The Great Australian Barbecue
by Christina Lake
It is a very easy mistake for an English person to assume that Australia will be just like England except with more flies and a climate that permits Christmas on the beach (even if we had Christmas in summer in England, you can bet that come the big day it would be raining!). So, naturally, when I laid my plans to visit Australia I assumed that Australian Eastercons would work like British ones, i.e. that they would happen every Easter. How simplistic can you get? Not only is there no requirement for the Australian national convention to be held at Easter, but there is no requirement for it to be just one convention -- sometimes there are separate literature and media conventions -- or, even, for it to be a convention at all. Apparently, one year no-one wanted to run the media Natcon, so the competing bids were between a barbecue and a dinner. Unaccountably, the dinner won. What could be more quintessentially Australian than to run their NatCon as a barbie?
In the event, the dinner turned into a one day convention, and BasiCon was born. As an alternative to not having a convention, I can't imagine there were many complaints. But this year, now BasiCon has beaten out a Tasmanian bid for the lit NatCon and a New Zealand one for the media, not everyone seems quite so happy. Is a cheap and cheerful convention, run by a committee of two in a YWCA (admittedly, a very upmarket YWCA, with allegedly some hotel standard rooms) the direction that Australian fandom wishes to take? I don't know. But, from what people are telling me about the employment situation in Australia, maybe it's a direction they will be forced to take, if they don't wish new fans to be priced out of the convention circuit. (And would it be such a bad thing in the US or the UK to consider other venues for conventions than the luxury hotels that middle class fandom seems to require?)
Anyhow, let others complain that BasiCon 2 is too basic for a NatCon, or that it clashes with some important footie match; for me there's only one essential thing wrong with it, and that is that it is on in September when I will be back in England. So, for my introduction to Melbourne fandom, I had to resort to plan B, or, if you like, plan barbie. Perry Middlemiss had volunteered some months ago to run one for New Years Eve, so all I had to do was hop down from Sydney to attend (you would be surprised how much of Australian life seems to centre round the concept of "hopping". I suppose it's the influence of the kangaroo on the Australian psyche.) Of course, a New Year's barbie is a pretty mind-boggling concept for a Brit. If it's New Year, then it can't possibly be warm enough to eat outside. Even as I strolled up to Perry's house in the pleasant heat of the Melbourne evening, I still half expected everyone to be huddled indoors with a hot toddy, wearing the sweaters they'd been bought for Christmas. Instead, they were all out in the garden, disporting themselves quite happily in an assortment of T-shirts, summer dresses and other light apparel. Robyn, Perry's wife, rushed up to greet us and direct our champagne to the all important ice bucket (Australians, unlike the English, do require their drinks ice cold, if not frozen). The next to say hello were Lucy Sussex and Julian Warner, whom I had met not so long ago in Bristol. But, was Lucy's hair always so long, I wondered, as I attempted to merge the new image with the one in my mental datafile. However, due to some oversight in food planning (relating, needless to say, to the prevalence of vegemite in the Australian diet), I was more interested in the assortment of salads and bread on the table and the smell of charring meat wafting over from somewhere behind the bushes than in meeting the rest of the Melbourne fannish illuminati, so pausing only to pour some rather tasty 1988 red into my cup, I set off in search of the barbie. There I found Perry, equipped with apron and barbecue tongs, masterminding operations at the grill head. He pointed me out a completed sausage and several fans I ought to meet (but, regrettably, not in that order).
Once I'd finished with the food, I ventured forth to say hello to old friends and new, including Bruce Gillespie (who immediately put me at my ease with his air of affable gloom: "No-one in Britain is sending me fanzines anymore!" he declared), Marc Ortlieb (who didn't entirely contradict my mental image of him as a blue striped tigger by being short with shaggy hair) and Apparatchik agent Irwin Hirsh (much excitement as it was the first time I'd seen him and his wife Wendy since their 4 month GUFF trip to Britain in 1987). The star of the evening, though, was Lucy Ackroyd, out on her first social engagement. People just could not get over how tiny she was. Justin carried her around in her basket, doing his proud father bit, till she started to cry, at which point he hurriedly handed her back to his wife Jenny.
Come midnight, everyone was still out in the garden, so no switching on the radio to hear the chimes of Big Ben (what do you mean, they can't do that in Australia? Damn, I'd been celebrating New Year nine hours too early!) and no running outside to make rude noises to wake up the neighbours. So, instead, we just had to toast each other with some of that rather good champagne they make in Australia and wonder, as ever, what the New Year would bring.
Well, in my case at least, it brought many offers of visits to wineries, stupefaction at the sheer quantity of wrought iron lace in Melbourne's architecture, an encounter with an encyclopedic Peter Nichols in the Blackfords' jacuzzi, rides round the city on its wondrous tram system, and a visit to the Melbourne Science Fiction Group. The MSFG, in line with the Basicon philosophy, welcomes all styles of fans and eschews expensive city restaurants or bars, in favour of meeting in a church hall (which also houses the club's library) and drinking coffee. Rather like a junior NESFA without the property management or publishing empire aspects, I decided. There I met putative DUFF candidate Terry Frost who handed me a copy of his latest fanzine. Clearly it hadn't occured to him that the name of Frost might have sufficiently bad connotations to the American voting public without compounding the crime by publishing a zine called Fans Behaving Badly.
My last social engagement in the Melbourne area, turned out, not surprisingly, to be a barbie. Lurking behind a table with glass of wine in one hand and cigarette in the other, John Bangsund relived his opening panel at the first Aussiecon, egged on by Perry Middlemiss, who presumably was trying to get some tips for in case he was still chairman by the time Aussiecon 3 happens. "Just run it as a barbie," I suggested, tucking into what remained of the pig's leg that Sally Yeoland had roasted for us. Perry treated this remark with the disdain it deserved, while John went on to narrate how drunk he had been when he presented the Hugos in 1975. These Australians certainly have a whole-hearted approach to their fanac, I decided. Even if they're as unsure about the desirability of running a Worldcon as we Brits were before Intersection, it's going to have a huge effect on them. But, for once, this particular Pom won't venture to make any assumptions that the outcome will be the same.
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