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A Tale of Two Natcons [Jun. 1st, 2009|09:07 am]
dalekboy
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[mood |thoughtfulthoughtful]

In the early 90's the media Natcon was going gangbusters (300-400+ attendees), the lit Natcon was dying with a slowly decreasing (around 200) and aging membership. With the success of a couple of joint media/lit Natcons, it was suggested that Australia's population was so small the two cons should be joined.

It would mean a bigger overall Natcon with a larger budget. Everyone would win. The media fans had no reason to do this. Their Natcon was doing fine. The only reason they did it was out of a sense of community. It would be good for fandom as a whole to have a single, bigger Natcon.

Both Natcons had their own awards. The ASFMAs (Australian Science Fiction Media Awards) and the Ditmars. Having both sets of awards would be huge and unwieldy. The only reason we still have the Ditmars is because the media fans not only agreed to the joining of both Natcons, but agreed to continue the Ditmars and discontinue their own award since a lot of older fans were concerned about the loss of the Ditmars, and their history, if a new award were started.

The only real requirement media fandom had was that the Ditmars have categories changed or added so that the media side was adequately covered, and the new Natcon have a program that fairly represented both media and lit fandom interests.

In a short time, with no separate Media Natcon to compete against, the Natcon program became heavily lit based.

With no guest or programs that addressed their passions, the fan clubs and groups more or less stopped attending the Natcon, and with their own yearly Natcon and awards gone, there was nothing to hold media fandom together through other issues.

We stopped having regular cons and Natcons in Victoria as we approached the worldcon, and while Perth picked up the slack with regards to the Natcon, it didn't advertise in the east terribly well. With no experience of a Swancon, which does tend towards a more balanced program, the east coast media fans expected more of the same they had already been given - Natcons with nothing for them. Why spend all the money getting to Perth just to be disappointed again?

Having already been hurt by the Natcon, to then have someone loosely associated with the then upcoming WorldCon loudly state at a major pre-Aussiecon 3 event, "We don't need the media fans!" didn't help things. For a group than had already been well screwed, a group that had been far more active in con-running over the previous decade than the majority of the fans working on A3, this was telling them that they, and their expertise, really weren't welcome.

The lack of action on the part of the WorldCon committee to rectify the damage didn't help. Having the creator of Babylon 5 as a guest was all well and good, but other than that, the only answer received to the question, "Why should we attend?" was "Because it's the WorldCon." The attitude was that if you didn't want to come to the WorldCon, there was something wrong with you.

On top of all this, fan politics within and between several clubs further damaged things within the media scene.

The big media expo-style cons had tried to get a foothold in Australia a few times, but previously couldn't compete with the fan-run media cons. Why go to a con where you couldn't really talk to or interact with the guest?

The best of the fan-run media cons was Multiverse, which not only ran good cons (and tried with variable success to also cater to lit fandom) but raised thousands and thousands of dollars for charity into the bargain. That was one of the interesting things about Media fandom - the profits of most Media cons were donated to charity. Again, there's that attitude of trying to help and be a part of the wider community - the same attitude that lost them their own Natcon.

But eventually the folks behind Multiverse decided it was time to finish up. Once they did, in came the expos to fill the vacuum.

Media fandom in Victoria had lost their last interesting media cons, while media fandom in general had lost its awards, its Natcon, and its history. Even the Doomsday Book, a book filled with humourous advice, info, and illustrations from previous Media Natcon committees to future ones, was lost. I think it was later recovered, but couldn't swear to it.

Certainly for a time before the Natcons joined, the two media fandom centres of Australia were Melbourne and Brisbane. But it would be up to someone from Brisbane to tell what effects, if any, losing the Media Natcon had on Queensland fandom.

With this history in mind, take the time to find and go through the last decade of Natcon program books, and decide for yourself if you think Australian media fandom has been well-served by their selflessness.

One of the architects of the change, in light of all that has happened, has commented to me on several occasions over the last ten-plus years, that he thinks they killed the wrong Natcon.
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Comments:
[User Picture]From: emma_in_oz
2009-06-01 01:03 am (UTC)
I had no idea about any of this - only got involved in conpolitics around 1999. All I knew is that people keep saying - Don't have a Worldcon, it destroyed Victorian fandom. Perhaps there was a problem before the 1999 Worldcon?

