Two-up: A National Australian Pastime
Two-up has been popular in Australia for hundreds of years, and is seen by many as part of the nation’s culture and identity. The game’s exact origins are unclear, but it seems likely to have begun in poorer communities who struggled with day-to-day survival. Two-up has come to symbolise the tenacious nature and grit of the Australian people, and was even featured in the opening ceremony of the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney.
The game seems to have evolved from Pitch and Toss, which involved throwing one coin into the air and betting on how it would land. It became popular with poor English and Irish citizens, and the convicts that were sent to Australia from those countries, in the 18th century. The spectators of the Gold Rush enjoyed the game and spread it all around the country, and Two-up was also often played by Australian World War I soldiers.
Two-up is played in a group of people, with one person selected as the Spinner. The Spinner will use a small piece of wood called a Kip to toss the coins. Before throwing, the Spinner has to bet that he or she will win and this must be covered by another player. The other members place bets against each other, or side bets, on whether the Spinner will win or lose.
The usual format of the game is that the Spinner wins if both coins land and show heads, and loses if they both show tails. If both a head and a tail are seen, called Odds or One Them, the Spinner throws again. If the Spinner wins he or she takes the punt, and if they lose it goes to the player that covered the bet after the house commission has been deducted.
There are a few variation of the game, such as the Spinner only said to have won after throwing a set number of successive pairs of heads or 3 coins being tossed.
Even when gambling had not yet been legalised in Australia, the game and other betting activities became a part of Anzac Day celebrations because it had been so popular among soldiers during World War I.
Illegal operations ran games all over Australia throughout the rest of the country, until as late as 1979 or even beyond this date. More sophisticated forms of gambling, such as Baccarat, were introduced after the 1950s. These were also illegal, but were still wildly successful and meant that the game of tossing 2 coins became less common. Introducing legal Slot machines into clubs also contributed to this.
Today the game is legal in Australia, though it is not widely played outside of Anzac Day festivities when it is played in many Returned Serviceman’s League hotels and clubs. There are also several tourist schools of the game found in the Outback, which is further testament to how much it is a part of Australia’s history and heritage. Although very simple, this game and the people who played it are honoured and respect around the country.