Spearheaded by siblings Tom and Anna Lawrence, the youth-focused Proudly Pokies Free campaign is advocating for the removal of pokie machines from pubs. The siblings bring their experience in hospitality, production and advertising to the cause, but it is their late father, Neil, who really inspired the project – he was behind the 2015 documentary Kaching! Pokie Nation, which aired on the ABC.
“From as young as I can remember, Dad was constantly doing what he could to stand up to social injustices in this world,” Anna says, adding he was particularly concerned about the addictive nature of pokies. “There is a widespread feeling of animosity towards the pokies … it’s when you talk to people about the facts that they really engage.”
And the facts are shocking. Last year, Australians spent around $12 billion on pokies, with 18–24-year-olds the biggest spenders. The pair’s campaign website has plenty more statistics, but they want us to remember the people behind the numbers. “We want to stop seeing our people, communities and culture being damaged by the pokies,” Tom says. The website also lists pokie-free venues, including Young Henrys, The Henson and The Unicorn, and has a custom Google Map for easy navigation.
The campaign’s official launch is this Sunday, featuring performances by The Whitlams’ frontman Tim Freedman, Joyride, Wild Honey, Left. and Bad Deep DJs. The Whitlams have a long history of campaigning against the pokies – in 1999, the band released Blow up the Pokies after the loss of a bandmate who struggled with pokies addiction.
Tom says, “We hope to herald live music as an important tenant of our culture and push for a hospitality scene which puts it before easy, damaging profit.”