1993: Merv Binns

Notes for an appreciation by Robin Johnson

I moved to this country in early 1969, but had known Merv for about two years by that time. Before I left the UK permanently, I had developed an interest in SF and Fanzines, and was going to Conventions. At this time I was working for BOAC, (now British Airways) and travel was very easy for me. Coming to Melbourne in 1967 or 1968, I found McGills Newsagency in Elizabeth Street. Checking the magazines in there one day, I got talking to Merv. I bought an early copy of John Bangsund’s ASFR, and was shown over the Melbourne SF Club’s meeting rooms around the back of the shop in Somerset Place; a property belonging to McGills and leased out as a result of Merv’s initiative (and partly because no one else would take it on.) I was very impressed, I admit partly because of the old hydraulic lift in the building, but also with the fact that the club had all that space in the middle of the city. Unfortunately I wasn’t able to get to a meeting, as I was leaving for Sydney the next day. Merv told me about the Sydney SF Foundation, which had recently started, and gave me Ron Clarke’s name and address to contact. As a result of going to an SSFF meeting, when I moved to Sydney some time later, I had contacts with fandom right away.

My first Australian Con was at the building Dame Edna referred to as Carnegie Hall – the 1969 Murrumbeena Eastercon, famous for being the first Australian Con with a reasonable gender ratio – mainly due to the influence of Star Trek and Mr Spock. Merv was almost as omnipresent as John Bangsund. As an interstate visitor I was pretty impressed with the con, and with the amount of energy that seemed to be around. Nearly everyone seemed to be involved with Merv in at least one of his several activities – Merv’s father Ernie, was running a dahlia nursery, and was the only person who had difficulty getting him to do things.

After I got back from Sydney, several Sydney fans decided to get busy and run a Con there. I’m not sure whether Merv made the trip North to that first SynCon – held the New Year Weekend in the Epping Scout Hall – but I remember meeting Ron Graham for the first time. It must have been soon after this that Ron went into partnership with Merv to enable him to leave McGills and set up his own business. Also about this time it became difficult for Merv to be at the same time McGills’ employee and their tenant at Somerset Place. There were objections by the Town Hall and the Melbourne Fire Brigade to the showing of 16mm films, which used highly combustible nitrate stock, in an upstairs location of a very combustible building. [Merv was also responsible for acquiring and showing some early SF movies that never officially made it to Australia – LynC]

Space Age Books Pty Ltd operated initially upstairs in the Beehive Building in Elizabeth Street. Wherever Space Age Books was – the Beehive or the two subsequent shop premeses in Swanston Street – this was (with the weekly meal at Degraves Street Tavern) the centre of Melbourne fandom. I moved to Melbourne in 1971, and by this time, the big project was the 1975 Worldcon Bid. Merv and his shop figured prominently in John Lichen’s first Aussiefan film, made in 1972, which was probably the largest single factor in the winning of the bid. Much of the work of planning and scripting was done of his premeses and frequently by people on his payroll and on his time. No one could say he never complained, but he was one of those who was able to see from the start that a Worldcon in Australia would not only generate foreign interest in Australia, but also involve a large number of new fans here.

Meanwhile Merv’s Melbourne Fantasy Film Group was showing films at the Wesleyan Hall. Some of these films were horror films only newly permitted to be screened here after Don Chipp relaxed the censorship regulations.

Over the lead-up to 1975, he was one of the Australian fans who was making trips to the world conventions and helping make Australia better known among overseas fans through this period. By 1975, Space Age was set up in the Carr Camera Building and seemed to be employing half the fans in Melbourne, as well as hosting the MSFC and its library, (though not the film projectors) on its top floor.

The lead-up period and the convention itself, Aussiecon in 1975, must have been a drain on the resources of Merv and his business. I think no one involved, and certainly not Merv or the ailing Ron Graham, begrudged the effort, time and money it cost. Melbourne and Australia made many worldwide friends then and no one knows it better than me.

I see Merv less often now that I live away from Melbourne. His life is SF and Fantasy Films and books and, to his great credit, he is still making his living in the field he has known and loved since his teenage years. I’d like to finish by saying that I’m really pleased that the Foundation has seen fit to award Merv the Chandler Award for his services to Australian fandom. I’m sure the good Captain, as he looks back from the Rim, agrees with me that he deserves it.