“I like hitting people. It’s really nice.” Georgina Chadderton is a tiny motormouth, who spends weekdays smashing out comics and weeknights smashing skaters off the roller-derby rink.
We’re at The Great Southern Slam (TGSS), breathing in Adelaide Showgrounds air, which reeks of a grease fire. Chadderton (aka Girl Rex Door) has gold glitter on her cheeks from her morning game – a Harry Potter–themed costume bout. Later on, she’ll have a Ziggy Stardust lightning bolt down her face for another casual match.
“I’ve always liked team sport,” says Chadderton, “and I like team sport with lots of ladies. It’s nice to have all these women around you. Other things I do don’t have that: percussion, mostly guys; comics, mostly guys. It’s fun putting on the skates and learning tricks … and I also really do just like hitting stuff."
Roller derby has a well-deserved, if slightly exaggerated, reputation for violence. Drew Barrymore’s 2009 flick Whip It presented this brutal, beautiful sport to a wide audience. The film featured banked-rink roller derby, where skaters go hell for leather on a velodrome-style sloped track. This is not what you’ll usually see.
“The banked game is serious. Dangerous,” says Chadderton. “You get up so much speed flying down those angles; it’s not for me. Flat track is less lethal, and cheaper.”
Chadderton has been involved with Adelaide Roller Derby for five years, first as a ref, then as a skater for the Salty Dolls, and now as a player for Mile Die Club. Hers is a familiar story: she accompanied a friend to a match and fell in love with the sport. As she was studying music at the time, she was “too afraid of breaking anything” to try out for a team, but when she set down her marimba mallets for the last time, it was game on.
When casual punters think of roller derby, flash costumes and killer alter-egos come to mind: glittery hotpants, faces painted as skulls, tattoos coiling sprinting limbs; names like “Ankle Grinder”, “Pinch Assault” and “Brutal Deluxe” sewn across the backs of homemade uniforms. This DIY feel is underpinned by a huge maker community working side-by-side with roller derby.
Helen Frank (aka GoGo Fiasco) started Hellcat, a roller-derby clothing line, to fulfil fellow rollers’ needs for decorative threads.
“I’d been playing for a couple of years and couldn’t find fun, comfortable clothes to wear, so I started making them myself,” says Frank. “Then it got out of hand.”
Frank sells Hellcat gear at derby bouts across Australia, and her online presence means her designs sprint around US tracks as well.
Even the crew embraces the DIY nature of the sport. Adelaide Roller Derby’s new physio has a trackside nickname (Quoc ’n’ Roll), and the referees jazz things up in the ring. Corey Pearson (aka Finger Prince) is a ref renowned for his theatrical costumes, though he has growing concerns that, as the sport becomes more professional, there will be less creative freedom.
Players mention this shift, too, and TGSS displays very little sartorial flair on track, except in the designated costume rounds.
“I see roller derby morphing into a world of strict rules,” says Pearson. “People are leaving in droves because it’s not as fun. It’s so strict down the line. To keep the fun element of roller derby, you have to express yourself.”
Self-expression is one of the major drawcards of roller derby, enticing many newbies to the junior league. Lil’ Adelaide Rollers accepts children – girls and boys – between the ages of eight and 17, and most of them come to roller derby due to dissatisfaction with other sports.
“Lots of kids come through who don’t know where they fit in,” says Mama B, president and head coach of Lil’ Adelaide Rollers. “We see a lot of kids who get bullied at school come to roller derby, and watching them come out of their shells is fantastic.”
Mama B strongly believes that the “family” cultivated at roller derby sets up her Lil’ Rollers to be “good humans”. “They’re an amazing group of kids; they’re very supportive and very respectful.”
This community is what keeps the players, refs and fans coming back match after match.
“The actual sport of roller derby is secondary for me,” says Pearson. “I just love hanging out with the crew.” Chadderton agrees: “Everyone’s lovely. Once you enter the community, it’ll support you. You definitely feel like you’ve got a family, instantly.”
While Frank’s alter ego, GoGo Fiasco, is officially retired, she remains close with her teammates, and her love of the sport only grows stronger. “It’s incredible to come out and see these women being really strong, passionate and empowered. I grabbed hold of it and will never let go.”
Adelaide Roller Derby 2016 season is in full swing. Upcoming battles will be held on June 26 (Angle Park, 12pm), July 9 (Adelaide Showground, 6pm) and July 23 (Adelaide Showground, 4pm), with the grand final on August 6 (Adelaide Showground, 4pm). Tickets are available through Oztix.