This confronting documentary brings to life the frightfully misogynistic culture of a mining town, through the often-traumatised eyes of two young Finnish barmaids.
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Lina and Steph need to save money to fund their travels, and the Finnish backpackers decide to take a three-month post at a regional WA pub, The Denver Hotel in Coolgardie.
A long way from Perth (and any sign of civilisation), and close to the notorious mining town of Kalgoorlie, the girls expect a fairly masculine vibe—what they couldn’t possibly expect is the extent to which the testosterone and sexist abuse is considered as commonplace here as a can of Emu Export.
In their first week, it becomes obvious that their lack of willingness to get drunk and physically entertain the locals is upsetting to the bar’s morally questionable owner. He trains the young women using a tirade of verbal abuse, often comparing them to dogs and shaming them in front of the bar’s regulars. The regulars take their cue and join in on the verbal jousting, making it almost impossible for the girls to do their job.
When their shift ends, it seems several of the colourful characters that frequent the bar aren’t quite finished, with the girls often having to shoo away drunken men from their slum-like sleeping quarters. Like the local flies, they tend to hang around—regaling them with stories while making it obvious that sex is their aim.
This documentary offers a horrific look at certain unsavoury aspects of regional culture; one that generates real trauma for the backpackers at its centre.
While the film doesn’t take a clear judgement on the behaviour it bears witness to, what it highlights is so vile you can only wonder how many young females find themselves trapped in this state of outback horror.
Lina, we discover, has a Masters in Economics, and suffers from diabetes. When she finally relents, and goes camping with one of the locals, she returns with a dreadful infection. Her inability to work costs her the job and we are all relieved, but the complications of her illness prove that this youthful adventure will come with a lifelong cost. It’s a tragic end, and only serves to cement the disgust you feel for the people who facilitate it.
Hotel Coolgardie is as shocking as it is shameful. To think that visitors to our country could be treated in such an appalling way, and that there are whole towns that seem willing to endorse such treatment, is beyond upsetting. I had hopes that this documentary would warm me to a bunch of local characters, but it has instead made me thankful to be very far, far away.
It’s disturbing, yet compelling viewing. Hopefully the film ignites an urgent need for change, and offers some backpackers a warning of what they might expect in one of our mining towns, should they be considering taking up a post there.
Director: Pete Gleeson
Release Date: June 15
Reviewer Rating: 3/5