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The Making of Thylacon: The 44th Annual National Australian Science Fiction
by Steve Lazarowitz

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Thylacon Logo Thylacon is the 44th annual National Australian Science Fiction convention; the first con I'll be attending since I've moved to Tasmania. I've attended all sorts of cons in the US (mostly in the northeast), including a couple of World Cons, but this is the first time I've seen how a con is put together. It's a lot of hard work for a very long time.

This convention, which is the fourth Thylacon, will be held in Hobart, Tasmania on June 10-13, 2005. This is great news for me, since there's no way I'd be able to afford a trip to the mainland. As such, I'm going through con withdrawal. Thylacon, however, will be like no con I've been to before.

As a brief aside, Thylacon is named for the thylacine, the now extinct Tasmanian tiger. As a recent Australian arrival, this was news to me, but I did finally get to see some old black and white footage of the creature and feel it's an appropriate mascot for a SF con. It could have easily appeared as an alien animal in an episode of the original Star Trek, assuming the species had survived into the 60s.

I discovered the existence of Thylacon quite by accident, while researching some Australian science fiction authors. I found the name Tansy Rayner Roberts first, and her web page led me to con information. I emailed her about it and ended up on the mailing list. So when the first volunteer meeting was called sometime last September, I was there.

This is when I first met "the pack" as they call themselves on the Thylacon web page. Australian author Tansy Rayner Roberts, as already mentioned, spearheads the pack, along with Andrew Finch (a member of the Andromeda Spaceways Co-Op), Robin Johnson, Jilli Roberts, Cary Lenehan, and Allannah Turner. You can't say enough about how hard everyone has worked (except for me, since I've done little but attend meetings and smile a lot). I had a lot to smile about.

One thing you have to love about fandom is that it's the same all over the world. You'll always find fans of Dr. Who, Star Trek, Farscape, Babylon 5, and of course, fans of just about any writer you can imagine, but here I was the odd man out. I'd only been in Tasmania a short time, and a lot of the Australian authors mentioned I'd never heard of. Apparently, I have a lot of catching up to do.

There are two things you have to think about when setting up a convention -- funding and content. Funding is one of the rude realities you have to deal with, because without it, you can't have a convention. You have to pay for convention space, airfare and hotel rooms for the guests of honor, and, well, for everything.

In the early meetings, fundraising was a topic brought up often, which involved tracking down corporate sponsors, selling ads to local businesses to appear in the program book, selling tables to local businesses to display their wares at the con itself, and a couple of quiz nights at a local bar, neither of which I was able to attend.

But other things were being pulled together too at these early meetings. Finch did a tremendous job on the web page and newsletter; Jilli handled our corporate sponsors; Allannah dealt with publicity in general. But, as always, there was more to do. No International Guest of Honor had been named, and the very essence of the con, programming, had yet to commence.

For those who have never been to one, conventions center on programming, panels on which the convention guests appear, in this case, mostly writers. I've yet to see the programming for Thylacon, but at conventions past, I've attended panels on such diverse topics as writing, world-building, alien religions, various SF television series, and the future of politics, sex, psychology, and just about anything else you can name.

But there is a difference between Thylacon and other cons I've attended. Tansy suggested that we might be looking at 150 attendees. Never having been to a con with less than 500, I suspect fans will be able to get closer to their favorite authors, and that the entire setting will be more intimate.

One item of programming that is foreordained is the Ditmar Awards, the awards for Australian science fiction, for which Cary is responsible. The winners of the Ditmars are announced each year at the National Australian Science Fiction convention; this year will be no exception. I find the idea of attending the award ceremony for the first time exciting.

In addition to this, two other convention mainstays were being planned. Jilli ended up responsible for the art show and the Saturday night masquerade party. I don't think I've ever been to a con without both these events. I particularly look forward to the art show, as Tasmania boasts a bohemian culture. It seems creativity is a normal part of life here, moreso than even in New York City, where I'd lived most of my life. It was something I hadn't expected when I moved here, but enjoy nonetheless.

Something about planning a convention that I hadn't counted on (not that I did any of the planning, I was lucky they let me sit in on meetings), is the fact that nothing ever goes as planned. While Jilli was negotiating with companies to fund the con, and Allanah was busy trying to promote it, and Finch was doing web pages and newsletters, and Tansy was trying to pull the whole thing together, Thylacon lost its venue. The hotel where the con was supposed to be held was suddenly under new management, and during the con dates was being renovated.

I can't imagine the kind of panic that must have been involved in finding an alternate venue, within budget on short notice, but somehow it happened. Thylacon has moved to a bigger room at the Wrest Point Casino in Hobart, which might mean greater attendance. Fortunately, there was room in the budget for the move, because at that point, Tansy was still working on getting an International Guest of Honor. Both Australian and fan Guests of Honor had already signed on.

Marianne de Pierres Nylon Angel Code Noir
The Australian Guest of Honor, Marianne de Pierres, is the author of the Parrish Plessis series (yet another series I have to buy and read before con-time). She is also the author of short fiction for both adults and children. While she lives in Australia, her books are published in the UK.

As this is my first foray into Australian fandom, I'm not familiar with the fan Guest of Honor. In a lot of ways, it's like learning the ropes all over again.

Meetings continued, and I made most of them. More discussions about how to raise money. Robert Valentine, the Lord Mayor of Hobart, was invited to attend the con as a special guest. In response, he offered Thylacon a 'by invitation only' reception for the convention guests and panelists. Hopefully this will get Thylacon some much needed media attention.

The pack also discussed holding a 'Meet the Authors' party on the first night of the con, so fans could get up close and personal with their favorite authors. But all this would have been a shadow of what it could have been, without the right international guest.

Shadows and Light Heir to the Shadows Queen of the Darkness
I was at the meeting the night Tansy announced that our final Guest of Honor would be award-winning author Anne Bishop. At last, a name I'd heard. When you discuss the pioneers of science fiction romance, Anne Bishop's name almost always comes up. The Black Jewels Trilogy and The Tir Alainn Trilogy are among her claims to fame.

With the International Guest of Honor named, the ground work for the convention has been laid, but the real work has yet to begin.

I hope you'll join me next time, as I continue my coverage of the making of Thylacon.

Copyright © 2005 Steve Lazarowitz

Steve Lazarowitz is a speculative fiction writer, an editor, a father, a husband, an animal lover and a heck of a nice guy (not necessarily in that order). Steve lives in Moonah, Tasmania with his family and four giant spiny leaf insects. You can check out his work at http://www.dream-sequence.net.


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