This is supposed to be an "Aussiecon" theme issue of Mimosa, but we haven't
said much about Australian fandom yet. The two biggest fan centers in the country
are, of course, Melbourne and Sydney, and each has active fan clubs that date back
to the 1950s and `60s. This next article describes some of the more interesting
personalities from that era.
Australian science fiction fandom in the 1960s was predominantly male, just as it was elsewhere in the world. So it was a surprise when Ros Hardy showed up at the Melbourne Science Fiction Club one December day. Not only was Ros female, she was also the girlfriend of Alan South, secretary (from time to time) of the Futurian Society of Sydney, and relations between the MSFC and the FSS were somewhat strained, to put the best light on it.
As it turned out, Ros maintained some association with sf fandom for another twenty years, attending the 1972 Sydney convention (as I recall) and throwing room parties (during the day, as an alternative to the 'programming') which required those partying to watch a cricket test match on television since Ros had a thing about one of the members of the Australian cricket team (Dennis Lillee). That was, of course, ANJ (After Nose Job) but one of the main things which strained and strengthened relations between Sydney and Melbourne fandoms occurred BNJ, about ten years before when she and I and John Baxter (a.k.a. the Leading Film Biographer) went to a party in Sydney.
I visited Sydney very occasionally in the early 1960s and as well as the fans, one of the people I used occasionally to see was Ron Polson, a friend of Mervyn Barrett's who was also a jazz singer (and dope smoker -- in 1965 Ron was arrested and tried for smoking marijuana and as a result lost his most lucrative singing jobs, on national TV variety shows). On one of these visits Ron invited me out to his house on Sydney's north shore, overlooking the harbour, for a big party to celebrate the visit to Sydney of an American jazz group.
In self-defense, as it were, I invited Ros and John along with me, and that was going to be fine with Ron. John and I took a taxi from the city across to Ros's place on South Dowling Street, and then across the Harbour Bridge to Ron's house in Neutral Bay. There was no problem finding the house (though I had been there previously) as the party was already in full swing. Most of the people there were musicians, and most of them wanted to play their instruments most of the time. It got pretty noisy, and escaping out to the garden was really no relief. Of course, all that energy used in playing meant that fuel was required, and a lot of people drank a lot of booze. As well as that, John Baxter complained to me that he couldn't get into the toilet, which was always occupied by people who seemed to be in there a long time. (It was one of those occasions when a cast-iron bladder is a useful thing.) As John and I eventually discovered when we returned from one of our frequent journeys outside for air and a slightly lower decibel count, one of the people drinking a lot of booze was Ros, and not long after midnight she passed out. It seemed like a good opportunity to exit the party. But there were ramifications.
There was no point in trying to ring a taxi from Ron's -- no chance of anyone hearing what we were saying -- but I 'remembered' seeing a telephone box nearby on the way down, so John agreed that we should set off on foot, and call from the box when we reached it. We managed to get Ros sufficiently conscious to explain to her what we were doing, and slung her between us in a fireman's lift.
So much for human memory! The 'telephone box' proved to be completely illusory -- or else we were walking in a different direction. Ros didn't stay conscious for very long, and then one of us had to carry her alone -- me, with her over one shoulder. God, I must have been strong in those days! I guess all those years of playing rugby did have a Higher Purpose after all.
Even those not familiar with the geography of Sydney will understand from words like 'harbour', 'north shore', and 'Neutral Bay' that Ron's house was down near water level. To this must be added the fact that the main road in the area ran along the top of the ridge. Thus we had a recipe for fatigue. Even though Ros did wake occasionally (and thus make it possible for John and me to share the load), carrying someone for over half a mile, Up Hill All The Way, is not a lot of fun, and we were all relieved when we got to the main road and hailed a taxi (well, John and I were relieved; no one, least of all Ros, would know about her state of mind at the time). Taxi across the bridge, then back to North Sydney where I was staying with John, at the end of which John remarked that he didn't ever want to be invited to a party with me again. I couldn't understand him; after all, it had been a fun party!
Tony Sander was an engineer in the Royal Australian Air Force. He was also a prominent member of the Melbourne Science Fiction Club in the early 1960s. Tony liked to party -- I think he still does -- but in the mid 1960s a different kind of party attracted his attention.
Tony was not happy in the RAAF or, more precisely, he thought he would be happier out of the RAAF. Unfortunately, however, he had signed on for the long haul. His attendance at functions of the MSFC, and at loosely-associated parties, was sometimes circumscribed by his obligations in defence of our sunburnt country (although there were occasional cross-fertilisation benefits, as when he described in some detail the performance characteristics of the U2s then based in Australia). But he wanted out.
I have no idea where he picked up the idea which was ultimately to liberate him from the RAAF, but it hardly seemed to fit in with his normal line of work. Whatever the origin, his approach was based upon a particular legal consideration, namely that in Australia at that time one was not permitted to be both a serving member of the armed forces *and* a member of parliament (or more particularly, in the case in hand, a person with an intent to become a member of parliament). So Tony would have to nominate to stand for election to the federal parliament, a modest enough ambition for someone with no political associations or even interest, and one which would, much to his regret, lead to an enforced resignation from the RAAF, something about which his superiors might possibly harbour suspicions. But he did have one ace he could play -- his home address. By chance, Tony lived in the electorate represented by a conservative politician (the Honourable Peter Howson) who was a minister in the federal government, and his ministerial responsibility included (and I am sure you are ahead of me at this point) the RAAF.
