Pinball Down Under: An Englishman In Oz

When Luke Grayson – the author of this article, told me he was heading out to Australia to play some pinball, I thought he was mad. Turns out, as there always is, there was more to the story than just heading out to play pinball. Anyway, this is his story – so please enjoy.

A History of Pinball in the Blood

This summer I spent a few weeks in Melbourne to visit my little sister, and also play some pinball. My sister has always wanted to win. When we were children my parents (Star Wars fans) used to say ‘let the wookie win’. This was often whispered to me as cards were being handed out at the beginning of games, and what it meant was; don’t win at Monopoly or she’ll flip the board over. Don’t win at Scalextric because she’ll stomp down the track. I quickly learned that even I did win at a game, it was followed by temper tantrums; tears; and my parent’s eyes glaring at me: ‘couldn’t you have just let her win?’ Not exactly the standing ovation I might have hoped for.

This basically meant I got used to almost winning, checking to see when she might be getting upset and then, oops! Butterfingers! I fumbled the game, she wins at the last minute. What skill! What panache! Well done! Amy wins! Parent’s lift her above the shoulders, the crowd goes wild! “Well played” I’d utter through gritted teeth. 

Fast-forward to my early teens and Dad decided to get a classic Pinball machine: Bally PowerPlay, a game made in 1977. Well, my sister would be lucky to flip that over in a sulk. There was also enough luck with Pinball to excuse my win, but also enough skill needed that it actually represented a lot of practice! I held the high score on it for a long time despite her best efforts. Sweet victory spelt out in numerical display every time it booted up. Haha! Luke wins!

A Short Trip to Take

Luke In Australia
Luke Getting into the Spirit of Australia

Fast-forward to my early 30’s and I’ve since got back into Pinball so hunting down the best venues was a natural side mission when visiting Australia. Melbourne is a big sprawling city with nearly 5 million inhabitants (not far off the whole of Scotland: 5.44 million). Though there was no really up-to-date pin-former for Australia, there are a number of facebook groups and a wordpress blog that helped guide me towards some pinball parlours.

In my few weeks there, we managed to visit six different pinball destinations for some friendly games. More fool me: I had forgotten how competitive she is! It didn’t take long before we were recording down scores with her poised camera phone in hand ready to evidence any time she beat me. She also got noticeably better over the holiday. First go she got 46million on Tron. Not too shabby.

Venue One: Pinball Paradise

Located right on the edge of town, pinball paradise is a bar sprawled over two floors; separated by a secret staircase. The bar houses over 20 machines of various ages and style. The bar serves a pinball related beer; has a change machine; friendly staff and is I found it to be a really nice place. Open 4pm-1am Wednesday-Saturdays (though they kept politely shooing us out around 11).

They must change machines fairly regularly, so maybe worth messaging first if you want to check what they have for sure. I had previously checked out their website and I didn’t see all the machines pictured. There was a Cue Ball Wizard, which I’ve never played before and was chuffed to get on the high scores. Take that!

Most all machines were playing well, a few were off & awaiting repair as you might expect but overall really nice. Spiderman; Tron; Simpsons; Game of Thrones all went down well. We came out having all won at least one game (that’s me, my sister and her boyfriend Andy). The machines were set to two dollars a game (£1.10 ish a game) or five dollars for three (£3.30). Some games (Cue Ball and Diner) were set to only a dollar a game (about 55p for three balls) so there was a good mix of prices too. Brilliant venue, so good we went back for a second trip.

Rating
5 Pinballs Out of 5

So many machines here, and a really classy venue – five pinballs out of five.

Venue Two: The Golden Fleece Hotel

The golden fleece is also home of the Argonauts pinball club – a group of pinball players, who have recently competed in the Brisbane masters – check them out on Facebook. A little bit out of town, these machines were all very nicely set up, tucked away in their own private room behind two large sliding doors. The hotel is nice enough, and the machines are well cared for. The bar staff didn’t seem too involved in the machines, however I met a few of the Argonauts pinball club members were there, checking over machines before a competition. They were using a laser to check the level of the playfields. Which was nice to see.

