Hotel Coolgardie: An Outback Hell
Barney Lewis | On 16, Jun 2017
Hotel Coolgardie is Pete Gleeson’s documentary about two Finnish backpackers, Lina and Stephie, and their experience with the Coolgardie locals and an outback pub. The young girls are thrust behind the bar at the Hotel Coolgardie after their money is stolen on a trip to Bali. Before they can continue travelling they need to replenish their funds. We meet them on their way to Coolgardie and it’s fair to say they aren’t quite sure what to expect.
Gleeson takes us inside the world of the Denver City Hotel, Coolgardie, located in outback Western Australia. His observational-style documentary introduces us to the local pub where the young backpackers face off against the local, mainly male population. The two differing groups have very different expectations about the barmaids role within the pub and ultimately, two very different perspectives and experiences.
The Coolgardie locals are a mixture of miners, tradies and troubled souls that have been beaten down by life’s hard knocks. They are the flotsam and jetsam of frontier society and a throwback to the days of hard men and hard drinking. Sadly for the young backpackers, this is the reality that faces them in the here-and-now of outback Australia.
The documentary fluctuates from moments of raucous laughter at the inappropriate, yet mostly harmless throwaway lines directed at the barmaids, to cringe worthy scenes where the line between acceptable behaviour and sexual and physical harassment are not simply blurred, but crossed. The raw material picks at the audience’s moral fibres. Questions are raised in the viewer’s mind whether it is appropriate to laugh or take offence. Hotel Coolgardie is very much about different perspectives and the cultural clash between the young foreigners and the hardened locals.
Gleeson, whilst attempting not to interfere with the protagonists during filming could not escape the necessity to intervene during his time on the camera. In the post screening Q&A session Gleeson described having to relocate himself and the camera to ensure the locals did not physically cross any lines with the Finnish backpackers. Gleeson felt uncomfortable at times during filming however believed the presence of the camera, rather than the film crew, took the heat out of many confronting situations of inebriated locals and their interactions with the barmaids.
Comparisons have been drawn between Hotel Coolgardie and the Australian horror film Wolf Creek. A fairer comparison may be David Ireland’s 1976 novel The Glass Canoe. The characters are similar, the hard pub life comparable. The biggest difference is that Ireland’s inner city pubs have evolved with societal norms however nothing has changed in those same 40 years at the Hotel Coolgardie.
Hotel Coolgardie runs for 83 minutes and is screening in Western Australia, Sydney and Melbourne.