1 Name of Project:
Steel City/Skate City: Wollongong’s Love Affair with Roller Skates
2 Name of Project Coordinator:
Neena She’Moan, Wollongong Illawarra Roller Derby Project Coordinator
3 Project summary:
Steel City/Skate City will showcase the diversity and quality of the region’s rollerskating history and enliven the city by re-establishing its once strong skating community. This research project will culminate in a multi-disciplinary skating exhibition and the launch of the project’s website, an ongoing resource for the residents of Wollongong.
4 What is the purpose of your project?
Steel City/Skate City will reinvigorate the rollerskating culture which previously flourished in the region as well as helping to establish a network for those hoping to revive skating in all its forms. Rollerskating has suffered a gradual decline over the last two decades, with rinks closing and previously strong clubs disintegrating. The Illawarra had a particularly vigorous skating community, with rinks in almost every town (including Thirroul, Woonona, Towradgi, Wollongong, Dapto, Albion Park and Oak Flats), several national and international champions and successful teams of speed skaters who trained and competed on outdoor netball courts, car parks and roads. With a severe lack of infrastructure or training space impacting on every skating organisation in this region, there seemed to be little future for skating in the Illawarra. Recently, however, there has been a renewal of interest in these sports and a beam of hope for these lapsed communities.
Rollerskating in all its form is currently undergoing a revival in Australia. In consultation with many former and current skaters from the region, as well as governing bodies for skate sports, Skate NSW and Skate Australia, Wollongong Illawarra Roller Derby (WIRD) hopes to help revitalise our skating community. The Steel City/Skate City website will act as an online gathering point for clubs and disciplines, present Wollongong’s distinctive and exciting character and history to a global audience, and continue to be a valuable ongoing resource for the skaters of today and tomorrow. The demonstration of skating, hopefully to be held at Berkeley Netball Courts (a former skating venue with considerable meaning for many of the region’s skaters), will be a significant cultural event, attracting a diverse and exciting audience mix as well as providing a renewed access to these sports.
5 How did you identify a community need for, and/or consult with the community about this project?
While developing WIRD as a league we became aware of the Illawarra region’s former vibrant skating community, and came to realise there was a need for this community to be reinvigorated. We have been contacted by the children of roller derby players from the 1960s who played for Towradgi (who were wondering if we were planning a reunion) and competitive speed skaters from the 80s and 90s who remember speed skating comps at the Berkeley outdoor netball courts and wanted to know whether they could just skate with us. WIRD members appearing at events such as the Thirroul Seaside Festival and Wollongong Youth Week’s Big Machine Festival at Fairy Meadow Skate Park have been approached by numerous people wanting to know where we have been skating and asking if we know where they can get in touch with former skating friends and organisations. WIRD took this as both a consensus that skating should come back and a plea to help make this happen.
The online push for a revival of skating has been dramatic. When Skate NSW posted a request on their page asking for interviewees and skaters to participate in Steel City/Skate City they received five replies in one day, all of whom they passed right onto WIRD, and more emails are arriving every day. Also, at the time of writing, the Facebook group ‘Bring back a Rollerskating rink to the Illawarra area’ was one week old and already had 103 members. This clamouring cannot be ignored – Wollongong wants their rollerskating back and WIRD are determined to help them find it.
6. Who will be involved in your project?
The members of WIRD will work under the direction of Neena She’Moan to conduct the research and coordinate the demonstration. She’Na Nigans, a freelance writer and researcher, and Kay Ottick, a former competitive speed skater, will undertake the majority of the research, with these services provided as ‘in kind’ support. A professional website developer will be contracted to develop the website and it will be maintained for two years by WIRD.
Confirmed interviewees and participants for the event include: Debbie ****, a speed and artistic skater who has run two skating rinks in the area and competed on a national level as well as Debbie’s two daughters who will demonstrate artistic skating; John ***** & Sandra *****, roller derby skaters from the 60s who played for the Towradgi Toranas (and possibly their daughter Dorothy who was captain of the female team), who will provide interviews, newspaper clippings and photos; and the skaters of WIRD who will demonstrate the newest evolution of this old sport. Further resources already offered include pictures and memorabilia relating to speed skating, super 8 footage of roller derby being played in Coniston and videos of local artistic championships. We aim to have 6-12 participants for each discipline and a broad visual and narrative history of each to exhibit.
Attending as audience:
From former skaters and supporters of skaters wanting to explore the history, to youth drawn to the spectacle of roller derby, Steel City/Skate City promises to attract a particularly diverse audience. Spread out over the afternoon and evening, there will be opportunities for participation by families, young people, and former and future sportspeople. Skaters and supporters who have moved away from the region have expressed interest in attending, as have roller derby skaters from Sydney, Western Sydney and Newcastle. This event also has the potential to become an annual event and an ongoing tourist attraction and increasing Wollongong’s significance as a cultural destination.