The star of Clubs Australia’s “its un-Australian” campaign is a staunch opponent of gambling who once decried “Lotto Jockeys lodging their mortgage busting dreams” and blasted the horror of unemployed punters mindlessly feeding their dole cheques into poker machines.

Geoff Forrester, aka former Triple J performance poet Tug Dumbly, appears as “Mike” in online and TV ads plugging the Clubs’ campaign, dubbed the worst television advertisement in Australian history. In the ad, two regular blokes complain that Tasmanian independent MP Andrew Wilkie’s pre-commitment technology is “un-Australian”.

Mike likes nothing more than “a quiet beer and a quick flutter down the pokies to unwind” with his mate Bruce and expresses his supreme displeasure at “pollies watching what I bet on, like I’m some sort of criminal”.

“A licence to have a punt, it’s un-Australian,” he concludes.

But it seems Mike’s real life alter-ego is more concerned about the carnage gambling can wreak across the country. In a 2008 guest column for The Sydney Morning Herald‘s Heckler section, Forrester/Dumbly launches a broadside against the “Lotto jockeys snaking to the counter in front of you to lodge their mortgage-busting dreams, the Powerball, Pools and Motza Megapick numbers”.

“Why doesn’t the government create a chain of Centrelink Bar and Pokies, one-stop shops in which folks enjoy a couple of coldies and have their benefits direct debited into their favourite pokie, while relaxing to some soothing muzak? Andre Rieu should fit the bill nicely,” he muses dryly.

And the shape shifting doesn’t end there. On an episode of ABC Radio National’s 360Documentaries series, The Deal, which aired four weeks ago, Forrester crops up playing a problem gambler on his last legs. He describes in raw detail the pathology of the pokies which suck $5 billion a year out of the wallets of Australian workers.

Sipping a beer, Forrester movingly recounts the sinking feeling when in “your black piteous, bilious heart you know you’re not coming back”:

“I went in there and gave it my best shot, so there was a Queen of the Nile, I latched on to it and attacked it … fed the $50 in, sat there with my pint. And sure enough I fed it for awhile, we got down to the $30s which was, you know, getting dangerous before the first triple pyramid bonus pay came up…we rocketed away, so I was up to about, over $100 actually, so I doubled my money, doubled it.”

But soon the familiar sugar rush starts to peter away:

“This time, alas, there was no coming back. Queen of the Nile just took me down, down through the depths of despair down through the $50s, the $40s, the $30, into the $20s, to that point where you know your gut, your black piteous, bilious heart that you’re not coming back. You know it.”

Even when you’re at your lowest ebb, the machines always have the last laugh:

“There’s still some grain of gambler’s hope that clings on as a naive futile hopeless belief, that maybe, despite what the machine’s doing, despite the trend you can see despite … you know because you believe in fortune. God’s the odds. Even if you don’t you do. Despite what the hand is you’re being dealt you believe maybe some freak tsunami of luck will wash in and give you some stupendous freak hand.

“Alas for me on this occasion the wave just didn’t wash up and I was stranded on the shores of zero.”

Dumbly is a regular speaker at progressive events and in 2010 was crowned the winner of Nimbin World Performance Poetry Cup. He’s hosted fundraisers for the NSW Greens — vociferous critics of the Clubs lobby — and last year popped up at an ANZAC Day memorial peace concert alongside Builders and Labourers legend Jack Mundey.

Once described as “Australia’s best-known performance poet”, Dumbly presented a weekly poetry segment on Triple J, releasing two albums — Junk Culture Lullabies and Idiom Savant — 10 years ago. He has twice won the Banjo Paterson Prize for comic verse.

The conflict has already become a cause celebre on the Sydney Poetry website, with user Justin Lowe asking whether Tug could be the “first Australian poet to bring down a government”. Twitter users, including former ABC colleague Steve Cannane, have also been quick to draw the link.

Forrester’s manager Daniel Lucas told Crikey this morning his charge “probably wouldn’t want to comment” on his participation in the John Singleton-penned campaign. An email requesting further comment went unreturned. However, an associate of Forrester’s said that “Tug is a struggling artisit who’s sold his soul to the devil”.

The Forrester controversy will increase pressure on Clubs and co-lobbyists the Australian Hotels Association, who have been accused of running a ham-fisted salvo to strike down Wilkie and Gillard’s reforms.

Yesterday on former NSW premier Bob Carr’s blog, two mysterious commenters called “Scott Neylon” and “Austin Yule” objected in quick succession to a post suggesting club managers drew salary bonuses from increased pokie losses at their venues.

“Shame on you Bob. Havent [sic] you done enough to clubs during your reign in NSW? Taxing clubs and giving the money to NSW Health was your promise…gee that worked out well didnt [sic] it!,” wrote Neylon. “I know the manager of my local bowling club he makes $65k a year. About one-twentieth of what you make Bob,” added Yule.

But Carr was quickly on the case, noting that “when comments purporting to be from two different people arrive within one minute of each other, share an IP address and are both sourced from, I think I’m entitled some faint suspicion.”

A spokesman for Clubs NSW declined to comment, saying his focus was on deflecting Wilkie’s claims that the poker machine lobby had launched a smear campaign against him yesterday by urging News Limited tabloids to dredge up his military history at Duntroon in the early 1980s.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey