PHOTOS | KATE DISHER-QUILL
It has taken me a long time to get my head around the topic of this piece, well, more specifically the experience that sparked this dance in my head. The reason for my conundrum is that I’m both deeply disappointed by assumptions made whilst at the same time can’t really blame the offenders. A conundrum that has left me wondering...Why do we perceive that any woman who represents a male dominated community is simply seen as a hired pacifier rather than an integral part?
My role in the Rising Sun Workshop (communal motorcycle workshop) has most recently involved navigating us through the bureaucratic red tape that needs to be endured to get anything up and running in this city. That’s not to say my partners aren’t capable, it is more to say that the process is based on a language only those in the building industry understand, and being on both sides of the fence (I was basically my own architectural client), I had a unique insight. While designing our fit-out was part of the job, really most of my time went to managing expectations of some local residents who are afraid of us as neighbours, working with a passionate team of independent town planners who believed in RSW so much so they defended it like it was their own business and meeting with local authoritative bodies who needed to be convinced our intentions were pure and reasonable.
Six months later, we were successful (and it wasn’t without compromise) however you’re probably wondering why I’m so perplexed. At every meeting, I represented RSW alone because no one else could have been across our strategy like I was, and given our previous experiences with other local governments and resident groups, any inconsistency in our message really hurt us, so I did what I thought I had to do.
Each time I’d receive comments like “send in the woman did they?” or “you can put your leathers back on now”, suggesting that my daily professional attire was all a front and that I was merely representing a group of burly men on loud motorbikes. God forbid that I could actually be the architect leading a development team of built environment professionals, co-founder and co-owner of the communal workshop for motorcyclists that I was defending (who also has a professional day job) AND yes, rides a motorcycle.
Let’s not forget that the community I represented are actually lovely, everyday men and women who ride motorcycles or put more simply, that there should be NO prejudice made on a person because of their chosen means of transport.
At one of these meetings I wore a white shirt and Ponti jacket (my favourite from Willow), red lips and black trousers. My usual uniform for professional days. Our passionate team of town-planners were ready to go and the director commented on how elegant I looked. I accepted her compliment graciously and thought nothing of it, probably because I was about to walk into a two hour meeting that, at best, would have been good - not great - for RSW (and at worst could have been devastating), distracted by what was ahead.
The meeting was positive and months later we received our approvals with our integrity in-tact. On a celebratory afternoon with our team of town planners I learnt that after this meeting they nicknamed me “snow white” around their office. When I asked “why?” they responded by remarking on my calm demeanour and dress code on the day. I laughed and carried on drinking, but it later got me thinking… If I’m snow white, then who are the seven dwarfs?
So much of the process of getting RSW and In Venus Veritas (IVV) up and running has been in the face of many common misconceptions. What is utterly frustrating is when those perceptions actually stand in the way of our goals. What I’ve come to learn (albeit the hard way) is that they’re just perceptions, they’re not tangible things, and can only be shifted if the one holding them is willing to be open and listen. Until then, we’re better off getting on with achieving those goals, staying authentic and nurturing our supporters.
However, if I take a step back and view the world through the lens we get judged through, I can’t really blame those misconceptions. At times, I feel RSW and IVV are fighting an uphill battle in our pursuit to perpetuate a positive image of the lifestyle of both men and women alike in the motorcycle scene. A lifestyle that involves camaraderie, support, courage and community without being even remotely linked to outlaw behaviour, ego stroking or tits-n-arse that seem to saturate perception.
While at RSW our political journey is not over, I now consider having my husband and co-conspirator at all meetings so that bureaucrats can see us a professional, entrepreneurial couple rather than wonder “who is she working for? Typical to send in the woman”. That’s not because I don’t want to fight the stigma (I am in other ways and always will), but rather believe we’ll get further without it. More importantly, I don’t want our membership or my business partners likened to “the seven dwarves”.
For a little while I really let those misconceptions get me down. Especially once I started riding again, I felt like the world glared at me like I was the undoing of all that is good in our society… but then I thought of all the women I’ve featured as Petrolettes, all the members faces at Rising Sun Workshop and my incredibly talented, hard-working business partners and thought…. fuck that! We deserve better.
We’re all inspiring, have nothing to apologise for and as far as I’m concerned, if riding a motorcycle means I live with a sense of courage and freedom in my everyday that connects me to a growing community of diverse people, then I’d prefer to be amongst the “dwarves” than care about the jealous “stepmothers” of the world judging us in their fear of anything that might hold up a mirror.
Open those throttles, look out for each other and live unapologetically.
Below are photographs taken by KDQ for Rising Sun Workshop and In Venus Veritas. These are images of RSW team, members and supporters over the last 18 months, as well as some of the Petrolettes we've featured and collaborated with. All everyday, good people who love riding and wrenching on motorcycles and make up part of the community we aim to support, defend and love deeply!
Heleana is a force of nature. The founder of In Venus Veritas and The Petrolette, and a co-founder of Rising Sun Workshop. Heleana shares her love of vintage cars, riding motorcycles, and (not-so-secretly) dreams of flying planes and piloting a riva aquariva (a la Sophia Loren) very fast through the canals of Venice. Supportive and connected, community is her lifeblood, and she is as real as they come.