Blow Up the Pokies is a protest song about the misery and destruction of Australia’s poker machines. In the US, they’re called slot machines, in the UK; fruit machines. Back in the 1990’s Tim Freedman – the lead singer of The Whitlams performed most of his music in pubs before he was famous. He wasn’t even familiar with poker machines before they were allowed into pubs in New South Wales in 1997. Soon stages, bars and dining areas were removed to make space for more poker machines. Essentially the golden goose had arrived and the musicians were thrown out.
What really upset Freedman was seeing two close friends whose lives were unravelling because of poker machine gambling. One of whom was former band member Andy Lewis who was having plenty of trouble financially because of the pokies and eventually took his own life. Freedman says. “It was aggravating me. So I wrote a song about it – a little story about sitting [at a pub] down the road and seeing my friend play the pokies where we used to play music.” So he released Blow Up the Pokies in 2000. The song tells the story of a failing father locked in a “secret battle” with poker machines that were allowed in the first place so the government could say “the trains run on time”.
It’s a really catchy melody and has hard hitting lyrics. I loved it from the very first moment I heard it. Blow Up the Pokies peaked at #21 on the charts, and propelled the Whitlams on to a national tour. Ironically, many of the packed-out halls they were booked to play were in large clubs housing hundreds of poker machines. “I felt like a Trojan horse,” Freedman says. In January 2018, as part of Triple M‘s “Ozzest 100”, the ‘most Australian’ songs of all time, “Blow Up The Pokies” was ranked number 84.
” And I wish, I wish I knew the right words
To make you feel better
Walk out of this place
Defeat them in your secret battle
Show them you can be your own man again ”
“And I wish, I wish I knew the right words
To blow up the Pokies and
Drag them away
‘Cause they’re taking the food off your table
So they can say that the trains run on time “