Teams of fierce roller-skaters are tearing around an oval track, trying to knock each other down. To the uninitiated watching from the sidelines, it looks like pure chaos. 

It’s called Roller Derby and its popularity is growing in Australia. But it isn’t your typical weekend sport.

Each match, or bout, is a huge production run entirely by volunteers from clubs across the country. There’s music pumping, crowds cheering, and kids dressed up as their favourite players. “The vibe is electric,” says Central Coast Valkyries derby player Sally Fitzalan.

Two all-female teams of five play a sixty-minute bout divided into two-minute jams. The Jammers, one on each team, have to fight their way through the pack of Blockers to score points, while the rest of their team defend.

Roller Derby began in the USA in the late 1930s. The sport was incredibly popular throughout the 1950s, often selling out play-offs at Madison Square Garden in New York, but attendance dropped off in the 1960s.

Forty years later, a Roller Derby revival began in Austin, Texas, and spread around the world. Today there are 126 leagues in Australia alone.

Each player adopts their own unique style and attitude, with typical Roller Derby ‘boutfits’ featuring a distinctive retro style that recalls the sport’s 1950s heyday.

Another unique feature of the sport is each player’s game pseudonym. “Choosing a name is a big deal in the Derby world,” says Sally, who plays as Teeny Flirtini.

Players wear safety gear and can get sent off for dangerous play, but like any contact sport there are risks.

“I’ve seen skaters break collarbones, pinky fingers and ankles,” says Coffs Coast Derby Dolls founding member Kira Campbell, who plays under the name Rika Havok.

Despite the theatrical names and costumes, Kira says it’s a serious sport.

“The greatest skaters in this sport are ones who train four to five nights per week and train off-skates when they can,” she said.

“There are bouts where are you repeatedly hit down, but you have to keep going, no matter what.” 

An enduring attraction of Roller Derby is mastering a range of new skills when on the skates, Kira says.

“My confidence in my personal life has grown immensely, and it’s solely because of this sport and its people.”

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