Interstate Ripper Sees Coast Gnash Valley in Carrara (Horror Wedding Puts Social Tennis Beyond Man’s Capacities)

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Gold Coast Roller Derby v Tweed Valley Rollers; ‘Bout of the Living Dead’; Carrara Indoor Stadium;  21/9/2013

“…the effect is more dramatic than a stumbling, semi-conscious boxer…[this] must be one of the loneliest scenarios in global sport, period.”

Report  by Nicholas Turner

It is dusk. We pull up beside the massive and newish Metricon Stadium, home of the Gold Coast Suns AFL franchise. It’s a marvel of scale and cost, and on a quiet, gameless night in the off-season it looks so much like something hibernating that it might as well be snoring. I’m headed to the other side of the carpark and the much less impressive Carrara Indoor Stadium, which both inside and out is very much like a PCYC hall where one might have long ago been found in attendance of a blue-light disco, clammy-handed and nervously seated, obscuring a bulge of one kind or another. As I draw near, however, it looks like I’ve stumbled upon a temporary medical shelter, for all the open wounds and the prevalence of bandages enwrapping the folks in line. I stand behind a blood-soaked bridal party of four – the ‘happy’ couple and two flower girls. The groom’s forearm hangs loosely, apparently torn or perhaps chewed off at the elbow. There’s might have been the worst wedding of all time.

That a night at the Roller Derby should also be a dress-up party – tonight, zombie-themed – turns out to be almost self-fulfilling. This is essentially a night of fun; yes, it’s centred upon a complex and difficult sport, but the soul of the occasion is both definitively playful and playfully irreverent. A middle-aged live band play covers before the first whistle, there’s cake stalls and markets selling rockabilly clothes and nick-knacks at the end of the rink, the promotional posters are the thing of throwback C-Grade Hollywood, and the referee insists on dancing in breaks of play. And yes, every single person in the place, maybe four hundred bodies or so, has gone to some length to look undead. This includes all players, officials and the night’s MC. Everyone gets to perform tonight.

First a little on Roller Derby, the sport; it’s played on a basketball court-sized rink circuit. The girls wear those four-wheeled roller skates that predate blades. There’s ten on the rink, in a static huddle, at the beginning of play. At the back of the huddle are the two ‘Jammers’, one from each team. At the commencement of play, these two Jammers race through the pack, shepherded by their own team mates and obstructed by the opposition. Once a Jammer has broken through the pack, she takes off around the rink and attempts to pass the opposition players again. For each opposing player that a Jammer passes, she gets a point. The key tactical feature of the game is that the first Jammer to emerge from the original pack is the one that decides the duration of each play. She’s effectively the only person who can make a net gain on the scoreboard. It’s a question of how much.

Tonight’s best roller, with all the subtlety of a first-time viewer’s judgement, is Titty Gryffinwhore. (Titty’s name, for those caught by it, falls at the more explicit end of the titles these rollers give to themselves or else are given by the fraternity of fellow rollers. Taking in anything from the decidedly cute to the more violent and/or sexual, they function a little like the stage names of pro-wrestlers or else burlesque dancers. Other examples include; Thunderbolt, Pugnacious, Vagn8r, Polly Peckyrizyzout, Sammy Cyanide, and Spankenstein.) Titty’s tall and broad-shouldered and she’s got the taut, considerable hamstrings that all the star rollers seem to have. She’s a near-certain scorer from the Jammer role and a real bitch to get past when she’s blocking. Apart from her speed around the rink, Titty’s signature move is what might well be called the ‘Tipping Corpse’.  At the whistle, Titty skates as fast as she can into the backs of the opposing players and just leans on them, arms by her side, until they either fall over or slip out of her path. Any kind of grabbing or elbowing is penalised in Roller Derby, and it’s evidently so tempting that the Sin Bin is busy all night. Titty always gets through because she’s better balanced than the rest of them and she’s got an innate sense of how defenders will fall around her and how to compensate for it.

