Are you a heads or a tails when it comes to a two up game?
An old circular structure made up of odd pieces of corrugated iron for walls, and a roof that looks ready to fall down sits out among the trees and bushland. The roof has a massive hole in its centre and sections of the walls are open to allow cooling breezes to enter. Drive 7 kilometres north of Kalgoorlie and at Mullingar, turn off down a dirt track for a couple of hundred metres and you will find this shed.
During the week, the only visitors this desolate bush shed receives are people wanting to take photos of the quirky structure.
Each Sunday from 1pm though, the place is surrounding by vehicles and taxi’s dropping off passengers. Shouts of “come in spinner” and “head ‘em up” signal that school has started. A Two up school. Two up is an Australian traditional gambling game. A person who plays the game is called a scholar. Both regular locals and visitors are welcome.
Illegal most of the year, two up is played all across the country on Anzac Day (25th April), with police turning a blind eye to the game on this day, probably because most of them become scholars on that day themselves. Other than Anzac Day, it is only legal now in some casinos in Australia, and at Kalgoorlie (since 1983) and Broken Hill.
Two up started in Australia in the 1800s. During the gold rush days it was a popular form of entertainment. It was also very popular with diggers (An Australian term for soldiers) during World War One.
The game is played by betting on the throw of two pennies. The head side is marked with a white cross, to make it easier for the scholars to see the result of the spin. The pennies are placed on the end of a flat paddle, called a “kip”. The ringkeeper calls out “come in spinner.” The spinner then tosses the coins in the air, where they landing inside a specific ring. Scholars can take turn being the spinner.
You bet on the chance of two heads landing face up or two tails. A head and tail is an invalid spin and calls for a replay. If the coins fall outside the ring, that is also invalid and a replay is then thrown. A ringkeeper, or boxer, collects and holds the money for the house.
Side bets can be made by individual people around the ring. All you have to do is say to someone, "$x on heads", or $x on tails", and if they want the side bet, they show you their money. The person betting on the tails holds the money for that bet on the side of the ring.
If you win, you receive double your money back, if you lose, your money goes to the winner, and you can bet on the next spin.
There is no entry fee to play the game, and you can watch for free. However, the true excitement comes when you lay down a bet and are then invested on the pennies falling to your preference, heads or tails.
At the two up school in Kalgoorlie on a Sunday afternoon, the minimum bet was $50. I did see a side bet of $2000! Some of these scholars were playing for big bucks.
There were people of all ages there, men and women. The school does not discriminate, if you have the money, you can play.
Even if you are not a gambler, this historic tin shed in the middle of the bush is an amazing event to watch. If you are in Australia and not able to get to the school in Kalgoorlie, make sure you visit a local pub or RSL hall (Returned Serviceman’s League) on April 25 any year, after lunchtime, and enjoy it there. Somehow though, I think the tin shed in Kalgoorlie was more authentic, you can feel a certain fun vibe here and it was a fascinating side trip on my Goldfields Discovery journey.