More than just a Game
Harbord Diggers veteran ring keeper, Matty ‘V’ Vanderbergh, gives his emotional verdict on the greatest game in Australia.
Walk into any licensed venue in Australia after midday on April 25 and you’ll instantly hear the rumble, the chants and the cheers. Raucous laughter will fill the air, pennies will be tossed and hoards of revelers will place their bets and their money on tails and heads.
For Northern Beaches local Matt Vanderbergh, Anzac Day is very possibly his favourite day of the year. For the past 16 years the 43-year-old, dad of two, has undertaken the role of ring keeper at the Harbord Diggers.
“I’m a family man with a normal Aussie job and one day a year I put on the two-up shirt,” he says proudly.
History declares two-up a coin toss game that was favoured by Australian soldiers in the trenches during World War 1 and on Anzac Day each year the Harbord Diggers puts on the biggest two-up game in the Southern Hemisphere. But for Matty ‘V’ this special anniversary is about so much more than just a game.
“Everyone understands what was sacrificed in the war and for me it’s a great honour to be involved,” he says. “But it’s not about me and it’s not about the game – it’s about the men and everything they fought for.”
“I see Anzac Day in two distinct parts,” he continues. “The morning is all about reflection
– it is somber and a time to pay your respects. The afternoon is a time to be enjoyed. It’s about the celebration of life and a time for Aussies to be Aussies.”
While some are concerned the importance of Anzac Day is being lost to excessive drinking and yobbish behaviour, Matt has a different perspective, thanks to an encounter he once had
with a Digger.
“To me the Anzac spirit is about mateship,” he says matter-of-factly. “When I was 19 I went down at Pittwater RSL on Anzac Day and I was just a young bloke, having a few beers with my mates and playing two-up. I was being loud and raucous and a bit of a larrikin. Anyway I went to the bar and an old Digger sat next to me. He looked at me all teary and I said, ‘Hello mate, have you had a good day?’ And he said, ‘Let me buy you a beer.’ I said, ‘Mate, there is no way on earth you’re buying me a beer. This is your day – I’ll buy you a beer.’ He said, ‘No, I’m buying you a beer. And
I said, ‘Why?’ He goes, ‘You’re the reason me and my mates fought, so you can be a larrikin today and I’m really pleased that you’re here, being a larrikin. You’re doing exactly what me and my mates fought for.’”
“Later in life, when I became part of the two-up movement, I always tried to keep that as the essence of the day – the fun, the mateship and idea of being an Aussie larrikin. That Digger is the reason I play two-up the way I do.”
For most of us Anzac Day is an emotional one. A day to remember, commemorate and celebrate the soldiers who courageously fought for our country and died for our freedom. While none of Matts family went to war he does have his own memories to talk about.
“My grandpa was a mad gambler and I grew up hearing stories of him playing two-up illegally in Bondi,” he grins.
“He used to take my dad along with him, so my grandma didn’t suspect he was gambling. One year grandpa took dad inside and he sat in the corner.”
Back in those days a bloke, nicknamed the ‘cockatoo’, would sit on the roof and yell to alert others if the cops were coming.
“On this particular day,” continues Matt, “The cockatoo yelled ‘cops’ and my grandpa ran
out the back door. Dad followed him, over fences and through bushes, until he stopped and said, ‘You got me!’ That’s when he realised he was being chased by his son and not the cops.”
Matt officially earned his two-up stripes while working as a croupier at Sydney Harbour Casino, now Star City. But it was after a stint travelling overseas that he found himself working
at the Diggers.
“I was waiting for my casino license to be reapplied when I got a part-time job at the Diggers,” he recalls. “It was great because I had a lot of fond memories of the place – my dad used to play squash there, when it was a men’s only club. Mum couldn’t go so he would take me along. The place has always felt like home. When I got my license I went back to the Casino, but I only lasted a week before I quit and went back to the Diggers.”
After working his way up to gaming and the poker machines Matt found himself involved in the club’s biggest day of the year.
“I used to help when the guy who ran two-up needed a break. Soon enough I was running
it and here I am still doing it 16 years later.”
Like the rest of the day, two-up has a whole host of rules, regulations and traditions which Matt loves. “There was a member at the Diggers, Steve Moxham, who had about 12 pennies. Every year he would polish his pennies and present them to me before the game,” he says. “When he died his son Shane turned up with the polished pennies. He said, ‘Dad was so proud of polishing them I had to keep doing it.’ It’s a great tradition and he polishes them for me every year now.”
Outside of Broken Hill, there are only two other days each year that two-up can be played legally in NSW. They are Victory in the Pacific Day and Remembrance Day. If you get to the Diggers on ANZAC Day you’ll notice they do things a little differently.
“Part of my job is to keep the game moving and fire the crowd up. We sing a lot of songs and make a lot of jokes – I have plenty of one-liners to keep the atmosphere electric. We use three pennies instead of two and we run a fast game,” says Matt proudly. “I like finishing at sunset. When the sun goes down it’s time to settle and reflect again.”
ANZAC DAY AT THE DIGGERS
If you’re looking for somewhere special to spend Anzac Day
make your way down to the Harbord Diggers:
- 7.30am - Parade forms at the Eastern Car Park Flag Pole for the march to the Cenotaph.
- 8am - ANZAC Day Commemoration and Wreath Laying Service
- 9am - Service concludes and members and guests are invited back to the Club for breakfast. Please bring your gold coin donation for Legacy.
- 12pm - The biggest two-up in Australia commences. The game finishes around 6pm.