Anzac Day is here again, which means it’s time to dust off your Kip, perch a Cockatoo on the corner to look out for coppers, put a fiver on heads or tails, and hurl those pennies high.
Two-up is an old Aussie tradition predating World War I that has become wedded to our commemoration of that terrible conflict.
According to Dr Charles Livingstone, a gambling researcher at Monash University, betting on how two coins will land dates back to England and Ireland in the 1700s.
By some quirk of history, the game found its way to our goldfields a century later, where many Aussies had a surplus of cash and a dearth of ways to keep themselves entertained.
“A lot of miners played it to amuse themselves and obviously some of them had an excess of funds and wanted to muck around with those monies,” says Dr Livingstone. “There wasn’t a lot to entertain them, so they got into this gambling game.”
The trenches of Gallipoli were the next bit of historical dirt on which the pennies were tossed.
“It was played as a diversion by our soldiers,” says Dr Livingstone. “Certainly they were playing it when they had the opportunity to. Whether they were actually playing it in the trenches while people were shooting at them is another question.”
After the Great War, you might still have found a two-up school, with the local fathers and sons crowded around, in a side allay or back lane of Sydney and Melbourne in the 1920s and 1930s, Dr Livingstone says.
These days, you’re only likely to find the game at the Crown Casinos in Melbourne and Perth, or at our local RSL on the few times of the year when it’s legal.
“As I can gather, it’s been well and truly replaced by all the commercial gambling opportunities, and so it’s very rare to find it played anywhere much except on Anzac Day, and even then as a curiosity really rather than anything more serious,” says Dr Livingstone.
He thinks the old-fashioned game is a throwback to a day when gambling was not only simpler, but less destructive.
“There’s a world of difference between a group of blokes getting together to divert themselves from the misery that they’re facing on the battlefield and the mass commercialisation of gambling by poker machines, which systematically exploit whole communities,” Dr Livingstone says.
While it may no longer be popular, you may still hear the cry of “Come in Spinner” at your local watering hole – like the Sugar Lounge on Sydney’s Manly Beach, where punters will be challenging the bartender for food and drink discounts, with losses donated to charity.
“We’re aiming to offer a more intimate, family friendly version of Two-up and do something to benefit a local charity rather than a gambling focus,” says Lauren Trevenen, the bar’s spokesperson.