Norah Kelly played the pokies in Brisbane but no longer – and she’s happy. But just watch her sort out the ponies in Biggenden.
Norah Kelly played the pokies in Brisbane but no longer – and she’s happy. But just watch her sort out the ponies in Biggenden.

The town with no pokies

BIGGENDEN, tucked between Degilbo and Coalstoun Lakes, is not a rich town.

But it is very happy – and you can bet on that.

It may be the only full blown town in Qld that doesn’t have a poker machine. Or a TAB.

And its residents, 600 or so, are laughing all the way to the only bank in town.

“Some of the folk here haven’t had a bet of any sort in their entire lives,” North Burnett councillor and the big man around town, Lofty Wendt, said.

“The last time I bought a scratchie was in Brisbane during my first marriage when my wife went shopping and I sat in the car and scratched $10 worth.

“I’ve never bought a Keno or Lotto ticket and I had my last bet when I was 16 around 1960 and my dad was training horses. Actually that was illegal but you knew the bookies.”

Lofty loves living in Biggenden, just 23 clicks out of town and he loves that Biggenden has no poker machines even more.

“The Grand Hotel tried a couple about eight years back and they went wild for two months then just sat there not being played so the pub took them out.”

Ivan Groves, co-publican at the Grand for four years-plus, says a lot of people come into town and ask about the pokies but they usually settle for Keno instead.

“They asked me to put in a TAB but it would have meant I had to guarantee about $15,000 turnover a week and that was just unrealistic. You’re not going to see $15,000 go into a TAB in Biggenden.”

“I bet on the horses through an internet account here,” Grand Hotel customer Peter Heal said.

“I’ve played the pokies other places and buy Lotto tickets but I’m not hooked and I rarely win anything anyway.

“I buy bingo machine tickets to win beer in the hotel and by the way, strangers in town always leave their bingo beer winnings on the bar.” (Looking at me hard.)

“I study the form in the paper,” Norah Kelly, 82, said. “I used to play the pokies in Brisbane but when I came here in 2006 after I was widowed and also lost my son I just didn’t miss the pokies at all.

“I play Keno and buy heaps of raffle tickets for charity and church groups and go into the tombolas. We have lots of them.”

Wynsome Wendt was born in Biggenden just over 62 years ago and being church raised she never even thought about gambling.

“But you grow up and stray a bit and yes, I’ve played them but it just doesn’t worry me. I like it that Biggenden doesn’t have the pokies.”

Gayndah, 52km up the line, and Childers, about the same in the other direction, host the nearest poker machines.

Even Biggenden’s bowls and golf clubs don’t have them. Folk just play bowls and golf, have a yarn and a cold one.

“I’m deaf and I find poker machines too noisy,” Joan Curtis said. Joan was born in Biggenden and has never gambled. Just a raffle ticket at the church fundraiser is her big splash.

“I hate poker machines,” vowed Kim Olsen, who runs the town’s Commercial Hotel with her parents Beryl and Gary Innes, who came from the Maryborough district in August.

“They’re a waste of money. Sure, I’ve put a couple of dollars through them but I would hate to see them come to Biggenden.”

And Beryl Innes agrees. She remembers the good old days when Joh Bjelke-Petersen ran the State and vowed: “Qld doesn’t need them.”

And folk would climb on charter buses and head over the border to Tweed Heads to play the pokies, have a feed and run fundraising raffles on board the bus on the way home – in between singing of course.

Beryl, Gary and Kim have two match for cash machines in the bar, owned by Apex and the fishing club and they run a beer bucket on the bar. Michael Manthey is a big fan of the 50-cent tickets.

“Without the poker machines a lot more money goes into the local economy,” he said, drawing out a ticket with the number 001.

“I’ve won the carton!”

So knowing by now that I had brought a truckload of luck into Biggenden, I crossed over the road to the Grand and popped $5 into the bingo beer machine, handing the unopened tickets across the bar to Pete Heal.

“Look at that!”

I looked and he was waving the ticket numbered 500 at me.

“You’ve won the carton!”

Anyone want a 2-1 on where it ended up?

The lads at the Grand are probably still downing those stubbies won by the stranger, Lady Luck, who came into town and dutifully left her winnings behind her. Betcha.



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