Life & Arts Opinion

Pokies have destroyed Australia's live music scene

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Poker machines have pushed live music out of pubs (image via pxfuel)

Poker machines have destroyed livelihoods and they also deprived up-and-coming bands of a start in pubs and other venues, writes John Longhurst.

“THERE YOU go, Bazza.”

Bella, the publican, placed the schooner in front of him. Bazza took a generous sip and remained at the bar.

"Where’s Mick, Bazza?” she asked.

He responded with:

“Ah, he would be down at the pre polling annoying the punters, Bella. He’s probably promising an opera house for the shire or a tunnel through the Clyde Mountain. He gets highly excited around election time.”

“More barrelling porkies than pork barrelling eh, Bazza?”

They both shared a laugh.

Bazza then said:

“Now, Bella, one of the reasons I like to have a drink in your pub is the fact you do not have poker machines.”

Bella sighed, pulled out her phone and flicked up the music clip ‘Blow Up the Pokies’ by the Whitlams on the big screen.

Her eyes moistened at the lyrics:

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

Flashing lights, it's a real show

And your wife? I wouldn't go home

The little bundles need care

And you can't be a father there, father there

And I wish I, wish I knew the right words

To make you feel better, walk out of this place

And defeat them in your secret battle.

“You see, Bazza, that song could have easily been composed with my Uncle in mind, pokies destroyed him and his family.”

A long pause.

Bazza took a sip and rubbed his chin, “I haven’t witnessed anything like that so close to home, Bella. My problem with gambling in pubs is the death of live music".

Bella raised her eyebrows.

Bazza explained:

I spent a lot of time in the inner west in Sydney back in the 1980’s. There was a thriving live music scene. People went to the pub to listen to great pub bands; Midnight Oil, Cold Chisel, Angels, Screaming Jets, Hunters and Collectors, Richard Clapton, Roaring Jack, Weddings Parties Anything and the list goes on.


Some of these bands had two gigs on the same night and we would follow them to the next pub. The better the band, the bigger the crowd. It led to competition amongst both pubs and musicians. It ensured the rise of some iconic musicians and it was the primary source of the pub’s revenue. Pubs were happy to pay good money for bands that brought in the clientele.

“A classic win-win scenario, Bazza.”

Bazza took a decent sip:

For sure, Bella but in the 80s they decided to allow pubs to run TABs and by the mid-90s poker machines were introduced into pubs. The very venues that provided an outlet for our musicians were changed to accommodate a revenue stream based on gambling.


The robotic muzak and garish lights of the pokies promising false hope have replaced the impassioned roars of Peter Garrett or The Angels pumping up a sweating crowd. These days live music is often reduced to a one person show with a computerised backing band, taking up less space. Pokies literally squeezed the nursery of live music out of the pubs.

Bella started wiping the front bar as afternoon regulars lined up:

“Ah, the day the music died eh, Bazza?”

“Well, that’s another story, Bella, in 1959 Buddy Holly."

Bella cut him off:

“Woo Bazza, that was a good chat, but I’ve got a pub to run.”

John Longhurst is a former industrial advocate and political adviser. He currently works as an English and History teacher on the South Coast of NSW.

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