The History of Austrek - How it all began… by Darren Maxwell
In the early/mid 1970s teenage school student Geoff Allshorn, along with a small gathering of school friends, was involved with a unique group called the Melbourne Amateur Science Club (MASC). The focus of the MASC was to promote sciences including Astronomy, Psychology, Archaeology and the pseudoscience's such as UFOlogy. The MASC even produced two publications, Club News and The Space Age.
In 1975 colour television arrived in Australia and with it came the re-introduction Star Trek, which hadn't been aired on TV for many years. Needless to say the young science enthusiasts were instantly hooked on the show, so a special subsection of the MASC was created by Geoff to focus on Star Trek and this was called ... Austrek.
Club members soon became aware that a small North Melbourne cinema called The Ritz was screening 35mm Star Trek episodes as fillers for other films, so they encouraged the cinema to run Star Trek marathons where a number of episodes would be screened in one night. As to be expected the embryonic Austrek and its members immersed themselves in these events and would continue to do so for the next 15 years.
However, by mid 1976 Austrek still hadn't branched out beyond the original 13 school students of the MASC, so the club made contact with the Star Trek Welcommittee in the USA (a group designed to link Star Trek fans together from around the world) whom they had learned about from the book Star Trek Lives.
The Welcommittee recommended Austrek speak to their Australian representative, a lady called Diane Marchant. When contact with Diane was made, it was quickly discovered she too had been attending the Star Trek marathons at The Ritz, meaning she was right under Austrek’s nose the whole time! In fact it was through Diane’s influence that Gene Roddenberry and Majel Barrett-Roddenberry were to become the club's earliest Honorary Members.
With the club now capable of reaching Star Trek fans far and wide, Austrek was officially launched (albeit nervously) to the public in November 1976 at a Star Trek marathon at The Ritz. Needless to say the response was way beyond what anyone expected.
Within two months the membership ballooned from the original 13 MASC members to 130 people! Due to this sudden success, it was decided to close the MASC and run Austrek as its own entity.
From here on the stars, and history, awaited…
With experience in producing publications for the MASC, SPOCK, subtitled "Star trek Propaganda On Club Kids", was intended to be both Austrek’s newsletter and fanzine (a fanzine is an amateur booklet populated with fan written stories and original artwork). Early issues of SPOCK were typed on a stencil and printed via a Fordigraph spirit duplicator.
After producing four singled-paged issues known as Volume 1, SPOCK was reborn as a dedicated fanzine without the subtitle known as Volume 2. The first 10 page issue of the new Volume 2 format appeared in 1976 and continued for 69 issues winning many awards and accolades until 1994 when it ceased publication.
With SPOCK designated as the club’s fanzine, a new newsletter had to be created and the first was Trekkie Talk of which there were only two issues released in December 1976 and January 1977. From February 1977 Trekkie Talk was rebranded into The Captain’s Log where the issue numbering cycle was restarted at #1. Despite the early editions only being four pages long, The Captain's Log is still in production with over 350 issues having now been published.
Club meetings in the early days were held at the homes of members on a bi monthly basis and were very successful until the crowds became too large for them to handle, as a consequence a church hall in Fairfield was then hired for regular gatherings. It was also from these meetings where the “first Saturday of the month” schedule was instigated to coincide with the Star Trek marathons, which were held on the same night.
Before long Austrek moved its meetings from Fairfield to the Women's Temperance Hall - more commonly known as The Dungeon (now the site of the Hyatt Hotel) - in Russell St in the city. The meetings were attended by around 30 likeminded fans and consisted of games, trivia contests, chatting and some serious speculating about the scientific and philosophical implications of Star Trek.
1978 saw Austrek run its first ever convention, Trekcon I which was a modest one day event that was a lot of fun and received a favourable write up in The Sun newspaper.
In 1979 the club made its first fan film called City on the Edge of the Yarra by Stephen Bates and Paul Murphy. This was filmed on a Super 8 camera and featured a comedic story about Kirk and Spock using the Guardian of Forever to arrive in the city the day a science fiction convention is being held, which in turn causes all measure of problems for them. Though once considered deteriorated and lost, this film has since been rediscovered and digitised.
In December 1979 Austrek booked out a cinema for Melbourne's opening night of Star Trek: The Motion Picture. This was followed by Austrek's second convention Trekcon II in April 1980, which attracted a much larger crowd than its predecessor. The Guest of Honour for this convention was Joe Haldeman who was the author of two Star Trek novels.
After a few years of operation, Austrek had well and truly established itself as a major player in worldwide communal fandom at a time when creative counter-culture activities were encouraged. It was also at this time when the club began organising a number of social events as well as fundraising for charity.
With the release of Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan in 1982, new faces were beginning to appear within the club. These were the fans who were too young to enjoy Star Trek when it first appeared on TV in the 1960s but were now living the fan experience in their youth via the films.
