Between Perth and Kalgoorlie lurks a remote location that appears devoid of humanity; the outskirts of civilisation in Western Australia may be more formidable than we think.
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Every three months, the Denver City Hotel in Coolgardie – a stopover country town frequented by miners and industrial workers to and from Kalgoorlie – hires new barmaids (or “fresh meat”) to serve the patrons of its bar. Two Finnish backpackers in their mid-twenties, Lina and Stephie, are the Hotel’s latest additions. Having been robbed on a vacation in Bali, they need jobs fast, and are sent by a Perth recruitment agency to this town far from civilisation. Little do they know that the next few months will become hell for these girls, as they find themselves the subject of farcical levels of abuse, objectification and harassment from their employers, the locals and the pub’s many visitors.
Every now and then, a documentary comes along that makes you truly wonder whether or not everyone involved was actually in on it and if it was all staged. Surely anyone would want to make themselves look better if they knew their words and actions were being caught on camera, right? Raw & Cooked Media’s Hotel Coolgardie is one of those rare films that manages to perfectly create a fly-on-the-wall feeling, almost as if there is no film crew present and we’re simply watching reality unfold before our eyes. In a volatile situation like this in particular, it must have taken a great deal of restraint for director Pete Gleeson and his team to not interfere and get involved with the (often traumatic) conflict going on at this hotel.
‘Responsible drinking’ seems to be a naff concept in this place; from their very first night on the job, Lina and Stephie are barked orders from their boss Pete as he drowns himself in alcohol alongside the rest of the bar’s patrons. The girls, given essentially no training, struggle to keep up with the constant orders, counting cash and pouring drinks while they are sworn at, insulted and humiliated by the drunken crowd surrounding them.
It only gets worse from here. They’re frequently advanced upon in shockingly crass ways by countless men, given misguided gifts from older blokes whose fancy they’ve taken, urged into arguments by drunks who are a little too open about their life problems, and even find themselves forcing people out of their rooms who have wandered in without invitation. They’re made to endure a camping trip that results in serious health ramifications and professional embarrassment. The girls remain good natured and deal with their situation well, despite how increasingly uncomfortable things become throughout their stay.
It’d be too streamlined to take this all as a deconstruction of “fragile masculinity”, especially considering that some of the residents that belittle and criticise the girls for their looks, physique and demeanour are women. This is more of a look at the way of life in these desolate places far from what we would perceive as a normal, sophisticated way of life. These people live their lonely lives on the road, only ever interacting with a small circle of other human beings and doing what they need to just to get by. Despite how unpleasant they can be, it’s difficult to not feel a little sorry for some of them, clearly so desperate for human interaction they’ll go about it the only way they know how (despite how awful that may seem to us).
Most amazing is how natural everyone seems to be, seemingly uncaring (or unaware) of what image they’ve made of themselves to appear on screen. It’s an incredible feat Raw & Cooked have accomplished in giving us an organic and exposed observation of everyday life just a few hundred kilometres away; it’s an incredible, if somewhat sinister, experience.
Hotel Coolgardie is available in Australian cinemas from June 15
Image courtesy of Raw & Cooked Media