the locals.
Pete Gleeson, who directed the film, says he hopes it starts conversations about what women experience in these male-dominated environments. He was not expecting the friction that arose so quickly after the girls’ arrival, but believes the local men were willing to show aggressive, sexual behaviour in front of the camera because it was seen as normal.
The reality of real life drama unfolding cuts a new mould for outback films, which have so often gone to extremes, such as the idyllic route of Red Dog or Thorn Birds, or the nightmares of Wolf Creek or Mad Max.
Hotel Coolgardie is now showing at selected cinemas around Australia.
Denver City Hotel changed operational management in December 2016.