With the influx of these new members, 1983 saw Austrek meetings move venues once again from the city to St Luke’s Church Hall in Dorcas St South Melbourne which was to become the much loved home of the club for the next decade.
Austrek was now experiencing a gradual demographic shift as the younger generation of members were now joining the committee to run the club. A pivotal moment for the 'new' Austrek occurred at the Star Trek III: The Search for Spock chicken and champagne preview screening held in October 1984 at the Forum Cinema. It was at this event where four of Austrek's ladies were called to the front of the cinema wearing their 'Fed Red' movie costumes. For many in the audience it was the first time they had heard of Austrek which in turn boosted promotions significantly.
Consequently by the time the Star Trek III premiere was held less than two months later, a virtual army of young costumed fans arrived in the city square to march to the Forum Cinema for the screening.
This more than anything proved that Austrek was now evolving.
As the meetings were still being held on the same day as the Star Trek marathons - which were now screening at the National Mutual Theatrette in the city - it became the accepted norm that one would attend the meeting at St Luke’s Church Hall during the day; have a group dinner in the local restaurant around the corner in the afternoon/evening; then attend the marathons in the city that night ... but not to see the episodes. As strange as it might sound, the joy of the marathons was the fun of simply hanging out in the foyer chatting, laughing and having a great time while all the other patrons were inside watching the shows.
The focal point of Austrek in the 1970s was to celebrate Star Trek: The Original Series, but this interest was now being shared with the films which made its presence felt through the numerous movie costumes the younger fans were wearing to club meetings. Moreover, by the mid 1980s it was becoming clear that the enthusiastic vigour of the younger members was slowly driving the original 1970s members out of the club (or at least away from its social side) as attendances at the meetings had begun to fluctuate.
This generational shift also had a direct impact on the annual Christmas party. Up until the mid 1980s, the club Christmas party was designed to be a social review of the year gone by where older members would get together in quiet, reflective conversation. Yet with the younger fans now on the scene it was clear this format was not going to last.
1985 was a pivotal year for Melbourne fandom as it saw Aussiecon II the World Science Fiction Convention come to town thereby introducing many of the younger Austrek fans to the science fiction convention scene. It was also during this period where the social side of Austrek began to thrive through the various car rallies, ten pin bowling days and many other social activities that kept members entertained between meetings.
1985 also saw the formation of the club’s theatre group ‘Karidian Players’, whose play The Doubles are Tribbles written by Robert Jan held its one and only performance at the Christmas party that year.
In 1986 the club enjoyed one of its more unique social events, an overnight trip to a rural part of Lancefield to see Halley's Comet. This turned out to be a great weekend away as it brought back the memories of the old MASC as everyone felt like an astronomer for the night.
This year also saw the premiere of Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, where once again a mass meeting of costumed fans was the order of the day in the city square. Unlike the Star Trek III premiere held three years prior, this event was a bustling hive of unparalleled energy, particularly when an army of enthusiastic club members walked to the toy department on the sixth floor of Myer looking for these brand new (though rumoured) Trek toys that turned out didn't exist - the walk was still fun anyway. This event also reinforced the great joy of seeing the premiere of a Star Trek film in a cinema full of fans.
1986 also saw the beginning of the revamped Christmas party format which had morphed from the "quiet reflection" approach to now having costume parades, lights, music and dancing. This particular event featured a TV film crew from Day By Day (a prime time current affairs show) who were on hand to film a segment on the club. This footage has since become a fantastic time capsule for how Austrek looked during this period, especially as the club had only just turned ten years old.
Turning the Christmas parties into an actual "party" proved to be a huge win for the club. These events for the next few years became increasingly lavish theme based affairs - such as the "roaring 20s and 30s" and "Pirates of the Caribbean" - which were attended by many members of Melbourne science fiction fandom, even by those who didn't like Star Trek. Within a short time these parties gained a reputation of being "must attend" gala events and were easily the highlight of the year.
March 1987 saw Austrek's next convention Trekcon III occur at the Sheraton Hotel in the city. As per the new mantra of invading the city with Star Trek costumes whenever possible, the convention's programming actually required the entire membership to go out into the streets in large groups on Away Missions (scavenger hunts) which made for an interesting sight for sure.
This year also saw the significant event of Austrek taking part in the Moomba Parade for the first time. To prepare for this, club members assembled an impressive mock-up of the shuttle Galileo - incorporating the Enterprise bridge - and placed it on the back of a ute behind which around 50 costumed Austrekkers marched. Fortunately the club's entry was shown on TV which was recorded for prosperity and has since been digitised.
Then a new name suddenly appeared on everyone’s lips...
