When they come tails I nearly die

OK, so the last post was a bit somber, with a whole bunch of shit about people dying and then some of Shane McGowan’s best dreary vocals. But we said (warned? threatened?) that the next post would be more interesting, so here is our report on our first ANZAC Day in Wagga.

To start it off, here is what we had to shape our expectations: a couple of articles about how much of  a drunken mess the day is/can be:

The ANZAC Day march seems to be the biggest event in Wagga! It gets a much bigger turnout than the 'Town and Gown' academic procession that happens each autumn.

Hmm… sounds just like a hockey game in Canada! We quickly started to realize that this was not your typical day of remembrance, as we might know it in Canada. So, with these stories in mind, we had to make some decisions about how to engage with the day (especially since we had a day off work). The first idea was that, despite the fact that we were entertaining an international visitor (a potential new colleague for Lisa), it might be best to spend most of the day at home. That was the simplest (safest?) plan. The second idea involved venturing out to learn more about the local approach to remembrance… drinking and all. That seemed like a more complicated plan, since we realized that we would need a local (knowledgeable!) person to interpret things and guide us through the day. We were also a little concerned about doing so while hosting an interviewee for a job at Lisa’s work… but hey, if you can’t go to the pub for some drunken’ two-ups, do we really want you as a colleague? Perhaps this would be a good “field” test.

No, this man isn't shading his eyes from the Australian sun. He is the commander of the Army Recruit Training Centre in Wagga (aka Blamey Barracks, aka Kapooka) and he oversaw the march, saluting everyone who went past.

So, our first stop of the day was the ANZAC march. No, not the dawn (6am!) service; that just seemed crazy. We decided to attend the 11am service, which was preceded by a 10:30am march down the main street of town. This was a very personal event, with family members standing at the sidelines to support their sons/daughters in the military; it also included descendants of veterans, soldiers and war widows. Interestingly, there were many people wearing medals; young (even very young!), old, men, women… and we realized that while “Medals may only be worn by the veteran [in Canada]. It is a criminal offense to wear military medals that someone else has earned” — the same is not true here in Australia! Here, there is an exception to the rule: “War medals are not freely available for wear by all. Medals are only to be worn by those to whom the medal has been conferred. The only exception to this ruling occurs on Remembrance Day and Anzac Day. On these two occasions, descendants may wear the medals of deceased recipients but only on the right breast.” It was really quite special to see so many families on the street, with people clapping their hands as the vets went by. Very touching! We all waved our Aussie flags (handed out to all bystanders) with pride.

When we first saw signs advertising ANZAC Day two-up at the local pubs, Dan wondered if it was sort of the same as 'two fisting'. Well, it isn't, but he did that anyway.

And then… it’s off to the pub! After a quick lunch with our international visitors, we enlisted a couple of other friends/colleagues to go out on the town for the ‘two-up’. ANZAC Day pub visits aren’t just like going to any pub. You have to think it through. Strategy #1: go early; if the drunk-fest begins at 12pm, you’re probably safe until about 4pm. After that, especially as the sun goes down, all bets are off (excuse the pun). Strategy #2: take an Aussie with you; if you’re venturing into the pubs for a once-a-year gambling fest, you’ll need someone to guide you through the process. Strategy #3: have a budget and take a small bills; bets of $5 and $10 are good fun, but leave the $50 bills at home. Strategy #4: watch, listen, have a drink… and then bet when you know how it all works. Strategy #5: leave while you’re ahead!

So what is all this crazy two-up business? This is a game invented in Australia involving the tossing of 3 coins and betting on whether the majority will land “heads” or “tails.” You can read lots of details online about the game. The key thing to remember is that it is illegal to play in public EXCEPT on ANZAC Day. We realized that if we didn’t go and play we’d have to wait another entire year before we could say “been there, done that.” After some careful planning about which pub would be best (not dead, but not too wild), we settled on the William Farrer Hotel/Pub in the CBD (our first choice, The Duke of Kent, was dead; The Farmers Home was our second choice, but it looked a bit too crazy; Farrer was just right). They had pitched a huge tent outside of the pub for the two-up game, with lots of security. It was packed! We saw Lisa’s stylist, a couple of real estate agents we’ve met, the owner of our favourite veggie shop… the entire town was in that pub (or one of the others in town)! And they were betting lots of cash.

The two-up ring. From farther back, one might have thought is was a cockfighting event with all the yelling and betting going on.

Here’s the scene: picture 500 people in a big tent. Everyone has a drink in one hand and some hard, cold cash in the other. People will tap a $5 or a $10 bill (or a handful of bills!) on their heads if they want to bet that when the coins are tossed, at least two will land “heads” up. They yell out “tails” if they want to bet that the spinner (the person tossing) will “tail them”. You tap the person on the shoulder and take the bet; the person betting on tails holds the money. The coins go up, come down and you settle your bet; if you were betting heads you either get the money handed to you or you just walk away, after nodding to your opponent to acknowledge defeat. If you were betting tails, you either hand the other person their winnings, or you nod a thank you. Then, another round. And another. And more drinking. And another. Oh my god… get me out of here! Young, old, men women… everyone was involved. You watch for awhile, then your money starts to burn in your hand, and you’re off again. Thank god this only happens once a year! In all, we were in the pub for 90 minutes; we spent the first hour watching, having a pint, having the rules explained, getting a feel for the event. Then Dan went into the betting ring. Lisa agreed to give him 4 $5 bills to start him off. In the span of a quick 30 minutes, Dan lost only once and came up $35 ahead! We left at that point… better to have some cash in pocket then go home broke. But others were betting $200 at once! What is really interesting about this is that it is just friendly betting among strangers. Yes, you can play against the pub for a potential larger win, but most of the money actually changes hands in ‘side bets’ – just regular folk happily passing cash around. There seems to be no concern that someone might rip you off. It isn’t that kind of environment.

It was only 3:45pm when we left, and there was a long night ahead still…and as the drinks were poured, we expected that things would get a little bit raucous. But, all in all, it was a fun event with a neighbourly feel to it. Betting against complete strangers, while you shared a laugh and watched people of all ages coming together. There were many veterans there, enjoying the day… and making a bit of cash on the side. We’re sure to be back again next year…

As an aside, what makes this really interesting is that it might only work in Australia because of the almost impossible to counterfeit polymer bills. Betting involves handing complete strangers your money. There is no worry you won’t get it back if you win – there seems to be no cheating. But if you happened to be a counterfeiter in a country where that is common (Canada…US…Argentina…), you could easily take the other person’s cash, pocket it and hand back fakes. All you would have to do would be bet tails all the time so you were the one holding.  Maybe that is why Australia adopted polymer money. And look out Canada – as you’re adopting the Aussie-created bills later this year, a good game of two-up may not be too far behind.

About waggadventure

Canadians newly relocated to Australia.
This entry was posted in ANZAC Day, Australia, beer, bogans, holidays, pub, small town culture, two-up, visitors, wagga. Bookmark the permalink.

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