Pinball champion Paul Jones finds paradise by the backbox light

Flipper hero: Australian pinball champion Paul Jones says the game is '70 per cent skill, 30 per cent luck'. Picture: Adam McLean
Flipper hero: Australian pinball champion Paul Jones says the game is '70 per cent skill, 30 per cent luck'. Picture: Adam McLean

Paul Jones remembers the first machine that got him hooked on pinball – a classic 1978 solid state number with chimes called Memory Lane, which he played at the milk bar off Gladstone Ave in Wollongong.

Jones is the reigning Australian pinball champion. And Memory Lane is among his impressive collection of 16 machines in his Wollongong home’s extraordinary man cave. 

Memory Lane sits alongside more sophisticated and modern machines including Twilight Zone, Star Trek, KISS and AC/DC, with each one offering a different kind of game play, rules and special features.

In case you’re wondering, there is nothing funny about a 47-year old father who loves his pinball. And watching Jones play is a study in precision, hawkish vision and skill.

He’s constantly bumping and tilting the machine to influence the fall of the ball, never hard enough to get called foul. And to see him “in the zone” – flippers blazing as he triggers a multiball feature and sends the machine into a frenzy of flashing lights and sound effects – is to witness an expert practitioner in full flight.  

Paul Jones in action on KISS

Paul Jones in action on KISS

For those unaware there is an Australian pinball championship – let alone that Wollongong has the winner – it might be a surprise to learn there are more than 2000 competitive players in this country. Still minnows compared with the 19,000 in the USA, Jones says, but growing. He recently competed in the world championships in Denmark.

It’s all good clean fun. And Jones, who works on tug boats at Port Kembla, has now passed the joy of pinball on to his children, helping an old pastime win over a new generation.

  • BEN LANGFORD