Vera* was Serbian originally. She is 67, and a widow now.
At 7.30am on Saturday, Vera was at Rookwood Cemetery, staring at the grave of her husband, Ratko, who died 21 years ago. By 8.45am, she was at the Coffee Club, at Mount Pritchard's Mounties, having eggs on toast with an old girlfriend. By 10am, she was perched on a stool in front of the pokies, bathed in the cathode glow of Witches Riches, a machine that has already taken upwards of $100 from her - or 25 per cent of her weekly pension.
''No luck here,'' she says disgustedly. ''This machine no give me nothing.''
And so she hops up and sits at White Wizard, the machine right next to her. Maybe there her luck will change.
With its low roof and darkness, the pokies room at Mount Pritchard's Mounties is a black hole in the gaming galaxy of Sydney's south west, a maze of about 560 machines sucking up millions of dollars a year from some of the city's poorest people. Another woman I speak to has lost $250. ''This machine is shit!'' she says. ''Shit!'' There is an 83- year-old man who has put in $90 so far.
Out in the smoking area, I find a young woman who is $80 down and tells me to stop asking questions - she wants to gamble in peace.
''The 'slap' [pokies] is part of the culture out here,'' says Maria Kamberidis, who is having lunch with her family and elderly father at Cabra-Vale Diggers, another pokies hot spot. ''There's really not a lot else to do.''
With cheap meals and abundant parking, clubs such as Cabra-Vale Diggers attract families - but it is hard to avoid the gaming rooms.
''Kids see the machines, they hear them,'' a Fairfield City Council spokeswoman says.
''They are becoming acculturated into thinking they are normal.''
* Not her real name.