By Race Mathews
Race Mathews was, as this article shows, one of the founding members of the Melbourne Science Fiction Club, and since 1992 has returned to an active interest in SF. To the rest of the world, however, he is Director of the Institute of Politics and Public Affairs in the Graduate School of Government at Monash University. He was Victoria’s Minister for Community Services (1987-88) and Minister for the Arts and Minister for Police and Emergency Services (1982-87). He represented Oakleigh in the Victorian Legislative Assembly from 1979 to 1992, and Casey in the federal House of Representatives from 1972 to 1975, and was a Councillor for the City of Croydon from 1964 to 1966. He was Principal Private Secretary to the Leader of the Opposition in Victoria (1976-79) and federally (1967-72). His Australia’s First Fabians: Middle-Class Radicals, Labour Activists and the Early Labour Movement was published by Cambridge University Press in 1993, and he is currently writing about the co-operative movement in Britain, Canada and Spain
Race Mathews opened each of the 1975 and 1985 Worldcons, both held in Melbourne.
This article was re-printed from Bruce Gillespie’s fanzine, Metaphysical Review. It was first written as a paper to be presented at Nova Mob.
Due to the size of the article, it has been split into several sections. Fortunately Race had already divided the article into several discrete sections.
Part 1: First Encounters
Any account of the origins of the Melbourne Science Fiction Group, which later became the Melbourne Science Fiction Club, must in the nature of things be as much about biography as history. In order to understand how the MSFG (Melbourne Science Fiction Group) was established, it is necessary also to understand how in the first place the Group’s founders acquired tastes for science fiction which were tantamount to an addiction, and what it was that led them on further to the point where an organisation was required. In as much as what follows sets out the development of my own reading habits to the point of my discovery of science fiction and membership of the MSFG, it is offered as a paradigm from which the experiences of others may differ in detail, but which in a broad sense reflects the group as a whole.
Part 2: Proto-fan by Race Mathews
It was my good luck to be born into a household where science fiction was accepted and appreciated, at a time when reading was not yet in the process of being supplanted for entertainment purpose by the electronic media. My father before me had been an avid reader of H. G. Wells, Jules Verne, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Sir Henry Rider Haggard, and a keen collector of the early American science fiction magazine Amazing Stories. The sale of his collection to meet mid-Depression household expenses around the time of my birth was in a sense a metaphor for a life which was largely given over to sacrifice of his and my mother’s interests to those of their children. Continue reading
Part 3: by Race Mathews
My taste for the story papers of my father’s generation had the side effect of involving me for the first time when I was sixteen in the establishment of a new organisation – the Old Boys’ Book Club (Australasian Branch). E. S. Turner’s Boys Will Be Boys – published in 1948 and widely reviewed – was the first comprehensive account of how story-paper collecting was becoming a widespread hobby, with its own clubs and journals. Thanks to Turner, I was able to subscribe to Herbert Leckenby’s Collector’s Digest from York in England, Bill Gander’s Story Paper Collector from Manitoba in Canada and the distinctively American Reckless Ralph’s Dime Novel Roundup. Leckenby put me in touch with Bill Martin, a London milkman with a profitable sideline in supplying story papers to a worldwide clientele, and also with the secretaries of the London, Midlands and Northern branches of the British Old Boys’ Book Club.