Also, with this in mind, what can I do to make the art stream more media-friendly? Given that the guests are already chosen, what would you like to see? Who should I approach to be on art-themed panels?
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[User Picture]From: kremmen
2009-06-02 05:59 am (UTC)
I think the "don't have a worldcon, it destroyed Victorian fandom" concept came from the misconceptions of Perth fans who mostly had close to nothing to do with Melbourne fandom before A3. Those misconceptions were further fueled by reports of how A3 was run, which were largely the fault of A3 in particular, not Worldcons in general. Unfortunately, those who have only seen one example of something will tend to assume that it is typical.
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[User Picture]From: dcrisp
2009-06-01 01:05 am (UTC)
How do we go about tracking down the Doomsday Book? I think its time this was reaquired and worked on again with current and up to date information.
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[User Picture]From: mortonhall
2009-06-01 01:10 am (UTC)
I'm pretty sure the Doomsday Book *did* resurface but I couldn't tell you where it is nowadays
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[User Picture]From: mortonhall
2009-06-01 01:12 am (UTC)
thank you for this history lesson. So many of the modern active fans do not appreciate the struggle and take it all for granted.
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[User Picture]From: smofbabe
2009-06-01 01:16 am (UTC)
I obviously was not part of this and didn't know a lot of the history. However, reading this account, I have a few follow-up questions:

* Why did the Multiverse people disband if they were successful? Is this another example you're citing of Australian media fandom's "selflessness"?

* Did the media fans actively participate in the 1999 worldcon committee and submit ideas and panelists for programme that were rejected?

* Have media fans actively participated in the universal natcon committees and submitted ideas and panelists for programme that were rejected?
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[User Picture]From: paul_ewins
2009-06-01 02:31 am (UTC)
Multiverse was the passion of two people. Although the idea was for it to be a shared project of all of the Melbourne media clubs it really came down to those two people driving it. When they finally decided to move on in life it all collapsed. At the time there was a bit of the changing of the guard with quite a few club stalwarts moving on. For a time a number of the clubs looked ready to collapse but only the alternate ST club (Enterprise) and the alternate DW club (Gallifrey) ultimately folded.

The media clubs have for a long time been the bulk of Melbourne fandom. A lot of the people involved in A3 were unknown to them and vice versa. A3 stuck to people it knew and didn't consult. There was a lot of talent out there that could have been used but wasn't. Ultimately A3 made the lit/media divide larger than before.
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[User Picture]From: transcendancing
2009-06-01 01:17 am (UTC)
This was incredible to read - and saddening. Being relatively new to this side of things I had no notion. Given the wank, I too wonder if the wrong convention was killed.

Wow.
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[User Picture]From: callistra
2009-06-01 01:23 am (UTC)
Ditto.
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[User Picture]From: robinpen
2009-06-01 01:29 am (UTC)
I remember all this happening watching it unfold from over here in Perth. Funny how Perth fandom has a very different history (with the noted exception of the year media fandom saved Swancon) but I do remember when that animosity of lit fan towards media fan did exist here. Our successful transition benefited both sides of the community and lit vs media has become indiscernable except on an individual basis. Of course, Danny, you played a role in that, as did Sue-Ann, who faced a lot of the brunt of the transition which, though smooth on a historical level was not always so smooth on an individual one. Sue-Ann, your sacrifice to the cause has not been forgotten by me.

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[User Picture]From: mortonhall
2009-06-02 05:15 am (UTC)
thank you Robin :)

and we won't mention the financial cost to me because, well, WASFF told me I had no right to recoup my expenses :(
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[User Picture]From: magnapops
2009-06-01 01:30 am (UTC)
hmmm, strange, but my memory is somewhat different. I definelty remember walking into the MSFC kitchen and convincing Alan Stewart that the MSFC should run a natcon, and seeing as the MSFC was full of both Media and Lit fans we probably should try and combine the 2 cons.

I had done some work with the Lit natcon constitution, so went to work on the media constitution which at the time all were completely over as it was several pages long and contradictory and hard to work with for the organising committee. Once we had a working constitution that matched and was workable with the lit constitution we got it passed by the media fen and then was able to run the combined natcon as Constantinople.

At the time there was enough politics to ensure that there were insufficient people around wanting to stick their heads up to run multiple natcons, it was decided that the best way forward was to concentrate the effort.

Now there may have been some discussion at the media end that I was not aware of, but that was the reasoning behind it.

As to the gradual decline of media content in natcons, whose fault? I loved and was greatly amused when at the end of constantinople I had people from both sides coming up to me and complaining that they weren't well represented with panels at the con. it was amusing because when you counted the panels we carefully managed about 1 panel more for one side. over 4 days we were properly satisfied that we did our best to cater for both sides.

Having worked on programming I know that a lot depends on the availability and willingness to participate in a programme to actually get it off the ground. No use saying we are going to have 20 media panels if you only have 5 people willing to run 2 - 3 panels. You have what people will volunteer for. Something that the politics of the day was carefully ensuring we had very little of.

