dalekboy (dalekboy) wrote,

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A Tale of Two Natcons

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.
Tags: conventions, fandom, perception shift, serious thoughts

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