Wagga’s Riverina Rollers are in something of a rebuilding phase after the COVID shutdowns decimated their squad.
A small but dedicated group of skaters meets each week in Wagga’s Bolton Park Stadium to keep roller derby alive in the Riverina.
“It was really tough because so many squads just lost momentum,” explained veteran skater Holly Wright (aka Holy Roller).
“Because it is an indoor sport, we had to shut down and we are finding that we get new people in dribs and drabs, but retention is tough.”
Roller derby has always been a niche sport, but Holly said there was a vibrant global community that she loved being a part of.
“Australia actually has the number 2-ranked team in the world,” she said.
“When you go to tournaments and host bouts and go to other cities or towns, you are automatically part of a community that is worldwide and just so inclusive.”
Inclusivity is a big part of the sport, as local roller Erin (aka Sheila Tackya) explained.
“I’d been watching roller derby start up in Wagga and I had been interested in giving it a go,” she said.
“It was kind of empowering being a contact sport for women, and so I think I was in my early 30s when I finally found my sport.”
Holly agreed that the rough-and-tumble aspect of the sport was a big draw.
“I love how rough it is. I love the physicality and the bruises and all that sort of stuff,” she said with a laugh.
“I think because it is such a physical sport and your in each other’s faces, you really have to trust each other.
“We push each other, pull each other and you hang on to each other in the games and in the training, so you really get close.”
Initially a women’s sport, roller derby now welcomes mixed and men’s teams and Bennett (aka InLine of the Tiger) got his start as a referee.
“A lot of my friends got involved in Canberra and I got inspired to strap on some inline skates again,” he said, adding that new skaters quickly found their feet.
“Just seeing some of the skaters come through with no skating experience and seeing them progressing and getting involved is beautiful.
“It’s nice to see these people from all different backgrounds and different sexuality and gender identities being accepted into the group and showing off their skills.”
With a decade of reffing under his belt, Bennett summed up the rules.
“Basically, you’ve got two teams on the track. Each team has five skaters, which includes four ‘blockers’ and then one ‘jammer’, whose job is to get through the opposition’s blockers,” he said.
“Every time the jammer overtakes an opposition team member, they score a point.
“It’s a bit like a velodrome cycle race with full contact.”
As well as celebrating diversity and physicality, derby’s culture of feisty nicknames and customised kit allows players to create a new persona.
“It’s almost like you have a second identity that you take out onto the track,” Erin explained.
“I’ve seen some really shy people be very, very different on the track as they really come out of themselves and inhabit their derby name.
“For me, when my life was in upheaval, I really needed that outlet and roller derby and making a new group of friends, and finding that community really helped me to find the personality that I have now.”
Looking to the future, Holly is hopeful that they can rebuild the local league and said everyone was welcome – with no experience necessary.
“It’s such a fun sport and an amazing, inclusive community of people,” she said.
“We have people from all backgrounds and body types that come to derby and find a safe place where they’re valued.”