Featured Image by Bang3r Photography
Michelle K Hasluck always wanted to be a wrestler. The 31-year-old Noongar woman from Belmont, Western Australia, has grown up never far from here with her mother and now her two young girls.
‘When I was growing up it was still the 80s style of wrestling on TV. If you weren’t American, you were a bad guy,’ Michelle reflects. ‘The closest representation that I could relate to that I can remember was Papa Shango. He was a bad guy because he did voodoo, and he was black. You make those really small connections when you’re young.’
On a trip to the “big city”, a door opened to Michelle that would ultimately decide the direction of her life. ‘I went to see a big WWE event in Melbourne. I was 15 at the time and I went by myself, on my first interstate trip. My luggage came a flight earlier at the airport and I had left my handbag on the plane. This guy Dale came up to me and helped me calm down, and I found out he was training over here in Perth. He was wearing an old ECW shirt, which was Explosive Coastal Wrestling at the time.’
Michelle is now a lifelong member of what became EPW, Explosive Pro Wrestling in Perth. Finding wrestling in her home state was something she never thought possible. ‘I was looking at training over in America or in the eastern states (of Australia), so to hear that there was anything here in Perth was mind-blowing.’
Perth’s wrestling scene has always been smaller by comparison to that of Melbourne of Sydney, especially amongst women. Yet, what they lacked in numbers they made up for in community and progressiveness. ‘For most of the time here in Perth, especially in my rookie years, I was the only girl. Now there are quite a few girls around Australia and the world that are doing awesome things.’
EPW made the decision to incorporate an Acknowledgement of Country into their shows in early 2018. It was Michelle’s mum, Narelle McKinley, who opened the doors on the first occasion. ‘We haven’t been doing it all that long. But I’m still a bit surprised that we’re the only company who’s doing it off the top of my head. It sets a good tone for the rest of the show,’ she says.
Michelle’s Aboriginal identity is one that she has struggled to communicate throughout her life. After a lifetime of displacement, Michelle’s mother had a breakthrough. ‘My Mum is part of the Stolen Generation. she was taken away when she was like nine months old. We hadn’t had very much contact with her family. In the last year, she got some paperwork and found out that she was born on a reserve in Goomalling, WA.’
‘She posted in a local Facebook group asking if anyone knew anything about her mother and father, only knowing their names herself. She’s since met her family through this Facebook group. I’ve met these aunties, nieces and nephews that I never even knew that I had. They’re all so similar in character.’
‘I went from having hardly any family to having a mob.’
‘As far as wrestling goes, it would be really cool to actually get the whole family down to see exactly what I do.’ Wrestling is something that Michelle holds dear in her life for many reasons, one of them being the cathartic nature of a performance. ‘The character that I play, there are elements of myself in it. However, it is a totally distinctive character.’
‘I suffer from depression, anxiety and bipolar. With bipolar, you have your crazy highs and you have your down lows,’ Michelle talks about how wrestling gives her a sense of control. ‘I can relate to the crazy highs when it comes to this “Twisted Disney Princess” kind of thing. There’s a lot of child-like wonder with it. I can do things in that character that I can’t do in real life. I can slap someone in the face and laugh about it. I wouldn’t get away with that on the street.’
‘It’s cathartic to have that 20 to 30 minutes of being an absolute nut case and then going back to real life.’
‘When you have rosters with one girl, like Roxy Riot, Lena Kross, Allyson Cruz, wrestling guys is almost something that is done out of necessity.’ No stranger to intergender wrestling, Michelle is all in. ‘Why not? If I’m the same size as a guy, why should I be waiting to wrestle girls, especially if there’s none around? If I’m wrestling someone who is a lot bigger than me who’s to say that I can’t outsmart them? If someone’s training for three or four years, why should they be forced to be held back just because there isn’t someone of the same gender there?’
‘We’ve all got to look after each other. We have a really big sense of community and we can almost feel that within each other.’
Michelle’s experience in wrestling has evolved into one where women lift each other up, yet the sense of family among her Aboriginal peers is one that cannot be rivalled. ‘Erika (Reid) and I have never met, but I already see her as a sister. NC Viper lives a couple of blocks away from me. We’re always keeping an eye out for each other. Joel Bateman, from the first day I met him he’s been like a brother as well. It’s hard to describe, because there is just this click that happens between personalities. I think it’s just because we all tend to be quite open caring loving people.’
While NAIDOC Week here in Australia is partially about bridging the gap in our communities, Michelle wants us to celebrate Indigenous culture. It’s because of women like her that the future looks bright. ‘I would like to see my girls learning not only what I teach them, but their entire class and school to learn something that they might not of had the chance to learn about. Maybe a bit of the local language. Maybe that kangaroo stew is actually really nice. Have kids participate in dot paintings and learning local songs.’
‘It doesn’t have to be all doom and gloom, especially for young kids. Instead, let’s help them learn that there is such a beautiful culture that is incredibly welcoming to everyone. I feel that once people feel welcomed into that culture then hopefully they’ll be able to take something from that. Yes, there are reasons why our community struggles, but why not make NAIDOC week fun?’
‘When people start to realise how resourceful Aboriginal people were – how many languages there are, how many groups there are and just how expansive it is as a culture – They will learn something new. Knowledge is power, so I would love everyone to learn something new during this week and pass that on.’
Michelle’s Wrestling Idols
My peers are the people who inspire me the most. People like Vixsin, such a sweet girl who goes through such scary matches. Erika Reid, Shazza McKenzie and Madison Eagles, even the younger people coming through like Casey Johns and Indi Hartwell are all doing so well. People like Jessica Troy over in England, Toni Storm and Charli Evans…
I think we’re just lucky in Australia that we have so many girls that we can look up to, not just as wrestlers but how they hold themselves, how they train each other and how we all treat our people. It just feels like there’s so much community, especially with the girls, because everyone just wants to help everyone get bigger and better.
I encourage Indigenous people who want to give something a shot, whether it’s wrestling or anything else, to go for it. I would love to see two indigenous women having a match somewhere, in a country town or something like that. That would be awesome.