Over the past year, I have told my readers about legs #1 (Rapa Nui or Easter Island) and #2 (Tahiti) and #3 ( New Zealand ) of a trip my family and I took in 1985. I had the pleasure of taking my family across the south Pacific on an extended vacation. We traveled from La Serena (Chile) to Santiago de Chile to Easter Island to Tahiti to Auckland, New Zealand to Melbourne, Australia and finally to Sydney, Australia.
The “reason” (or more correctly, the excuse) for the trip was that we wanted to go to the World Science Fiction convention (a/k/a AussieCon II), which was in Melbourne that year. We had never been to Australia, so it would be great fun, and from Chile all non-south-american destinations are roughly equivalent. Thus, for us it did not really matter if we went to Australia, the United States of America, or Europe, any vacation trip we took would take next-to-forever on the travel. Going to Australia meant that the travel involved such interesting places as Easter Island, Tahiti, and New Zealand.
Seven years earlier, we had greatly enjoyed going to a World Science Fiction Convention (IguanaCon II) in Phoenix, Arizona [*]. For anyone who has not been to one, let me explain that it is a 5-day annual event, involving thousands of people who enjoy some form of speculative fiction (fantasy, science fiction, horror, or any other form of not-mainstream fiction), who have paid a couple hundred dollars for the 5-day ticket (it is also possible to buy one-day tickets at the door). Despite media portrayals, the Convention-goers are not 10,000 trekkies, although there will be many trekkers there, clad in their Enterprise uniforms. However, the best costumes are not the ones worn by fans in the hall, but the ones displayed by fanatics at the Masquerade. A World Con Masquerade is a 4-hour costume contest exhibiting costumes often crafted for the entire year: the people entering them love their work with a passion, and the detail and design are at least great and often exquisite. If you can only attend one day, get a Saturday ticket and spend the evening watching these people display their work.
Other activities during a world convention include awarding the Hugos (Science Fiction’s equivalent to the Emmys), Opening and Closing ceremonies, the Art show [**], Guest of Honor speeches, steampunk balls (dance events with enormous numbers of participants), the Art auction, authors reading their work (typically 32 authors per day in two rooms, each doing a half-hour reading of something new), panels on every subject under the sun, the Huxter room (tens of thousands of square feet of vendors), films and video, gaming rooms, filksinging rooms, … the list goes on.
The location changes from year to year: a successful venue implies a convention committee team who spent years arranging hotels and convention space, marketing it to potential voters, and then were successful at winning the bid against any competing venues. The vote is at the convention two years earlier than the one being voted on. The United States is divided into thirds, with only one third eligible each year, so the fans of an American city hosting a convention may not vote for host city immediately (it is not eligible until the following year). That convention committee team may have started off as a dozen people with a vision, expanded to a hundred once the bid was won, and be flushed out by hundreds of people willing volunteer at the convention itself. It needs that many: those hundreds will be helping thousands of Convention-goers (10,000+ if the venue is LA or Chicago) enjoy themselves at seminars, panels, speeches, presentations, and other activities running simultaneously in three-dozen tracks spread across the many rooms of a convention center. I do not recall how many events there were at the Australia convention, but the one held in Reno two years ago had 1500 events for its 6000 attendees. Mind you, while the Australia convention had a large number of members, only 1600 actually made the trip to Melbourne, a relatively small number of attendees. Still, it was a very memorable WorldCon: that was the year William Gibson won the Hugo for Neuromancer (best novel). John Varley (novella), Octavia Butler (novelette), David Brin (short story), Jack Williamson (non-fiction), Michael Whelan (artist), and others also won Hugos … and are now major names in Science Fiction.
Only having 1600 in attendence made for a relatively mellow convention with few large crowds. In between interesting events, we got around Melbourne a little bit, exploring the city. I perhaps should not have been surprised, but was: Melbourne has a large Chinatown district and good oriental cuisine. Something else that surprised me was the number of restaurants which required a tie: since I had not brought one, we did not go to those places. Surprising then but not now was the large quantity of BYOB restaurants. Texas does that a lot, but at the time it was novel for me. They expected you to buy your wine or beer elsewhere, bring it in, and then they would charge a corkage fee to open it and provide you glasses. We discovered the Australians to be wonderful hosts and charming people in all regards but one: Pavlova (a meringue-based dessert with lots of fruit). Apparently they have a severe dispute with the folks of New Zealand over which country invented the dessert 90 years ago … it is part of both of their national cuisines !
If one is travelling all the way to the Land of Aus (Oz), it would be a shame to not see more than one city. So I had arranged with my employer to spend a vacation day in Sydney, so that I could spend a work day in Eppling (my family had two days in Sydney as a result). I am afraid my wife’s recollections of Sydney are not good: she got totally confused by the left-side-of-the-street driving and ended up on the wrong side of Sydney Harbor, eventually abandoning the rental car and taking a cab. As for me, I spent my work day enjoying the couple hour trip up into the coastal mountains, to meet with folks from the Anglo-Australian Telescope (AAT) at Eppling Labs. They had developed an infra-red instrument system called FIGS, and I was about to work on a similar project for my employer, Cerro Tololo Inter-american Observatory (CTIO). Keep in mind that this was long before the internet: I literally had to travel halfway around the world to see the other project.
Driving misadventures notwithstanding, it was a fun trip, and I highly recommend travel to Australia and New Zealand. It is a long ways to go, but well worth it. Having only seen part of the most south-eastern sixteenth of the Australia and only the North Island of New Zealand, I would love to go back myself, and visit other portions of Australia and the other two main islands of New Zealand.
[*] IguanaCon II was held in Phoenix, 1978; 4700 attended. Hugos went to Frederik Pohl, Spider Robinson, Joan D. Vinge, Harlan Ellison, Star Wars, Richard Geis, Phil Foglio, et alia. It was also the year the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer acclaimed the debut of Orson Scott Card.
[**] At Renovention (the 2011 World Con), there was well over one million dollars of art on display.