The stage is set: perennial Adelaide Roller Derby favourites The Salty Dolls stand ready for what their old rivals, The Mile Die Club, have to dish out on the track.
The Dolls are a formidable rag-tag team of badass women decked out in vintage nautical attire complete with neckerchief and Popeye hats. They’re ready to add broken bones and glory-bound bruises to the look (known affectionately as ‘boutfits’) in the pursuit of victory. The Mile Die Club appear on the track, complete with cardboard Titanic and icebergs, a not-so subtle dig at the Dolls. “The boat was full of people who transferred out of our team to theirs over the years, wearing their old Salty Dolls boutfits with Dies underneath,” Salty Dolls team member Katrina ‘Psycho Fox’ Finlayson says. “They hit the icebergs, ripped off the Salties’ tops and stomped on the Titanic.”
This is roller derby. A fast-paced contact sport played on old-school roller skates, where teams battle to score laps against each other on an oval track.
Despite appearances, fierce rivalries sit aside mutual admiration and a unique comradery between of some of the strongest women you’ll find. Katrina was first introduced to the niche world of roller derby through her partner’s brother, who dragged her to watch her first bout around the time of the sport’s arrival in Adelaide in 2007. Katrina hasn’t looked back since, even after countless injuries and setbacks. “At first, I didn’t know what [roller derby] was, and the poster had a whole row of legs in socks and roller skates so I just thought everybody would stand behind a line and race from one end to the other. Then I went along and there were these girls in 1950s hairstyles on the door, a DJ playing, and this really amazing game with women on skates just being absolutely outrageous on track.”
“Showmanship, girl-on-girl brutality, injury, and team-spirited puns are accepted as par for the course.”
This year, roller derby celebrates a decade of clashes in Adelaide. The Salty Dolls was one of the founding teams of this community of empowered women on old-school skates. Think Xanadu with less cliché and tonnes more attitude. The league boasts more than 120 members in Adelaide alone, with teams popping up across the nation as the sport’s popularity continues to skyrocket, culminating in The Great Southern Slam (TGSS) each year. The TGSS was once the largest roller derby tournament in the world, and still holds the title for biggest in the Southern Hemisphere, with friends from New Zealand joining in on the action.
Showmanship, girl-on-girl brutality, injury, and team-spirited puns are accepted as par for the course. “We had an injury in the last game and a first-aid break mid-game so we danced and sang like Alaskan fisherman. That was pretty magical. We had so much fun that we stayed calm and brought stormy seas on track and won by a decisive margin of over 100 points.”
For Katrina, the game is about more than a clan of fierce women resplendent in retro garb. It provides a much-needed escape from the pressure of running her own business. “When you’re on track with people hitting you from all sides and there’s that much adrenaline you can’t afford to think about anything else, which is really pleasant.”
Thinking is something Katrina has become well-accustomed to when she resumes life outside of the rink. Having just completed her PhD in creative writing while tackling the daily obstacles that accompany running a self-sufficient business. Katrina and her partner established their business fifteen years ago. It focuses on developing customised timesheet software for corporations, and was recently awarded a contract to supply facets of the South Australian government with their newly-developed timesheet product, Timewise.
Despite the product’s success, anyone working for themselves can attest to the challenges of maintaining a flourishing business, and Katrina is no exception. “One of the things I’ve learned is that it’s a real rollercoaster. It can feel like flying a plane that’s crashing and you’re madly trying to just hold on to the controls and hope that it goes up again before it hits the ground, and that’s always a bit terrifying.” Katrina values the the independence and flexibility that working for herself allows. Her advice to those considering joining in on the roller derby action is similar to the sage words she has for those starting out in the daunting world of small business in Adelaide: give it a red-hot go. “Find a mentor, and be open to any and all advice before deciding which parts to actually listen to and take on. And always do what you love”.
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