So yes, media fandom may have died out but I suspect that the combining was a symptom and not the cause.

memory may be dimming, I remember a few Brissy cons, Always Swancons, Sydney ran a couple of cons, but was dissappearring at a great rate. SA ran 1 con, Tassie ran a couple. Melbourne was busy as, too many cons, not enough long weekends.
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[User Picture]From: dalekboy
2009-06-01 02:43 am (UTC)
I'll reply to this at length once Lex is down. But I was hoping you'd reply because you were on the ground for a chunk of the changes.

Yes, the MSFC cons were the two. Huttcon and Constantinople. There was lots of discussion, and as I've been reminded, public liability issues in Victoria also played a hand.

I remember for nearly two years before Aussiecon 2, there were Aussiecon representatives going around to most of the fan club meetings in Victoria and actively asking people to contribute to the program, to join the committee, to become volunteers, rather than expecting the fans to come to them. It worked a treat.
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[User Picture]From: paul_ewins
2009-06-01 03:02 am (UTC)
I think one thing that hastened the end was the "combined natcons" where the lit-cons wanted the extra numbers but didn't want to bother with the responsibilities that went with it. The one that probably did the most damage was the NZ con, which beat the bid from StarWalking. It seemed like a good idea at the time (that selflessness again) but didn't do the NZ con any good and persuaded the SW people not to bother bidding for the Natcon in future. That was the one where the doomsday book went missing and the people who won the ASFMAs never actually received a trophy. When it comes to that, I still have the paper certificate that one of the Swancons deemed a suitable replacement for the ASFMA trophy.
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[User Picture]From: dalekboy
2009-06-01 03:19 am (UTC)
I still remember the Natcon business meeting following the NZ con. People were saying that NZ should never ever be allowed to have the Natcon again, because they ran it badly.

By that criteria, Melbourne, Sydney, and Perth should never have been allowed another Natcon either :)
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[User Picture]From: king_espresso
2009-06-01 03:37 am (UTC)
I think one of the issues not yet addressed is that cons in Australia have become, for whatever reasons, trade shows for pros. I've seen conventions where the programming was stacked with tonnes of professional oriented streams but I've rarely seen a pro writer on a convention committee for a Natcon. It seems to be beneath them. Let the serfs provide the venue, let the pros reap the benefits.
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[User Picture]From: dalekboy
2009-06-01 04:01 am (UTC)
There are cons that are so writer focussed I have no interest in attending them. Interestingly enough, there are comparatively recent wannabe authors who hold those same cons up as perfect examples of what conventions used to be.

And I know Pro authors who dislike them because it's no fun for a pro - they want panels on Lost and Battlestar!

I've been doing the fan thing for 30 years, and the best cons have always had a great balance of media, lit, and just enough fan-related panels to embrace our history without drowning newbies in it.
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[User Picture]From: davidcook
2009-06-01 02:19 pm (UTC)
And just the other day a prime example of how "non-fannish" (or non-lit-fannish, at least) people see WorldCon popped up here in melbournemaniac.
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[User Picture]From: dalekboy
2009-06-01 10:47 pm (UTC)
Ouch!

I want to step in and quietly say, 'Yep, it's $210 for five days. That's $42 a day, starting in the morning and going through to late evening each day, followed by open room-parties, bid-parties, and get togethers every night. There are no hidden costs, no paying for autographs, photos, parties, etc. There will be at least 3-5 panels and events on at any one time...' and so on.

But it's not my problem.

But I care about WorldCon looking bad to people who don't understand what it's about. It's not bad, it's simply different to what they are used to.

And the problem is that a couple of the more public folks associated with the current WorldCon have a tendency to take an aggressive stance with people who aren't happy with what they're doing, or to be dismissive. Neither of which helps.

That link though, is a classic example of what I've said about cons not being relevant to the new generation of fans. That's not just WorldCon, but SwanCon, and Continuum too. We have to find ways to draw them in without resorting to over-priced actors.
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[User Picture]From: angriest
2009-06-02 05:23 am (UTC)
One thing I did want to point out about media cons vs lit cons is that I honestly don't think lit cons absorbing the media natcon has killed media fandom in any significant way - media fandom just went off and reformed in new ways.

Here in Perth Swancon continues to tout itself as the only significant show in town, while the local anime convention quietly has an annual attendance ten time larger (@3,000 people). I used to run a Star Trek club with a monthly attendance double that of an average Swancon.
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[User Picture]From: bunny_m
2009-06-02 06:21 am (UTC)
And how much of that is the anime con actually advertising and making use of the internet to promote itself, as opposed to Swancon, which is still in the 70s or 80s with it's advertising?

