Roller Game glory days
In the early 1960s, the Roller Game was capturing Aussie kids’ imaginations on Saturday afternoon TV – and right in the thick of the action were Redfern’s Shirley Watts and Sue Bull.
“It was exciting times, and that was really all we lived for, skating,” says 71-year-old Sue.
The American Roller Game team arrived in Sydney when Sue and Shirley were skating at the Olympia roller skating rink – formerly the Olympia Theatre – in Annandale. “The Americans came out to where we were skating because they wanted replacements – because if anyone got injured, they wanted to know if we would supply them with skaters. That’s how we got involved with it all,” explains Shirley.
“As far as the skating ability went, our skaters’ ability was better than the Americans’.”
Sue went on to tour with the American team to Melbourne and Brisbane.
Skaters in the Roller Game earned points for every skater who could make it past the “blocker” on the other team as they whizzed around the rink. Unlike modern skating rinks, the Roller Game was played on a banked track, like a cycling velodrome.
The venue for games was the Sydney Stadium at Rushcutters Bay. “You could smell the toilets from one side [of the track],” says Sue. “It was like that kind of place, you know, boxing, wrestling – it was a man’s place … very few women would have gone there in the early days.”
“The Roller Games sort of changed all that … People’s thinking changed. In the ’60s, it was still, you know, what are you girls doing that for?”
“They all used to look at the girls in the Roller Game and thought they were all hoodlums,” says Shirley. “But [the team] had no trouble getting women.”
After the heyday of the 1960s and the Roller Game, skating’s popularity fell, partly due to closing rinks and high insurance premiums. However, Sue and Shirley haven’t forgotten the “absolutely terrific” feeling of competing, and the camaraderie on the rink. “I’ve still got a lot of friends that I made 50 years ago,” says Sue.
Of course, there is also some nostalgia about the 1960s’ more relaxed approach to safety. “We used to tow each other behind the cars, it was good fun,” Sue says. “Someone towed my daughter as far as Canberra,” adds Shirley.
She’s 86 now, but Shirley’s still got her Roller Game skates – she says they’re as comfortable as slippers.