The Australian Science Fiction Foundation, or ASFF (affectionately known as the Foundation) was formally established back in 1976, partially to carry on the work of the 1975 Aussiecon, which was Australia's first World Science Fiction Convention. The Foundation was the nucleus for the successful Aussiecon II bid and its members worked, along with many others, to run the 1985 Worldcon in Melbourne. In March 1988, the Foundation became an incorporated association.
The Foundation was formed in June 1976 following the success of Aussiecon and the writers' workshop held with Ursula Le Guin in 1975. It was felt that there was a need for an 'official' organisation which could be used to apply for grants to government bodies for science fiction-related activities such as writers' workshops.
Those involved in the establishment of the Foundation later reported that, "It was found that the best sort of organisation would be a co-operative... this would give the Foundation a legal footing and remove the danger of fans happily organising high finance deals incurring personal liability."
Prelude to the Foundation
The Foundation's first workshop was held at Monash University early in 1977, featuring George Turner (from Australia), Christopher Priest (from UK) and Vonda McIntyre (from USA) as writers in residence. This was held also to coincide with Monoclave (a convention) and talks to Nova Mob and visits by Chris and Vonda to other cities. The Foundation gave financial and administrative support to another workshop run by Petrina Smith in Sydney in 1979, with Terry Carr and George Turner as writers in residence; grants were also given to Jeff Harris in Adelaide for several mini workshops. From the start, despite its Melbourne geolocation, the Foundation was attempting to be inclusive of activities across Australia.
Shortly after these workshops, Paul Collins published Envisaged Worlds, a book of Australian SF writings. UK author Christopher Priest wrote in the foreword:
"I spent a slightly crazed and definitely exhausting month in Melbourne at the beginning of 1977. I was there, together with Vonda McIntyre, the American writer, to help conduct the writers' workshop at Monash University... My short visit to Melbourne, and my week with the workshop, was enough to convince me that there is not only a great deal of existing talent in Australia, but that there is much more coming up from behind. I'm looking forward, with real interest, to see what happens next."
Although the initial focus was on writers' workshops, the Foundation's activities were not limited to that area. It also provided start-up loans to various conventions, and began producing The Instrumentality, its own newsletter; while also providing financial support to The Australian Science Fiction News. The Foundation produced a radio program on SF for Melbourne radio station 3ZZZ. It began to sponsor and run short short competitions at conventions. And those were just its early days.
This optimistic start would set a high standard for subsequent decades of activities by the Foundation.
On 7 July 1976, the Australian Science Fiction Foundation Cooperative Ltd. became a legally constituted organisation. Its initial aims were to further science fiction in Australia. Several people immediately became shareholders in the Foundation, requiring them to purchase a minimum of ten $1 shares, of which each share must be paid up to the amount of 10 cents (ie. a total of $1). Its initial five directors were Peter Darling, Kitty Vigo, Mervyn Binns, Carey Handfield, and Peter Millar.
Nearly half a century has elapsed since the Foundation was born, and new generations of SF fans have grown up in a world where the Foundation has left its mark. The many hundreds of people who have contributed directly to its activities over that time - and the many thousands of people who have benefited from those activities - should be proud of their efforts to encourage and nurture science fiction in Australia. The Foundation has developed two prestigious awards: the Chandler and the Hemming. It has supported numerous conventions, workshops, clubs, and writers. In a nation where SF has become much more mainstream in both literature and entertainment, the Foundation has a valuable role to play in the further development, encouragement, and facilitation of science fiction in Australia. This included the fostering of arts, literature, fandom, critical thinking, related sciences, and the nurturing of individuals and cohorts within the genre.
The proud history of the Foundation has helped to create the modern face of Australian SF, and with the decline of many of the traditional science fiction activities due to COVID lockdowns and other changes in the lives of our traditional membership base, it is time for us to take stock and look ahead with new eyes and fresh ideas.
There are many people involved with the SF genre, in various fandoms, franchises, and forms. There are cohorts of fandom – for example Whovians or furries, Trekkers or cosplayers, Browncoats or gaymers, PotterHeads or Jedi – that have evolved during the lifetime of the Foundation, and whose enthusiastic adherents deserve inclusion within our activities and purview.
There is also an ongoing need to encourage and nurture continued innovation and creativity within the genre. Fiction, fanfic, and futurism all need to be tended. Actors, authors and audiences need fresh inspiration. Literature, life learning, and liberating legacies may be our ultimate gift to the future if we have the courage to not only dream dreams but to weave those ideals into reality.
Geoff Allshorn, Vice President's Report, at the ASFF AGM, 30 January 2022.
Don Ashby & Kitti Vigo (eds.), 'The Australian Science Fiction Foundation, a preamble', in The Instrumentality, Vol. 1, Edition 1, Australian Science Fiction Foundation, 1977.
Author Unknown, ASFF/Writers Workshop (pamphlet), Australian Science Fiction Foundation Cooperative Ltd, 1976.
Carey Handfield, The Australian Science Fiction Foundation - A Short History, c. 1986.
Christopher Priest, 'Swimming Against the Stream', in Paul Collins (ed.), Envisaged Worlds, St Kilda: Void Publications, 1978, pp. 1 & 2.
With Thanks: the Foundation thanks the family of Merv and Helena Binns for making Merv's archival papers available.