Conjecture – 2009 Australian Natcon

While the New Zealand convention was around the sort of size I expected, the Australian one seemed rather small. In Auckland we had around 120 members, in Adelaide around 170. However, while the population of Australia is much larger than that of New Zealand, the population of the two cities is roughly the same. And while Australia is rather easier to drive around, the distances between cities are much greater. Many Australians from outside Melbourne will be saving up their dollars for the trip to Worldcon next year. Conjecture therefore has plenty of good excuses for being small.

On the other hand, Conjecture was very much run on the laid back Australian principle of “she’ll be right”. That’s a phrase that means (approximately): “things are going perfectly well, thank you, and no further effort is required, so if it is OK with you I’m going back to relaxing with a beer”. When I arrived at the convention on Friday there was no printed program schedule, though Friday’s panels were scrawled on a whiteboard. By Sunday they had finally got a Monday’s program sorted and printed. They got an artist GoH late in the day, but last I looked he still wasn’t featured on the web site. There are pluses and minuses to such an approach. It was a real delight on Monday afternoon to hear some committee members saying that they had had great time and wanted to run another con. But it also looked rather disorganized.

Conjecture didn’t seem very interested in authors. Some did OK. Julie Czerneda, as the overseas guest, got a bunch of panels. Local hero Sean Williams was also prominent. But Fiona McIntosh, also local, was supposed to turn up and didn’t – I don’t know what happened there. And Joel Shepard, also local, was only on one panel which he apparently missed because no one told him. Trudi Canavan did a panel about chocolate. Most of the big name Australian writers were not there.

The Fan Guests of Honor, however, were awesome. Catherine and Steve Scholz are amongst the finest costumers in Adelaide. They also have a small sideline in providing displays to advertise movies. They make life-size mannequins of movie characters from paper maché. Many of them were on display around the convention. Steve and Catherine graced us with a number of fine costumes throughout the weekend.

Although the program was a bit of a mystery at times, what we had went off very well. The Ditmar Award ceremony was very smooth (and huge thanks to Dave Cake for loaning me his laptop and mobile broadband account to cover the event). The masked ball was also a lot of fun, thanks in no small part to Sean Williams’ skill as a DJ, though it did make the point that if you have a “masked ball” instead of a masquerade then most people will just come in a mask, not a costume. Those who do wear costumes will probably have to shed them to dance. Overall it actually decreases the costuming element of the event rather than increasing it.

A few words about Adelaide are in order. When I was in Auckland it was suggested to me that visiting fans might find Cuba Street in Wellington (where the 2010 NZ Natcon is to be held) a little scary. Prostitution is legal in NZ, and there are brothels fairly obviously advertised. I wasn’t in Wellington over a weekend, and I suspect that the area will get a little boisterous at that time, but even sleepy Adelaide is a step up. “City of Churches” it may be, but Adelaide on a Saturday night reminded me somewhat of Liverpool or Leeds. The area where the con hotel was located was full of young women wearing rather more in the way of make-up and perfume than clothing, and young men looking either like soccer hooligans or like rugby league players stuffed into suits two sizes too small for them. A restaurant a few doors down from the con hotel featured topless waitresses.

On the other hand, Adelaide also has the best food market I have seen anywhere. It has well over 200 stalls. I lost count of the number of cheese shops. I also got some great Lebanese and Thai food at restaurants. The city is home to the Haigh’s chocolate factory, and is on the edge of one of the best wine growing regions in the world. My hotel boasted a celebrity chef. You can eat really well in Adelaide.

I must admit that I didn’t have the best of luck at Conjecture. On Saturday night I went down with food poisoning – almost certainly my own fault for eating oysters – and consequently had to bow out early from the dance. On Sunday night I was followed back to my hotel by a drunk who periodically threatened to kill me, which would have been scarier if we weren’t on well lit main streets and he wasn’t with two other guys who looked faintly embarrassed about his ravings. And on Monday one of the Australian fans was abysmally rude to me – the sort of thing that would cause moral outrage on LiveJournal if it had happened at a US con, but which one is expected to shrug off in Australia. However, I also got to make a bunch of new friends, and hang out with some people I hadn’t seen in years. Adelaide isn’t Melbourne, but it felt a lot more like home than Auckland.

I’d like to make particular mention of the tribute to Ian Gunn presented by James ‘Jocko’ Allen. I can’t quite believe that it is more than 10 years since Gunny died. His art is as fresh and fascinating as ever. Hopefully some of the material assembled by Jocko and K’Rin for “The Gunny Project” will get put online.

Another very interesting panel was the one by the Australian Science Fiction Foundation. Two new projects were announced. The first was the Norma K Hemming Award, which is to be given for using science fiction to explore diversity issues (race, gender, etc.). The other is Meteor, which is a plan to set up a repository of books, magazines and other SF memorabilia rather like the Eaton Collection in California. These are both great initiatives, and I hope they both do well.

I’m not sure that there is anything to be learned about Aussiecon 4 from Conjecture. The folks who put it on are mostly not involved in running the Worldcon. Melbourne is pretty much a known quantity, and there’s a fair amount of overlap with the 1999 committee. If you are planning to come to Melbourne, my video and photos of the convention center and airport are of far more interest. Adelaide does have a convention center, and bills itself as a convention venue, but there’s no big on-site hotel and the local fan group doesn’t have a lot of convention experience. If Australia does ever bid for a Worldcon anywhere other than Melbourne I suspect that Perth will be the venue, but even that has to be 10 years away.

One thing I did learn is that the 2010 Australian Natcon will be a “con within a con” at Worldcon. Dudcon 3 will have separate membership, and all you will get for your money will be a badge and entry to a barbeque/party. However, you get to decide how much you want to pay, and you have the pleasure of knowing that your money will be going towards financing the Ditmar Awards. As soon as the con has a web site I shall be pointing you at it.

More about the convention can be seen in my video diary and photos.