Their Indy 300 looked brand new after a recent restoration, though the owner clearly had high standards saying ‘yeah, it’s getting worn down again..’. All the machines were great to play, Demolition man and ST:TNG were in especially great condition. There was also a Bally SafeCracker, which I’m almost ashamed to admit I didn’t try as it’s a bit of an oddity. Fire played nicely too and became one of my sister’s favourites. Her favourites always seemed to be the ones she wins on. Again, a nice venue we returned to. Most games set to $2 a game or 3 games for $5.

Rating
5 Pinballs Out of 5

Cosseted machines, competitions run on them – five pinballs out of five.

Venue Three: Pixel Alley

Found just on the edge of the city, this is more of an arcade-sticky-floor-kinda-place than a pinball place . As such wasn’t top of the list to visit. Five machines, all mint condition recent Stern machines for the princely sum of $2 a go, however at the bar you could get $20 dollars worth of coins for $15, so some savings there. Black Knight was no less brutal than at the UK Open.

Beatles is very pretty with the gold trim and does play like a modern Sea Witch although I was surprised to see little dents on the playfield for such a new machine. Having played both the Pro and now LE version of The Munsters, I do prefer it with lower playfield, I thought being black and white would be a bit plain, though in real life, all the colour LED’s and inserts make it look great. All machines are up and running in very good condition and playing spot on. Nice selection of beers, though the noise from the arcade does grate a bit and means you can’t hear your game.

Rating
4 Pinballs out of 5

Home to five of the latest and greatest machines – unfortunately a stick floor too. Four pinballs out of five.

Venue Four: Bartonica

Right in the city centre, a short walk from the main train station on Flinders street. The place was busy and as Google says: ‘hip’ – do people still say hip? Apparently so.  Friendly staff- the mohawked bartender gave us some free credits since the AC/DC had pretty much half the lights out on it. Game of Thrones was also on but likewise had issues, preventing the multiball which would have let me put up the Grand Champion, I am sure.

It is more an arcade place rather than pinball place with about five Stern machines. The only machine we got on which was playing nicely was Iron Maiden, though Star Wars looked to play well however it was busy and clear if you went for pinball, you’d be better of better off at Pinball Paradise. They did have an Ice Cold Beer machine though, which was a joy.

Rating
3 Pinballs out of 5

An underground bar, which was very busy in the middle of the city. Some game issues, so three pinballs out of five.

Venue Five: Rosstown Retro Arcade.

I found this through Facebook on the Argonauts club page. It is a private collection owned by Marcus Sezonov. With a few IM’s and a cheeky ask, he welcomed us over for a few games. Keen on the arcade experience, all his machines require coins to play, from their respective countries they came in from. 

Most of these machines it’s my first time playing, he has some lovely rare machines in his collection. He talked us through the rules for every one of them and joined in a few games. Xenon had us cracking up at the sexy noises, and Circus looked amazing. It fit in well with wide bodies from Bally and Williams.

Superman looked and played great, really 70’s style apron. Vector was his most recently acquired machine and made for a good few competitive games. We had a lot of fun and laughs on these machines, a massive thanks to Mark for welcoming us over.

Rating:

5 Pinballs Out of 5

Beautiful collection. Amazing host. Five pinballs out of five.

Sixth Venue: Inkerman hotel:

A local bar in a Melbourne suburb of St Kilda East. Though it says it’s a hotel (apparently they just say hotel to make it sound fancy out in Australia). It was more a sports bar. Walking in there was a bunch of pokies (One Armed Bandits) but no pinball. It was actually in a separate bar a short walk through the outside area. There were a fair few arcade machines, including a modern Pong physical version.

Four pinball machines were found back there, though only three available. We happily had this bar to ourselves on a Friday evening whilst the sports bar was pretty packed. Unfortunately the Wizard of Oz had a stuck ball the bar staff couldn’t remove without ‘the technician’, so we stuck with KISS having played Deadpool and Munsters elsewhere. All were in great condition. I also got high score No1 which was a boon for our last day in Melbourne.

Rating:

4 Pinballs out of 5

4 tidy machines, great to see them in a popular pub. A shame that WOZ couldn’t be sorted. Four pinballs out of five.

