Australia's most iconic pastime shares a history with the town of Broken Hill.
It might be a simple game with simple rules, but two-up has developed a special place in Australia’s psyche. Essentially a game of chance, it involves two coins being placed on a paddle, or ‘kip’, by the ‘spinner’. Punters then bet on how the coins will land – two heads up or two tails up – and the spinner proceeds to toss the coins into the air. Should the coins land mixed, the spinner keeps tossing until there’s a result.
Two-up was popularised in Australia by poorer English and Irish citizens in the 18th century, with the convicts’ predilection for the game noted as early as 1798 by NSW authorities. By the 1850s, the two-coin form was being played on the goldfields of the eastern colonies, before spreading throughout the country following subsequent gold rushes.
Australia’s traditional gambling game was carried with Australian soldiers to Gallipoli and elsewhere in World War I. It was played in the trenches and on the troop ships, further cementing its position as a part of our national character. As a result, it has become synonymous with ANZAC Day (25 April), when pubs and RSL clubs across the country can legally host this usually illegal game.
Two-up enjoys a unique association with Broken Hill, holding a strong connection with the area’s miners and itinerate rural workers, such as shearers. For a significant part of the 20th century, the town operated an illegal two-up ‘school’ – so named because the players were considered scholars of chance – just metres off the main thoroughfare, Argent Street. The school plied a roaring weekend trade behind an infamous green door in Crystal Lane, and became so well-known it was a tourist attraction – until police shut it down in 1984.
However, in 1992, Broken Hill City Council successfully lobbied the State Government for a permit allowing two-up every day of the year. In handing down its decision, the NSW Office of Liquor, Gaming and Racing acknowledged that the game was “an established part of the cultural heritage of this mining city”.
Broken Hill’s position as the two-up capital of the world was underscored in the locally shot 1971 film Wake In Fright. English actor Gary Bond’s classic line to Chips Rafferty, “Well, that’s a nice simple-minded game”, concludes a scene that displayed to the world what a chaotic yet mesmerising pursuit Australians had created from two coins and a small piece of wood.
Nowadays, you can play two-up every Friday from 9pm at The Palace Hotel on Argent Street in Broken Hill. Don’t stand on the sidelines – get involved for a real taste of this iconic pastime.