‘The Royal Hotel’ True Story: What Happens With Real-Life Lina and Stephie In Coolgardie?

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Kitty Green’s The Royal Hotel is based on the true story of Lina and Stephie, two Finnish backpackers who received inhumane treatment on the Australian outskirts while working as barmaids at the Denver City Hotel in Coolgardie. In real life, the Finnish girl’s credit cards were stolen in Bali, after which their travel savings were drained from their respective accounts. The girls had no means to continue their travel and therefore arrived in Perth to work while traveling. The 2023 film follows the same conflict, but it doesn’t explain how or why their credit card stops working. After reaching Perth, Lina and Stephie met a work agent, Gina Nikolina, who offered them a job in Coolgardie under a three-month agreement, which meant they couldn’t leave the job until their contract was over. Kitty Green’s film, however, doesn’t mention any such details and brings the girls straight to the lawless, savage lands. Like in the film, the girls are informed about the unwanted male attention as the location is a big mining town filled with gentlemen (pun intended). Lina and Stephie had no idea about the town; they just wanted to settle down for 3 months so that they could have some savings to resume their travel.

In the documentary Hotel Coolgardie, we find out that the caretaker of the hotel was a sexist man who contacted the job agencies to send him two girls in their early twenties as the previous girls were leaving their positions. The way the man described the criteria needed for the job could very well explain that he wasn’t looking for employees but something totally different. What’s worse is that job agencies like these were exploiting innocent travelers and sending them to remote locations without bothering about their safety.

The entire town was quite excited with the news of new girls arriving soon, and Peter, the manager of the hotel, went to the railway station to pick up the girls. This particular detail too has been changed in the film, where Carol, the kitchen cook, received the new girls and brought them to the hotel. In the documentary, the town of Coolgardie doesn’t look like a deserted town, as shown in the 2023 film. Maybe the ambiance was tweaked to raise the stakes and create conflict for these girls, who had no means to run away in case something bad happened to them.

The bar in real life, too, was much more modern than the one shown in the 2023 The Royal Hotel film. The documentary had people wearing casual and modern clothes, unlike in the film, where many of the miners wore uniforms. Additionally, the girls had a proper mobile network on their iPads and phones, because of which they were able to connect with friends and family quite frequently. What is similar is the fact that Peter (the real-life inspiration of Hugo Weaving’s character, Billy) called the girls by a lot of derogatory names, as he didn’t consider them anything more than fresh meat for his customers. His way of training them for the job made the new girls cry on the very first day, and it was just the beginning of a 3-month nightmare that they had to endure.

The previous girls, named Becky and Clio, had been working at the bar for quite a while and had saved enough money to continue their travels. However, it was quite evident in the documentary that Becky and Clio enjoyed the miners’ company, because of which they stayed in Coolgardie for much longer than was shown in the 2023 film. We also saw a real-life version of Matty, named Anthony, who, just like in the film, took Lina (Hanna) for a drive and later got her drunk while suggesting to her that he wanted to sleep with her. Though the scene isn’t actually staged as shown in The Royal Hotel film, Anthony’s intentions and crude behavior remain the same.

The character of Dolly is inspired by a real-life person named Pikey. As per the documentary, many of the scenes in the 2023 film he was featured in happened in real life as well. The fictionalized scene where Dolly demeaned and threatened Hanna was based on a true incident; just the stakes weren’t as high as shown in the film. Pikey not only asked Lina to drink with him but also forced her to go on a date with him, which she humbly denied. It was implied that most men who came into the bar wanted to sleep with the new girls, and they didn’t mind revealing their intentions. What was more threatening in Pikey’s case was that the man came to the girls’ room without their permission. Later, Lina found him sleeping on the couch when she came back which she made her really worried about her privacy. Lina was severely ill at this time, but Pikey didn’t mind telling her that he wanted to sleep with her, like not to have sex with her but just sleep. When she asked him to leave her personal space, the man spewed curses at her and left. There were many such horrific instances that we came across in the documentary, and we believe Kitty Green did justice to those incidents while adapting them for screen.

Lina’s friend from the boat, Torsten, is also based on an actual person named James, who is much more sensible in real life. He arrives in Coolgardie to accompany Lina and Steph as they go camping with Anthony (Matty). The girls didn’t want to go on a trip with the Coolgardie men alone, for the sake of their own safety. Nevertheless, during the trip, Lina catches some infection, because of which she develops blisters on her feet and a high fever. It was reported earlier in the documentary that Lina was extremely vulnerable to bacterial infection due to her diabetes. Lina had to be admitted to the nearby hospital while Steph looked after the bar, but it was evident that Peter wasn’t happy with their work. He had even called the Finnish girls horses and made racial remarks.

Some five weeks later, after the girls arrived in Coolgardie, Peter canceled their agreement and fired them from the job. The girls had earned some 3350 Australian dollars during their tenure at the Denver City Hotel, but apparently it wasn’t enough to continue their travel. As a result, Steph returned to Perth to look for other job options with another job agency because she was certain that the previous one was running some kind of scam. Unfortunately, she was given a job as a barmaid in yet another pub, some 200 kilometers away from Coolgardie. The fact speaks volumes about the state of employment opportunities for tourists in the region. We believe she might have witnessed the same horrors in the different locations as well.

Lina, on the other hand, had to stay at the hospital for three weeks, after which she was transferred to a hospital in Perth. She spent four more weeks there, and she was later discharged. Lina took the first flight to Finland and left Australia for good. Unfortunately, her toe infection had spread throughout her body and even infected her spinal cord. It also caused a severe blood infection, because of which she went completely blind in one eye and lost 30 percent of her sight in the other eye. After reaching home, Lina tried to start her life over and fell in love. She is now married and lives a peaceful life in Finland. As per the documentary, Lina wishes to return to Australia some day so that she can see the rest of the continent.

A special mention goes to the most humble person in the entire Coolgardie, which is John Joseph Lowe, also known as “The Canman.” We are not sure of this, but maybe his character inspired “Teeth” in the 2023 film. Canman helped the girls in the best possible manner he could, but he never really expressed what he wanted from them. Maybe he had the same intentions as all the other men in the town, or maybe he was a good one amidst the wolves. Whatever the case, The Canman died peacefully after the filming of the documentary.

Unlike The Royal Hotel film, the Denver City Hotel is still intact. However, it wasn’t an ancestral property as shown in the film, and therefore it is under new management as of now. We believe the new management might not be exploiting tourists and hiring girls to lure customers. But who knows what dark secrets lie in towns like Coolgardie?


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Shikhar Agrawal
Shikhar Agrawal
I am an Onstage Dramatist and a Screenwriter. I have been working in the Indian Film Industry for the past 12 years, writing dialogues for various films and television shows.

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