Hotel Coolgardie is being sold as a real-life Wake In Fright, and as unbelievable as that sounds, it’s a completely valid comparison. The natives in this hotel are every bit as appalling and scary as in that seminal Aussie film. Sadly, the outback hasn’t got any less frightening since 1971.
First time director Peter Gleeson’s documentary centres on a couple of young female backpackers from Finland who take on bar work in Coolgardie, a small mining town just west of Kalgoorlie. In other words, in the middle of nowhere.
Upon their arrival in the small town, the likenesses to Wake In Fright become immediately apparent. The pub is populated with very inebriated men who have a forceful kind of friendliness that feels quite threatening. Worst of all though is the pub’s manager, who swears and screams at the girls from day one.
The only major point of difference between the two films, apart from the fact that this new one is real, is that the two visitors here don’t descend into madness. Steph and Lina are good-natured and try their best to laugh off the incessant come-ons from the locals, not one of which would you want to take home to meet the parents.
Strangely, the worst patrons are the small number of women we see at the pub. By and large though, this is a man’s town, and the townsfolk get pretty excited when a woman graces them with her presence.
It’s hard not to feel bad for Steph and Lina, who have committed to staying at the pub for three months. Living and working there, there is literally no escape and nothing else to do in the town. They spend the whole time fending off the locals and trying to remain calm on the job as each day the unruly behaviour continues.
It’s enough to put you off alcohol seeing the natives drink themselves into a stupor seemingly every day. And just when you think it couldn’t get any worse, events take a very dark turn right at the end.
That’s not to say that watching Hotel Coolgardie is an ordeal. While you’re likely to be appalled and disturbed by what you see, the film is impossible to turn away from. This is our own country, but it’s like looking at people from another planet.
Gleeson’s low budget doco is a no frills production, which suits the setting just fine, and the filmmaker wisely refrains from putting himself into the story. These girls are on their own.
Hotel Coolgardie proves an uncomfortable but engrossing film experience.
Hotel Coolgardie is currently in limited release
Richard Leathem @dickiegee