Blow Up The Pokies (2000) – The Whitlams

the whitlams

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 “

1. The Guardian – Blow up the pokies: the misery and destruction of Australia’s poker machines
2. Blow up the Pokies – Wikipedia

“The more I live, the more I learn. The more I learn, the more I realize, the less I know.”- Michel Legrand

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Posted in Music
13 comments on “Blow Up The Pokies (2000) – The Whitlams
  1. badfinger20 says:

    When I saw the title…I didn’t know what the heck it was about. I get it…Slot Machines or One-Armed Bandits as I’ve called them.

    Where I live slot machines are not legal. You cannot have one in a store of any kind. We have poker machines…which you play digital poker…and usually lose. If you know the right people in the establishment they will pay off.

    Nice song with good meaning to it. I can relate to the words. Very good choice Matt.

    I have a cousin that was addicted to them. He and I shared an apartment in the 90s and he would get paid on Friday at noon… go to the poker machines (digital poker) and be completely broke a few hours later.

    I have to say it worked the other way sometimes…We would be down to our last 5 bucks and I would tell him…go and see what you can do…sometimes he would walk out with 200 dollars from that 5…but that didn’t happen often at all. He did that for about 5 years or so and finally kicked the habit.

    Sorry for the long post…it brought back a lot of memories…it’s a real problem.

    • Yeh mate, I was pretty sure ‘Pokies’ wasn’t universal, so I looked up the other names. Like your cousin I had my own run in with pokies when I was living in Melbourne. I didn’t go broke on them, but man did I spend a lot of cash. And it’s so easy to do when you’ve got a few drinks under your belt. I haven’t touched them in years. My mother found herself addicted to them and spent some serious dough too.

      Just to give you some idea of how rampant pokies are in Australia. take this excerpt from the Guardian article I linked:
      ‘In fact, poker machines are the lifeblood of Australia’s enormously profitable gambling industry. Of the $23.6bn gambled in 2015–16 – the highest per capita amount spent anywhere in the world – $12.1bn, or more than $600 each adult, was poured through poker machines in clubs and pubs ($5.2bn was lost in casinos).’

      I’m glad you liked the song. It’s so damn powerful, but sad. It really puts you into his shoes as he’s trying to dissuade his mate from playing because he’s got young mouths to feed. Topical songs like this don’t come around too often. It also brings back a lot of memories for me too.

      • badfinger20 says:

        Wow that link says more than I ever would have thought. That is A LOT of money going toward those things. That is staggering.

        Here we have to travel to another state to gamble…it doesn’t make it convenient…that is probably a great thing. We just got the lottery in Tennessee.

        These songs are folk songs pretty much…true stories to tell the people.

      • I thought I had responded to this. I agree this is folk music in the modern era at its most poignant.

  2. I don’t delve into songs backgrounds like I used to. Good stuff on this one plus the tune works.

  3. macalder02 says:

    He estado una semana, se puede decir de vacaciones del blog. Vino a visitarnos nuestro hijo mayor con su novia desde Buenos Aires. Así que los días se pasaron muy rápido. Ahora tengo la noche calmada y puedo disfrutar de tu música la lecturas atrasadas. No conozco esta banda pero su música suena bien.

  4. Shit Munk says:

    I don’t indulge in such activities as gambling, though this song has a really hard-hitting meaning. My grandma had a gambling addiction and died of it.

  5. mike hunt says:

    gambling got me fuqed bruh

  6. I hope you are over them now and things are better.

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