Published in Hit & Miss Magazine Spring 2013
Changing derby leagues isn't always as simple as dropping a Facebook message to your new team, rocking up with your skates and slotting into your accustomed position on the track. An expatriated player herself, Cat Cholera interviews two globe-trotting former Perth Roller Derby players, Dame Edna Haemorrhage and Lorrae Evans, exploring the ins and outs of changing countries, languages and cultures to play roller derby around the world.
When Edna moved from Perth to her husband's hometown of Brussels, Belgium she found herself thrown into the middle of setting up a new league in French, her second language, with girls who had little direct experience with Roller Derby, and were operating from a rule book written in a foreign language. The Brussels Derby Pixies were only a few months old when Edna arrived, and she found herself managing the roles of coach, Inter-league Committee and unofficial rules-translator, all the while trying to find her feet in her new homeland and finish her PhD in Photography. "I guess I had an idea in my head that all of Europe would be way more advanced than [Australia]... but in actual fact the league I'd moved to didn't have any committee or organisational structure, training space, trainers, or real understanding of the WFTDA rules".
After a few months of coaching and helping the Pixies get on their feet, Edna dropped back into a guest-coaching position, and was lured over the Flemish/French language border to play with Go Go Gent, a WFTDA accredited league. Longer established, the Gent GO-GO Rollergirls enabled her to literally get back on track and reinforce the strong jammer skills she'd been cultivating before leaving home.
Follow former Perth Roller Derby player Lorrae Evans, previously 'Lady Lah Lah', has also wound up in a top-ranked WFTDA league, recently joining the London Rollergirls.
Like Edna, Lorrae's trajectory was far from straightforward. After leaving Perth in January 2012, she played on the Helsinki Roller Girls A Team 'The Ninja Turtles' for nine months, quickly making her mark on the league as Captain, coach and key player. Living and playing in Finland was a defining experience, not least because of the party-animals she found herself rolling with “Helsinki is so amazing with green and yellow uniforms. They wear party vests and crazy leggings and just have the coolest style ever” she says of her former team “They look so amazing and colourful”.
Leaving her friends behind and moving to London took some adjustment, and Lorrae admits the hardest thing was feeling like she wasn't playing at her best “It takes a while to understand other players and know and expect what they are going to do on the track. Also you're nervous because you want to show the coaches that you are a good player”.
While both girls agree it was very easy to make friends and form a community, culture shock and language barriers did provide some obstacles
Edna says the Brussels Pixies "will say exactly what they think whenever they think it... then just 40 minutes away in Gent, the Flemish are really humble and can be quite shy". Being slightly on the outside of the language barrier can be useful sometimes when it comes to sticky league politics, but Edna is enjoying learning her third language, Flemmish, as she rolls which has some great advantages because “in general not many other countries speak it so it's like a private track language".
Lorrae admits it was hard to play in a foreign language in the beginning, but was proud to be able to speak Finnish on the track for her final bouts as Captain in Helsinki, crediting the kindness of her league and a team-mate who made her a derby phrase-book full of Finnish lingo, for helping her learn.
Moving leagues doesn't have to be all about cultural assimilation, and sometimes being a little foreign goes a long way. Knowing she would miss a game against the northern French team Metz last year, Edna asked her Mum to send over something from Australia to replace her. 'Kevin', a large blow-up kangaroo quickly became the indispensable team mascot, and the newly-formed men's league have even named themselves after him.
Both girls agree that each league offers something different, with Lorrae adding “I had the opportunities to travel a lot with Helsinki... and with LRG I'm just soaking up all the goodness like a sponge. I can't believe I get coached by Stefanie Mainey and Kamikaze Kitten every week. Every training feels like a boot camp.”
Travel opportunities must certainly be the icing on the cake for any international-level derby girl, and between them, Lorrae and Edna have accumulated an impressive list of passport stamps, playing at a level that most Australians can only dream of.
At the Track Queens: Battle Royal tournament in Berlin in November 2012, late contenders Gent wowed the crowd, almost beating home league and European-ladder second-ranked Berlin Bombshells. "Our league only got in because another one had pulled out, but we finished 6th” says Edna. And in the small world of roller derby, friends are never very far away "I ended up playing against two old Perth team mates [Lorrae and Megan Gale Force] in our match against Helsinki". Lorrae points to playing at Track Queens with Helsinki and finishing 5th on the ladder as one of her proudest moments “We worked so hard to improve in the year and it paid off!”.
While Edna is modest about her abilities on the track, her achievements speak for themselves. Being International Team Belgium representative, head of the inter-league committee for Go-Go Gent, and key lineup jammer, she has some impressive notches in her belt, considering that she has played with three leagues in three different languages in the last two years.
Over the channel, Lorrae recently became a Team Captain yet again, this time of the London B Team 'Brawl Saints'. But she is by no means ready to stop “now I'm just trying to get on [A Team; London] Brawling, the ultimate challenge!”. Playing around the globe has definitely improved Lorrae's game “my skills are so much better, I am more confident, I can control the pack and am smarter on the track. I understand the game more and have a more strategic mind” and she says moving to Europe helped her to take derby more seriously, joking that she thought to herself at the time “I should buy a sports bra”.
As for what she brings to her league, Edna says she simply hopes to contribute qualities that were promoted at Perth Roller Derby such as "good sportsmanship, a positive attitude, a spirit of determination and a good work ethic". Lorrae adds that “bringing people together and team-work can achieve anything”.
As the advice 'be from Perth' isn't really solid enough to offer aspiring players who dream of global derby domination, one must consider the other shared attributes of these two star players and conclude that an adventurous spirit, hard work and being able to go way out of ones comfort zone are what's required to join the international roster. So, nothing more than the basic characteristics of every derby player right?