Trawling old Newszines

(April 2021, originally in ANZAPA 320)

              For my sins – and they must have been serious infractions for me to be doing this – I’ve spent the past three or four weeks trawling the newszines that have been scanned and saved on the Fanac.org website.  There are an awful lot of them.

              There is a serious reason for putting myself through this torment.  Between the collapse of Sydney fandom in 1955 and the 1966 convention in Melbourne there is not much of a written record of what went on in fandom in Australia so, in an act of desperation, I went to see what was recorded about it overseas.  I had also hoped to find issues of Ian Crozier’s Etherline or Merv Binns Australian SF Newsletter but there are none of the former and only one issue of the latter were to be found.  There are scans of Graham Stone’s Science Fiction News but there is nothing in them about science fiction fandom in Australia and only a little about science fiction here.  The latter is understandable because there was little going on in science fiction here except for various attempts at reprint magazines and nothing about fandom here because either there wasn’t anything to report on or what there was was not the kind of fandom that Stone approved of.

              Starting at the beginning of 1955 I opened and peered at every page of every newszine that Fanac.org has in its chronological listing of newszines.  This is not a terribly difficult thing to do and, on the larger computer screen I have these days, the scans on the site are easy enough to read.  But it isn’t called trawling for nothing.  I might look at ten, twenty, fifty or a hundred pages before finding anything that I’m likely to be interested in.  When that happens I write it done on one of my 5′ by 8′ filing cards, either in detail or just as a note so I know where I can find the information later if I need it again.  Having done that, I trawl on.

              This could be very tedious work but I got used to it when I was doing the research for my PhD thesis.  This was in the days before the internet and TROVE so I put together a comprehensive record of that happened in civil aviation in Western Australia between 1918 and 1940 by looking at every issue of the West Australia, and most issue of the Western Mail and the Daily News on microfilm at the State Library.  I treated it like a job; library opening hours five days a week for a year and a half, copying everything out by typing into the laptop computer that I bought specially for the job.  This was pretty high tech for the time and other library users found the noise from my typing distracting as they scratched their notes with their quill pens, so I was consigned to a little room at the back of the library away from everyone else.  Fortunately for me one of the senior reporters for the West was also the secretary of the local Aero Club after it was formed and so minute details of aeroclub doings appeared quite regularly to keep me interested.

              After that trial by ordeal looking through a few issues of small newszines for a decade is like a stroll down to the park, observing the local landscape as one passes.  And in some ways it’s a very interesting landscape and, as I write this I wish I’d taken a few more notes so I could describe it to you.  For an example, and I include this for Gary, there is the first notes of Lenny Bailes Comic Collector and the first issue of Don and Maggie Thompson’s comics fanzine, both in 1960 or 1961.  I was amused when the reviewer of the second issue of Comic Collector noted that it already had 500 subscribers and added something like ‘what monster have we created’.

              The general shape of the landscape is easier to report.  Fantasy Times, which was later retitled Science Fiction Times was the Locus of its time, reporting all the latest developments in the science fiction field.  When I started reading in in 1955 the boom in science fiction magazines was at its height so the news of the latest proposed magazines and the contents of the existing ones was the staple of that newszine so it bulged with information.  By the beginning of the 1960s, however, the boom was over and so SF Times gradually faded away, not having picked up that the growth area was in book publishing, though perhaps that had yet to take off enough to be noticeable to my quick gaze.  On the other hand, fannish newszines flouished from the later 1950s into the 1960s with titles like Focal Point, Fanac and Skyrack.  Because of the close liaison between fans and prodom at that time there was also more stfnal news in the fannish newszines than there was sometimes in SF Times.

              This was a time when ghiants strode the fannish landscape with Tucker and Ackerman still active, Irish fandom of Bob Shaw, John Berry and Walt Willis still active and a host of North American fans whose names are still remembered by old timers today were at central stage; Carr (Terry and GM), Elick, Busby, Rotsler, White and on.  There were also some neofans emerging who later went on to become BNFs and SMOFs.  As the 1950s turned into the 1960s more of the names became familiar to me and also the number that I later corresponded with or met.

              It was also a period before fandom became so big that it began to split up into different countries.  While SF Times tried to stick to news about the pro field it carried reports of conventions and, late in life when it was starting to run out of other material, fanzine reviews.  The fannish newszines also reported on conventions, from a more personal perspective to be sure, but also fan funds, the achievements of pro friends – in one of them Bob Bloch noted, almost as an afterthought, that Hitchcock was going to make a movie forebears his novel Psycho.

              There is a certain knack to trawling that I guess you pick up when you’ve done enough of it.  That is the ability to look at a page of print without actually reading most of it, but letting information that you are interested in ‘catch your eye’ (about the only way I can describe it).  Somewhere, perhaps on the subconscious, everything is taken in even if it doesn’t register consciously so when I was looking at the West I’d suddenly know that if I flicked back a page or two I’d fine something that I needed to make a note of, and when I went back there was a line or three about some flying activity that I had not noticed consciously.  I can’t say that it’s happened much on this project but on one occasion I found a couple of lines hidden away about a plan in 1961 for a yearbook of Australian fan writing to be put together by Chris Bennie which never appeared, so far as I know.  There was also the departure dates for when Ron and Cindy Smith set sail for Australia and apparently began their new life here in Canberra.

              Now all I have to do is make sense of it all.


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