Part 4: by Race Mathews
It was in the course of window-shopping for American comics that I came in touch for the first time with science fiction. The circumstances of the encounter were much the same as for Amis or Pohl. The year was 1944. I, too, was nine years old. Travelling to school involved a change of trams at the junction of Balaclava Road and High Street in St Kilda. Close by the tram stop, second-hand comics and magazines were sold by a down-at-heel shop with a verandah which carried in faded letters the word Saddler, alongside a lifesize wooden horsehead. Saddler in due course became my name for the equally down-at-heel proprietor. At first the daily wait for my change of trams was passed simply staring at such publications as found their way into Saddler’s window. American comics – when available – were given pride of place, on a special display stand. One Thursday, room had had to be made for a thicker magazine, with untrimmed edges. The cover featured a couple of bulbous red bipeds, directing something like an old-fashioned movie camera at a man and woman dressed for tropical exploration and confined in a cage. It was the tenth anniversary issue of Thrilling Wonder Stories, published five years earlier, in 1939. As in the case of the American comics, the price was 2/6. Continue reading
Part 5: by Race Mathews
An advertisement in one of my purchases introduced me to Ken Slater’s Operation Fantast network. Slater was a captain with the British Army on the Rhine. His purpose in life was putting science fiction readers in touch with one another. He also supplied American magazines and paperbacks to countries where the postwar dollar shortage meant they were otherwise un- available. Operation Fantast linked me with Roger Dard in Perth, who was Slater’s Australian representative. Roger turned out to be a fellow admirer of the Nelson Lee Library and also of the Aldine Press Dick Turpin Library, which had been a favourite of my grandfather’s generation. I loaned him my Lees and was loaned in return prewar issues of Astounding and Thrilling Wonder Stories.
Part 6: by Race Mathews
Melbourne tackled matters in a different spirit. The five of us – Bob McCubbin, Mervyn Binns, Dick Jenssen, Lee Harding and myself – made up the core of the Melbourne Science Fiction Group. The inaugural meeting of the MSFG took place in the living room of my home in Hampton on 9 May 1952. Lee records the occasion as having been instigated by a sort of collaboration between Bob McCubbin and Race Mathews. In Dick’s characteristically tongue-in-cheek view:
Race, I’m sure, was the guiding light in the foundation of the Melbourne Science Fiction Group, for it was he who brought together those who would constitute its nucleus. (If it seems remarkable that a 16-year-old could accomplish this – that is, the formation of the club, not the seduction to science fiction of a youth of but 15 tender years (me) – it must be remembered that Race was a boy of remarkable precocity. He always seemed old to me – an Olympian of wisdom. Baby-faced he was, Lee, but rather in the manner I’ve always imagined Odd John would be).
Part 7: by Race Mathews
The creative side of the MSFG was instigated by Lee and Dick. We, Lee told Dick in 1952, must put out a fanzine. What resulted after lengthy gestation was not one fanzine but five, titled respectively Perhaps, Bacchanalia, Etherline, Question Mark and Antipodes. The vehicle for all this activity was Amateur Fantasy Publications of Australia (AFPA), which owned the group’s stencils, paper and ink, and in due course – after extensive experimentation with less satisfactory devices – had the carriage of its purchase of a Roneo 500 duplicator. The initial membership of AFPA was Lee, Dick and Mervyn Binns. I was a latecomer, and two new arrivals in the MSFG, Ian Crozier and Kevin Whelahan, joined later again.
THE NIGHT THE MELBOURNE SF CLUB BURNT DOWN
By Mervyn Barrett
-Originally published in Sam Long’s QWERTYUIOP 8.
When I lived in Melbourne, Captain Cook’s Cottage was where the Myer Music Bowl is now, and if you wanted to go out to Coburg by tram via Hawthorn, the journey could take you several days, and even then you mightn’t get there. The Melbourne Science Fiction club was in Somerset Place, a narrow back alley which in those days walked (a quieter time, when streets never ran anywhere) fifty yards in from Little Bourke Street and then stopped. Mervyn Binns had talked McGill’s bookstore into giving us the top floor of their warehouse and we had, and had room for, a duplicator, bookshelves, a home-made non-regulation sized ping-pong table (an ideal collating surface), a few rows of old cinema seats and lots of science Fiction fans. On a mezzanine floor up above the rafters was a room containing three toilet cubicles and a washbasin.
In those days the Crown and all things best and British were revered. That a Union Jack, which we found in the rafters, was hung from a clubroom window for the duration of a visit by Queen Elizabeth even though we knew that Somerset Place wasn’t one of the streets chosen for the royal procession is, I think, a fair indication of our loyalty and the strength of our patriotic feelings. Continue reading