Lake Macquarie History

Lakeside gambling before the TAB

Kevin McWilliams

Before the TAB it would be safe to say that it was still possible to have a bet on any horse in any race throughout Australia on a Saturday afternoon with the help of the local Starting Price Bookmaker who, in most cases could be contacted by phone or through the local barman in any Hotel. One of these S.P. Bookies lived on the hill at Bolton Point, and one of my roles was to ride a push bike from Fennell Bay several times each Saturday to carry bets on various horses for my father.

Another form of gambling was [the card game] Euchre, and games were usually held in most hotels in the area. It was illegal to play for money but results of games could and did result in bets of many hundreds of pounds changing hands. Rarely was any attempt made to cover up the exchange of money. Games were played consistently in Toronto Hotel, Top and Bottom Hotels at Teralba, Boolaroo, Killingworth and West Wallsend and many fights erupted over non-payment of bets. Also, crib time at several coal mines was always a favourite time to get the deck out and play for at least a Lottery ticket.

Sundays, with all hotels closed, another form of gambling took place. This was the local game of TWO-UP. This was and is the same game played by all of our troops on overseas assignments and in most of our casinos today and consists of a flat piece of board or timber about 20 centimetres long which was called a KIP. The ringkeeper had several very old style brass/copper pennies which were approximately 3 centimetres wide, and on the tail side these were painted usually with a large white cross which was easily seen even in the dust of the ring. Two pennies were placed on the Kip, one up and one down. The pennies were thrown above the shoulders and made to spin – otherwise a BAR call would erupt and the spin was not counted and would have to be re thrown.

The ring was about 10 metres diameter with stools around the circumference for seating. The spinner who might be spinning for 10 Quid ($20), as our coinage was called at that time, was always the first to have his bet covered because the ringkeeper would not let the game proceed until he was covered. Individuals would have notes hanging out of their hands and would shout out what they wanted to bet on or another person might be seated on a log and have possibly 20 bets scattered out in front of him in the dirt. Many times the betting became frantic with men shouting out their bets trying to "Get On". Someone might shout out “10 on a head” and someone from across the ring would shout back “10 a tail” and they were covered. And so it went on - usually for hours especially on pay nights when money flowed more freely. Of course there were many disagreements.

There were regular games in the bush at Billygoat Hill near the old cemetery at Booragul, usually on Friday nights to coincide with Miners pay night. A regular game was also played at Cockle Creek on a Sunday morning. This was situated in the bush just as you turn the corner after passing the remains of the old Railway Bridge, on the road from Teralba and heading towards the old power station just before the weir at Barnsley. A short stroll into the bush will still turn up logs used as seat posts. One Sunday, my brother and I were enjoying a game there and my brother was winning a fair amount of money and I noticed the organiser of the game nod to another man who immediately stood up and took off as fast as possible. I spoke to my brother and said "it’s going off, let’s get out here". His reply was, "we’ll stay for one more spin”.

The words were hardly out of his mouth when a group of policemen ran out of the bush and crowded around the ring shouting "everybody stay where they are”. And with this there were men flying everywhere. Through the bush and the water which was prevalent in the area. And, my brother and I and about 20 others stood like dummies and took our punishment for playing Two Up. We had to identify ourselves and were ordered to go direct to Boolaroo Police Station, where we were charged and fingerprinted. Our fine of £2 pounds was paid by the game organisers and our names appeared in the local paper.

Which we thought would be the end of it. However, I went to a local police station to make application for a gun licence many years later and was refused the first time I applied because the local police stated I would not get a licence because I had a felony conviction. I went back and re applied and eventually got my gun licence, but have always wondered when travelling to various countries, and in this age of instant communication, whether one day some Customs Officer might not realise that playing TWO-UP is really not a felony but a good old Australian pastime.