I lost it all. All the money in my wallet went in the time that it might take to make and drink a cup of tea. All I’d been trying to do was join in, to be part of a rowdy Aussie crowd, to feel and immerse myself in this annual event.
So I didn’t lose it, as such, I just gambled it away in a game where skill, poker face and celebration style are unimportant. Thankfully.
Known as two-up, this game sees people bet against each other on a heads or tails majority of a two or three-coin throw. Using a wooden coin cradle AKA a kip, the spinner stands in the middle of a 3-metre circle and flips the coins out of their paddle onto the ground. The ringkeeper announces the result and the crowd goes wild, swears, shouts.
Someone always wins. The tails better – the person who has held the money throughout the action – either hands over the cash or pockets it, depending on the game outcome.
Then it all repeats. Again and again. Hours of it, apparently.
Originally played by the soldiers in the trenches of Gallapoli during the First World War, two-up is now legally only allowed to be played on the 25th of April every year – ANZAC day – which ‘marks the anniversary of the first major military action fought by Australian and New Zealand forces during the First World War‘.
But why only play two-up one day a year?
It does make some sense. With patrons of the places where the games take place betting each other and not the house, there is little to no commercial profit, other than the income from extra drinks. But this doesn’t address the legal issue.
More likely, though, is that Australia wants to be responsible in keeping problems associated with alcohol and gambling to a minimum. Two-up certainly offers the opportunity to win and then lose a lot of money, very quickly.
Back to the game. Every now and then the ringer would hand out freebies and call for a charity shower, and the ring would get pummeled by silvers. I imagined that later in the day the donations would be more generous as drinks flowed and spirits were charged in an ebb and flow of energy and excitement.
A flawlessly made up woman dressed in a silver summer dress hung with one arm to the metal barriers surrounding the game circle and waved banknotes around with the other, tipping them to her forehead. Her eyes struggled to focus yet each time they opened the game up to the next round of betting, she was in, waving those notes. First she collected a few wins but then I saw her starting to hand it back. Finally she slunk away, all spent up, I assumed, or otherwise in need of a friend or a glass of water.
After observing others place bets with neighbours and people across the room I felt ready to test-drive a bet. I played D-man $5, and I lost. ‘I’ll give you it as a test run,’ he teased and gave me back my note. I tried it against another guy close to me. The coins were flung in the air and fell to the ground. I lost. Only $5 again, but I lost and someone else was up $5. It all adds up.
‘One more go,’ I told D-man and I found myself another opponent and upped the bet. $10 this time. Third time lucky, right?
Wrong. The coins fell and I walked away a loser. A very un-Australian loser, at that.
- Description of two-up as played by 2/12th Commando Squadron (awm.com.au)
- Anzac Day two-up tradition (video) (theage.com.au)
- Thrill lost as two-up finally goes legal (theaustralian.com.au)