Thoughts on Pinball in Oz

Amy had got a lot better at Pinball over the holiday and Andy downloaded Pinball arcade for the X-box and his phone. We spent a fair few hours of the holiday playing indie console game SpeedRunners in which almost every round finished with a satisfied/annoying little sister voice chiming out ‘Amy Wins!’. Though I did beat Amy on average 5-3 on the pinballs. Hahaha! Luke wins!

Overall there is a whole bunch of great places to enjoy Pinball in Melbourne commercially and with the Argonauts or privately. It’s certainly helped me tick off playing some machines I’ve never got to see in the UK. If you ever visit, you can travel knowing there is a good selection of games to play.

Bonus Info – The Questions We Needed the Answers To

Luke, what was the best bar/pub out there?

Well, Pinball Paradise had a bar – so it has to be there. Although in Cairns we did find a place that had free pool, which was awesome – although from the outside you did think it’s the kind of place you’d get a punch in the face with your pint.

I don’t know what that says about you, you thought you’d get punched, but still went in… What was your favourite Pin you played?

Zaccaria Robot, only because the robots were so cute, then you get to smash them in the fact which made me laugh. By the way, if anyone wants to sell a Zac robot, please let me know. (You can contact me at the UK Pinball Club and I will pass on to Luke, if you don’t have his details)

Wow, I wasn’t expecting that answer at all. Was everyone drinking Fosters all the time out there?

They don’t even have Fosters out there, it is all Victoria Bitter.

That is a massive let down and everything I thought I knew was a lie. Did you get to play Knifey Spoony at all?

I did. The Australians love it.

Phew…

19 comments

  • Great reviews Luke. Glad to see pinball is still a big thing back in oz (but sadly not so much in Canberra where I’m from).

    What the hell is knifey spoony??

  • What an excellent review!! Do you play pinball in the uk and if so where do you recommend? I have a great selection in my house, ghostbusters and back to the future. I am about to buy the superman one, as reviewed

    • Thanks Matt, yes, I play in the UK, most often at ‘Special When Lit’ in Sailsbury since it’s nearby and has alot of machines. There are lots of good spots about the country: ‘Tilt’ in Birmingham and ‘Chief Coffee’ in London are the most similar to the nicest sites I found in Melbourne. Flipout London is another club with a great selection of machines. It depends where you are in the UK but there’s bound to be somewhere you can find on pinformer.co.uk. The superman machine your getting is a very good looking machine, sweet collection! Uk Pinball League is also worth getting into to play more machines too.

  • Thanks for this Luke. Interesting article and well written.

    What was your opinion of Australian players compared to those of the UK? Did you get the feeling they were more social or competitive?

    Where’s next?

    • Like in the UK, the Australians were all very friendly & social, though if you went looking for some hard-nosed competitive play I expect you could find it. We played a few practice games on Fire! with a Argonauts club member who had some great skills (beat both of us and went well past a replay) though was as nice as you like. Next time I’m out there, I’ll be looking to get tickets to the Brisbane Masters and try my luck at becoming a champ! Amy may have had a chance to catch her skills up by then…

  • So I’m getting from this review that your sister is always beating you. Hopefully one day you will win!! Never mind!! Good luck with winning on pinball in the future!

    • That’s what your getting? 5-3 I won, so that’s 5 games of Amy going : ‘yeah, yeah, well done’ against 3 where she scraped together a tad more score than me.

      There times she won are completely down to luck and/or me letting her win. Probably. I reckon. Yeah let’s go with that.

  • Excellent review. Where do you recommend in the uk?

  • Did you see any kangaroos on your trip? Where there any Australian related pinball machines?

  • Hi Luke. I live in Melbourne and highly recommend bartonica.

    • Hi Tony, Bartonica was great, I’d go just for the Ice Cold Beer machine. Though for pinball, pinball paradise is just that and not far away a little bit up town. Well worth it if you’ve not been.

  • So Luke, great review. Do you have any pinball machines/ arcade machines yourself?

  • Cheers Rob, Judge Dredd & Surf ‘n Safari.

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