With the contact rules that forbid grabbing, elbowing and shoulder-dropping, Roller Derby has much the same collision dynamics as Aussie Rules and maybe Ice Hockey. Hip and shoulder is your most effective imposition. A good bump will send a roller flying toward the stands. Keep in mind that, unlike your average AFL player (90ish kilograms, and anchored in the turf by studded boots) these girls are on three inch-high roller skates and zipping around a rink quick enough that only considerable centripetal leaning is keeping them from flying out without contact.

It’s a good derby tonight. While the Gold Coast are clear winners, Tweed show some flashes of skill that are potentially devastating. In a couple of lean rollers named Zo D’Praved and No Heels, they have the speed and agility to score quickly if the blockers manage to put the opposing Jammer to the boards. But Gold Coast are the better team, especially as a team. Big, fast, intimidating Jammers like Titty Gryffinwhore and Vagn8r are clearly an asset and most points are scored by them. But it’s the wolf-pack mentality of the Gold Coast blockers that really puts the squeeze on the Tweed girls.

A single Jammer can pretty much always get past a single blocker. Speed and forward-direction are on their side. But three or four staggered, organised bodies is a different story. Good blockers hunt. And when the Gold Coast blockers get a thirst for blood, they’re both ordered and relentless. On multiple occasions tonight they shut a Tweed girl down utterly and the effect is terrific drama. For two whole minutes, the poor, isolated Jammer, gradually demoralised and sapped of raw energy, must continue with increasing improbability to get up off the floor and pass the awaiting blockers. Meanwhile, every moment she fails, the opposing team is racking up points in a virtual bonus round. Though similar to the eye, the effect is more dramatic than a stumbling, semi-conscious boxer because a whole team suffers this poor woman’s failure. In the end, she looks something like a possum that has fallen out of a tree in the middle of the afternoon and which, broken-boned and groggy, tries to crawl out of the path of swooping magpies that won’t let it so much as get to it’s feet. A beaten Jammer must be one of the loneliest scenarios in global sport, period.

After an hour of play with a fifteen minute interval, we spectators are invited ringside for the laps of honour. The reek of body odour is positively fierce. I’m standing opposite the woman that won best-dressed zombie tonight for having her real life baby appear to be tearing its way out of her tummy. It’s clever as hell. We all get to give the rollers five on their way past. They’re all red-faced and buzzing and they try to look you in the eyes. The scoreboard the referees have been using turns out to be a ladder converted into a kind of easel and the thing I’ve been trying to read on an official’s Speedos since the first whistle turns out to be; ‘Don’t make me finger you to the box’. There’s been an undeniable level of innuendo and naughtiness tonight but the fact that there’s heaps of parents with kids of hand-holding age around tells me it’s taken as playfully as it’s meant. Or else, it’s distinctly unthreatening.

Insofar as the focus of the night has been squarely on the enthusiastic people who’ve spent $15 getting inside – making sure they have a good time, among themselves as well as with regards the main event – this has been a fantastically modest kind of competition, stripped of the overblown heroism of so many modern sports as well as the ridiculous emotional calculus that goes along with it. Hell, these girls don’t even play under their own names. They seem to have achieved that very difficult balance of genuine competition and heartfelt performance. And at the end of the game all they seemed to want to do is thank each other and the spectators for coming along.

By comparison, it’s not uncommon to walk out of a grandiose stadium in which men play for big money, the like of which towers infinitely over this one from across the carpark, and feel kind of guilty about the fact that the guys in your colours couldn’t overcome themselves to play a decent game. You’re somehow convinced to feel bad because they were bad, the misguided logical flip-side to the good feeling that goes with a win. As if it were necessary to suffer if you really care about the game. The point to be made here is that I can safely say that this would never, ever happen after a night at the Roller Derby. No-one walks away carrying the weight of disappointment. Because, even if they get beat good and proper, as happens to the Tweed team tonight, the Roller Derby girls won’t ask you to take their shit home with you.

Match Day Burger Score: 4.0

MDB Cost: $5.00

MDB Service Atmosphere: 5.0

Match Score: Gold Coast Roller Derby 197 def Tweed Valley Rollers 117

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