Personally, I love Swancons, was rather underwhelmed with the two Perth anime cons I've been to, but I love that they are both available. Although I wonder if the anime cons are going to be a big deal for a short while and then fade away.

I dunno. I'm a big fan of anime, but I am most definitely *not* an anime fan, based on the Perth anime conventions.

Thanks for posting this, Danny. Interesting to hear more about the history of Melbourne and East-coast fandom.
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[User Picture]From: strangedave
2009-06-02 08:35 am (UTC)
I would like to thank you for making this post, and it gave me a lot to think about. I admit I have been guilty of seeing the history of Melbourne con-running largely in lit con terms (which is where I come from in fandom, I'll freely admit my bias), and ignoring the role of media natcons, which I knew about but not much about. Thank you for filling in the other side of the story.

I knew the great natcon convergence had been badly handled, for a variety of reasons, but I didn't really appreciate how badly. I know that I was probably unwittingly part of the problem. I ran the 2001 natcon pretty much ignoring the media natcon purely out of ignorance - I of course tried to put media in the program, but that was because it was a Swancon (traditionally mixed media/lit) rather than because of the media natcon aspect. Not that I am particularly blaming myself -- I was ignorant because no one told me, because no one knew, because records were lost (notably, the minutes of the Natcon BM that covered all this have never been seen) and things badly handled, etc. Note also that another problem due to the poorly handled combining of the two was the horrible great Ditmar controversy of 2001, which had its origins in the 2000 committee being told to combine the two sets of awards with no guidance whatsoever as to how to do so.

I don't think it will surprise anyone when I say that I am rather glad the lit natcon wasn't killed, given the amount of time and effort I have put into the maintenance of that institution over the years via chairing and minuting meetings and committees, attending and sometimes running natcons, changing its rules, etc. But I certainly think the killing of the media natcon was a bad thing, and a loss for Australian fandom. Perhaps the combining of the two might have been a positive, had it been handled well. But it certainly wasn't, and I think did a lot of damage to media fandom nationally.
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[User Picture]From: angriest
2009-06-03 08:02 am (UTC)
Swancon 2001 was pretty well-served media-wise though - we had the whole Stanley Kubrick retrospective stream for one thing.
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From: rosiemitchell
2009-06-03 01:25 am (UTC)
May I draw your attention to the current and ever growing make up of the Aussiecon 4 Concomm? The majority of senior positions now active are filled by people who come from media fandom, including the Co-Chair who is an ex President of Austrek and ex Captain's Log editor.

People are identified and recruited on their expertise and reputation; they accept the position depending on many criteria, most often whether or not they are able to commit fully to the tasks necessary to fulfil their jobs, both on the worldcon and in real life.

More and more positions will be filled over the coming months and many people will be approached. These people will be from many aspects of fandom and from many geographic regions.

I am confident that the mistakes made in previous years will not occur in 2010. Thank you for raising this issue again, I am sure the debate will be productive.

Rose Mitchell
Co-Chair
Aussiecon 4




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[User Picture]From: dalekboy
2009-06-03 02:57 am (UTC)
And I hope you've noticed that this all started as a piece about Natcons, and the fall of Melbourne media fandom, of which A3 was only a tiny part. Though I'll always wonder if things may have turned out different if Dave McDonnell hadn't had health issues and had been able to stay on as programmer for Aussiecon 3.

Sue Ann is one of Australia's most talented programmers. The only reason I'm not saying she's THE most talented programmer in Australia is because I don't know them all. With her at the helm of Aussiecon 4's program, it will doubtless be a multi-layered event that caters to a variety of tastes.

We've got our memberships!
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[User Picture]From: easterbilby
2009-06-03 01:25 pm (UTC)
Thanks for this. My last involvement (until now) with fandom was helping out with Hong Con many years ago. As a latecomer to the 2009 NatCon committee, my first question was about the Media NatCons and where they had gone. It is good to get a bit of a catch-up.
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[User Picture]From: dalekboy
2009-06-03 01:49 pm (UTC)
Must have been a bit of a surprise, huh?

At first I was surprised that I was one of the few who remembered. Then I realised that many who cared had left the scene and of the others who could remember, most have busy lives, and so trying to sort this out just isn't a priority. Which is fair enough.

But for me, cutting out or ignoring a whole huge chunk of fandom only lessens it for everyone. There's a lot of clever, wonderful, creative, vibrant people who don't turn up to cons anymore because there's nothing for them. And personally, I'd like to see them back.
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