IT’S hard to argue the attraction of bingo is the prizes when players turn up two hours before the games starts.
That’s what happens at Temperance Hall bingo in Warrnambool, confirming the social aspect of the game is a big part of its ongoing allure.
Bingo’s popularity has waxed and waned but it’s hung in there over the decades and is now drawing a new generation of players.
The game is played at numerous venues throughout Warrnambool and the Friday night game at the Temperance Hall is one of Warrnambool’s longest running.
It has clocked up at least 30 years and has a devoted following of about 200 people.
With the long involvement in the game by many players, it’s no surprise the game has developed a subculture that is part of the allure.
Many players have set places at the Temperance Hall and are territorial about them.
In the two-hour prelude before the bingo numbers drop, players come from throughout the south-west to catch up with friends who they have played with for years, dine on take-away food and play cards.
The length of time bingo has been running at the Temperance Hall is indeterminate but what’s known is the Merrivale Football Netball Club took it on 22 years ago, after the Lyndoch aged care home handed over the balls.
The Friday night game is the survivor of what was a busy schedule of bingo games at the hall throughout the week.
Les Sketcher, a former secretary of the Temperance Alliance that runs the hall, said bingo was played about four nights a week at the hall at one time, with various clubs staging the games.
Among other changes has been the end of humorous terms for bingo numbers that gave the game its own vernacular.
Cries of “two fat ladies 88” and “anyway up 69” are heard no more across the bingo halls in Warrnambool, killed off by political correctness.
The Temperance Hall’s bingo caller Aaron Edwards said the terms had been dropped because they might have offended some people.
Mr Edwards is the last remaining live bingo caller in Warrnambool, with other venues using an electronic voice.
The supervisor of the Temperance Hall game, Colin Parker, said the introduction of poker machines in Victoria 20 years ago knocked attendance numbers around but a new generation of players was coming to the game.
Mr Parker, who has been doing the volunteer role for 20 years, said bingo offered good prizes, but accepts social interaction is a big part of the attraction.
For a set of 30 games for $9, bingo was “a cheap night”, he said.
Many players buy more than one set of books and Mr Parker said scanning multiple books for the called numbers kept their brains active.
Rob Hughes, 30, is part of the new generation of bingo players in Warrnambool, saying he had picked up the love for the game from his mother Donna.
He has been playing since he was 18 years old and played throughout Australia, finding the Warrnambool crowd younger than in many other venues.
His mother Donna Hughes said many of the younger players went on to the pub after bingo finished.
Jacki Russell, 40, said she liked the atmosphere of bingo and the prizes were “a bonus”.
“There is an adrenalin rush to get the last number,” she said.
Alan Rodger, of Warrnambool, and Joe, of Terang, catch up each Friday at Temperance Hall bingo and share their jackpots, doing so to improve their chances of taking home some winnings.
Mr Rodger said he had played Temperance Hall bingo regularly for about 18 years or least since “Moses ran it”.
Joe, who only revealed his Christian name, had the telltale sign of a regular with his own bingo board to hold the books. He picked up the bingo habit in Ireland, where he said it was popular.
There, free transport brought patrons to the bingo centre but most stayed on the buses because the centre was full. Calls were broadcast into the buses and prizes were as high as £30,000.
For 30-year Temperance Hall veteran Marlene Murphy, bingo is a chance to “just think about numbers”.
“Anything else that is going on in your life, you can put it out for a few hours,” she said.
“I work from home and this gets me out of the house.”
Bingo gave a much better chance to socialise than poker machines and offered better value for money, she said.