A visit to the Australian Pinball Museum in Nhill

Each pinball machine has its own story and theme – there are missions for you to complete and different rewards or challenges depending on what the underlying game is. Take Apollo 13, for example – the only pinball machine in the world with a 13-ball multiball. This means that when you complete a very specific mission – spell the word blastoff – the machine suddenly erupts in a mind-blowing cascade of noise and silver bullets. It’s a unique, chaotic delight.

Carter finds it difficult to single out specific pinball machines as each one is unique. A new addition, however, is Nip It, the same game played by The Fonz on the TV show Happy Days.

Lyndon Carter with pinball including darts and nip it.

Lyndon Carter with pinball including darts and nip it.Credit: Justin McManus

Another machine he’d like to showcase is Darts, which was made in 1960 and marked a turning point in pinball aesthetics.

“They saw that as the future of pinball,” Carter explains. It was the first machine made of metal – before that they were made of wood. Darts also reflect the era in which they were made, with fins like a Cadillac and cylindrical legs like a 1960s kitchen table. There have been hits and misses as a predictor of the future of pinball. The shape stayed the same (mostly), as did the metal, but “unfortunately the ribs didn’t come off,” says Carter, before pointing out another feature that’s been lost over time — a drink and cigarette holder.

The value of a single machine is difficult to quantify. Carter says that newly released pinball machines generally cost between $12,000 and $20,000. However, when it comes to tracking down older machines, competition between collectors can be fierce.

“Many of the old ones can do even more than a brand new one,” he says. The most he’s heard is $200,000 (US$299,000), although that was for a custom machine of which only two were ever made. More recently, clothing brand Supreme commissioned a limited edition pinball machine. “On the used market, they average between $50,000 and $80,000.”

AC/DC Pinball is credited with reviving pinball in Australia.

AC/DC Pinball is credited with reviving pinball in Australia.Credit: Justin McManus

While most pinball machines are US-made, the museum – and Carter’s larger collection – also features some Australian-made machines, including The Empire Strikes Back, a war of stars-Pinball made in Newcastle in the 80’s. Carter estimates that only about 350 were ever made, and now only two of those are public and available to play. One is in Pittsburgh and the other is here ahead of us.

Hankin, the company that made The Empire Strikes Back, was short lived, but recently a new Australian pinball manufacturer – Haggis Pinball – has taken off in Keysborough. Carter goes to a beautifully lit blue slot machine – this is Fathom, one of Haggis’ games. Fathom was developed by the American company Bally in 1981, but Haggis bought the rights and reworked it with a modern twist, adding new game elements, colors and lighting. Here’s the detail you’ll probably miss if it’s not pointed out to you – you can play Fathom the new way or switch back to “Classic Mode” with the push of a button – the original game. “It’s like a history lesson in a machine.”

Pinball has a small but dedicated community in Australia – on the world stage we currently only have one player in the top 100, but that doesn’t mean the players here are any less passionate. The love of pinball isn’t just about competition. The Australian Pinball Museum has a steady flow of visitors – locals come in often and there are international players who come in monthly, stay at the motel and spend a whole weekend.

On the last Saturday of every month, the museum hosts a tournament that allows players to contribute to their world rankings – but Carter emphasizes that the emphasis is on fun and relaxation rather than intense and serious.

The Australian Pinball Museum is located at the Nhill Oasis Motel.

The Australian Pinball Museum is located at the Nhill Oasis Motel. Credit: Justin McManus

This ethos is reflected in the way the museum keeps track of high scores – they reset at the start of each year. That means two things – if you’re a strong player and you want to defend your title, you have to come back and do it again. Or if you just want to get through a round without the balls instantly disappearing, all you have to do is show up when they reset and temporarily enjoy being the best player from a pool of one.

Carter’s advice on improving as a player is suspiciously simple. You start by trying not to lose the balls and being happy just to hit them. From there, aim to hit whatever flashes, because that’s probably where the dots are. Once you’ve got that down, it’s time to get down to the nitty gritty – learning the missions and completing them in a systematic way.

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It’s only after a night at the motel that it becomes clear that the building is set up to look like a pinball machine, complete with pinball machines. Over breakfast, Carter explains why pinball is so enduring and popular in a sea of ​​arcade games.

He doesn’t hesitate. “It’s a whole world under glass.”

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Jaclyn Diaz

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