Two Finnish backpackers find work in an outback pub in the remote town of Coolgardie, Western Australia; a pub full of tragic townsfolk.
After losing their belongings and money on an earlier trip to Bali, Finnish backpackers Lina and Steph decide to find work at a remote pub in the mining town of Coolgardie in order to save money before moving on. They soon find out that the pub’s patrons are predominantly male mine workers, who love to have a drink (or 20) and are all gunning to hook up with the new foreign barmaids.
It may sound relatively harmless at first, as patrons flirting with barmaids almost comes with the territory in such a role, until you see the treatment that Lina and Steph are subjected to. Not only are they subjected to advances from the drunken guests, but they also have to face abuse from the pub’s owner, who has little patience for teaching his new staff members how to do their jobs. The women do their best considering the circumstances; pouring drinks and being nice to the patrons, though you can clearly see it in their faces that they’re not enjoying their time there.
This is where Hotel Coolgardie is at its best. Director Pete Gleeson and his camera crew are granted extensive access into the inner workings of the pub, capturing each person featured on camera at their highest and lowest (mostly lowest, it is entertainment after all), while also capturing a more emotional side to the townspeople, making it hard for viewers not to empathise with them. Some viewers might find the characters in the documentary repulsive, and it would be a fair assertion, but as the film progresses, it becomes apparent that the people in the film are typically normal Australian people, which brings upon the idea that it is a societal problem causing them to behave in this manner, rather than an individual one.
The film is thought-provoking in the sense that it shows just how low Australian culture can get. The type of behaviour on display in Hotel Coolgardie is pretty appalling by modern society’s standards, and not the type that would fly in any major city’s watering hole. But start moving further out of the city, and it starts seeming a bit more normal. Whether the behaviour is right or not (definitely not) comes down to the culture ingrained into small-town society’s year over year. And whether or not this behaviour can be shifted is something that will require years of effort and education, and will likely not happen anyway.
Despite the despicable behaviour on display in the film, it does have heart – and it’s funny. Of course what goes on in the film is no laughing matter, but just try not to laugh at some of the larrikins featured in the film. You may even secretly start rooting for them once their stories come out and we get to know them a bit better. It’s what makes Hotel Coolgardie such an entertaining watch, having you feeling multiple emotions all the way through.
Director Pete Gleeson’s first feature-length film.