So some superficial rationale could be dreamed up for Tony, as a citizen who knew how the RAAF actually ran, to stand against Peter Howson. Tony did have to spend Real Money to do it -- to lodge the nomination fee, for example -- but he went further, and actually spent money having printed up a how-to-vote card for distribution on election day. As Tony told it at the time, this was where he learned about the real world of politics -- he had his cards printed by a printer who actually was a supporter of a 'real' political party, and as a consequence Tony's cards, delivered late, didn't look exactly the way he had planned them.
On election day the mighty forces of the MSFC, or at least some of the rabble associated with the MSFC, rallied in support of their fellow member (who had no intention, of course, of becoming a Member). We handed out the how-to-vote cards to intending voters (to the best of our abilities) but alas the forces of reaction and habit proved to be too strong, and Tony was not elected. But he was out of the RAAF. (I collected sets of how-to-vote cards for all the candidates, and they formed part of a contemporary Spectator Amateur Press Society mailing.)
Afterwards, representatives of both the major political parties approached Tony to ask if he would like to be a candidate for them at a future election, given that he had done relatively well without party backing. But his major objective had been achieved, and he declined the offers.
In a recent edition of his fanzine The Rubbish Bin(n)s, Mervyn Binns recalls some of the Melbourne fans who have 'been around' for a long time. I was pleased to see Roman Mazurak's name there.
Fans like Roman Mazurak rarely find their names in fanzines, though I imagine that there are many 'Roman Mazurak's around in fandom because there were so many of them in Melbourne fandom from the 1960s onwards. Roman was at the 1999 Worldcon and we managed to have a couple of conversations which reminded me of what the old times were like.
Roman's contributions towards fandom in Melbourne have been of the necessary but usually invisible kind. Although the Melbourne Science Fiction Club in the 1960s was probably the most successful SF club Australia ever saw, it still needed the vital twin ingredients of money and volunteers, and Roman was one of the moderately large group of science fiction readers who contributed on both fronts. Every so often at the club Mervyn Binns would call for volunteers for a working bee, and Roman would usually be found amongst the volunteers. Later in the 1960s and into the 1970s, as sf conventions became more popular in Australia, Roman and other fans like him made life a little easier for struggling convention organisers by contributing money early -- and of course effort at the conventions, but always behind the scenes.
In the real world Roman has been a train driver. Being a train driver does not bar one from becoming an active fan, as witness the sometimes-remembered-in-Melbourne James Styles -- although I feel Roman was more serious about his work than James was, just as James was more serious about 'active fandom' than Roman was. As Roman pointed out to me at the Worldcon, an old train driver (though he isn't that old) still has to work his shifts, and for Roman that meant he could only attend parts of the Worldcon.
In the 1960s, as now, the active fans were far outnumbered by those whose interest in fandom seemed slight and even peripheral. Roman Mazurak is representative of all those quiet contributors who have stayed around for the long haul while so many of the active fans of his early days have vanished.
Sydney's Terrible Twins
Science fiction fandom in Sydney in the early 1960s was a thing more or less unknown to those of us in Melbourne. It wasn't until late in the 1960s that there were enough fans in Sydney who were willing to have anything to do with the infidel in Melbourne, and one of the first of the New Faces was that of Alf van der Poorten.
Alf van der Poorten! In the middle 1960s, one of the most aggressive student politicians at the University of Sydney was a young mathematician named Alf van der Poorten. Even today the name strikes fear (or possibly terror) into the heart of Damian Warman, the laid-back Adelaide fan -- a natural for organizing a relaxacon -- who typesets for the Australian Mathematical Society. For a decade from the late 1960s, Alf was also actively involved in science fiction fandom in Sydney, and for that matter was a member of the 1999 Worldcon (I imagine that if he attended the business session he would have given Jack Herman hell, but I missed seeing him there at all, only discovering later that he sat at the Locus table in the Dealers Room).
To those outside Sydney fandom it was only natural to see Alf as one of a pair of twins -- the twin Doctors, as it were -- with the role of Alf's partner in crime being played by Tom Newlyn. Alf's pure mathematical status was balanced by Tom's working life as a Shrink; but what they specialised in fandom was needling everyone else. Alf and Tom were twins in size and hair-colour, as well as age and attitude, being shortish and with reddish-hair.
When the Sydney Science Fiction Foundation was established in the late 1960s, Alf and Tom were relatively early joiners. I don't remember them being at the New Year's convention held in Sydney in a scout hall in January 1970, and the photos I have from that convention suggest that they both had better things to do at the time. But from that time on until after the first Aussiecon in 1975 they were steadfast attendees at conventions in Australia.
They added spice to the gatherings they attended -- Alf by his pedantry, and Tom by his deliberate wickedness -- but by the late 1970s they appear to have decided to skip science fiction fandom. One reason may have been the rise of the younger generation of fans in Sydney, largely through the university clubs of the time, whom Alf and Tom may have thought too juvenile. That part of Sydney fandom certainly changed the atmosphere, and Alf and Tom were no longer heard from -- at least until the 1999 Worldcon.
I missed their influence then, and seeing Alf's name on the list of 1999 Worldcon members reminded me of part of what Sydney fandom has lost. Australian science fiction fandom -- at least in the old-fashioned sense -- passed through its peak (in terms of fan activity) in the days of fans like Alf and Tom (and the others whose names appear above). It may be that their departure from fandom was a symptom of that malaise which we call middle-age.
Title illustration by Kip Williams