February 1987 heard the rumblings of a new Star Trek show being created called The Next Generation. Fans were very 50/50 about the concept as they struggled to accept the new character names as well as the redesigned Enterprise.
With so little information available it was difficult for fans to work out what it all meant, so there was a fair bit of scepticism towards the new show. Still it wasn't long before the first ever Next Generation costume appeared at an Austrek meeting (at the time some people didn't even know what it was), at the next meeting there were three more and from thereon it seemed as if everyone was wearing one.
At the Christmas party that year one lady announced how a video tape had just arrived from the US featuring the pilot episode of this new and mysterious show. Knowing how keen fans were to check it out, she invited people to her home that night to see it. So in the stifling summer heat around 20 people jammed themselves into this tiny, single bedroom flat and subsequently Star Trek: The Next Generation was introduced into Australian Star Trek fandom.
Without anyone realising it, this new Star Trek series was to be the forerunner of a major evolutionary change in Austrek's life.
In 1988 a special event occurred which was a social gathering of members from both Austrek and Astrex (The large NSW Star Trek club who actually predated Austrek by three years). This one off event called "Wagga Wagga Con Con" was months in the planning and took place in Wagga Wagga which was considered to be the most central point between Melbourne and Sydney. Though it was reasonably successful, the two clubs operated independently of each other and rarely interacted, especially as by this time Melbourne was now the centre point of all social fan activity in Australia.
Austrek's next convention was Trekcon IV in 1990 which was held at the Townhouse Hotel in Carlton and featured Bjo Trimble as the Guest of Honour. The convention itself was a great success at a time when sci-fi conventions in Melbourne were flourishing, however, it was also to be Austrek’s last two day convention as future events of this nature were reduced to single day events called mini-cons.
The era of the 1980s was over and the 1990s had begun, and with it came the best and worst days in Austrek...
One of the more successful events for Austrek occurred in 1991 when the club celebrated Star Trek's 25 anniversary with a very successful celebration banquet, and alongside the banquet was a special Austrek 15th Anniversary video documentary created by club member George Ivanoff. This documentary featured many members discussing their involvement in the club, including snippets from TV shows where Austrek members appeared – including a couple of appearances on Hey Hey It’s Saturday. Needless to say this video has become an important time capsule for how the club looked at this time.
1991 also saw the commercial release of The Next Generation on video tape which culminated in a major demographic shift within Austrek.
As highlighted earlier, the original 1970s Baby Boomer Star Trek fans had experienced a sudden insurgence of young 1980s Generation X Star Trek movie fans within Austrek. Now those same movie fans were encountering an influx of new Next Generation fans.
By the early 1990s Austrek was in the grip of serious Next Gen fever and seemingly out of nowhere a new wave of fans suddenly arrived at the club who were young, energetic, very technologically savvy and who were focused solely on The Next Generation as their primary source of Star Trek enjoyment.
With these new faces came a wealth of changes in Austrek to capitalise on the massive resurgence and popularity of the Star Trek franchise.
From 1992 the bi monthly club meetings changed to monthly; The Captain's Log was now produced on a computer using a process called "Desktop Publishing" - so the days of using a typewriter and sticky tape were finally over; the club's membership listing was upgraded from an old paper based filing system to something called a database; and the club was now researching all the latest information on Star Trek to include in The Captain’s Log from an emerging technology called the Internet.
During 1992 another significant event was held, Trekcon VI: The Undiscovered Con, which was the first 'convention' using the one day only mini-con format (note there was no Trekcon V). The event was very successful with over 120 attendees – which ironically was on a par with the traditional two day conventions despite only running half as long. The success of Trekcon VI paved the way for more one day events of this type in the future.
In 1993 Austrek made its second fan film during a trip to Hanging Rock called The Yar Continuum. This featured a Next Generation story of an away mission to a planet where the local aliens had somehow created two Tasha Yars. The filming day was a great deal of fun as a mass of costumed Austrek members pretty much took over The Rock.
Unfortunately a lot of the footage was misplaced soon after filming, so the movie was considered lost and forgotten until 2006 when a long retired club member finished it using secondary/backup footage for Austrek's 30th anniversary. Unfortunately by this time every person involved in the film, bar one lone individual, had long since left the club so they never got to see the final product.
With a new generation of committee members now running the club, one of the major events to occur in 1993 was the all new Austrek artshow. This event turned out to be a great success with 160 people viewing 130 entries covering 18 categories.
This year also saw Austrek run a new one day mini-con called Trexpo which was the first to be organised by the all new Next Generation fanbase. The event included a comedic stage play as well as a wonderful Cardassian makeup demonstration along with other great activities. Trexpo was so successful that a second mini-con was held in 1994.
All these events and activities were supported with a new identity as Austrek in 1993 formerly adopted a new logo designed by Robert Jan. This logo is still in use today.
By the middle of 1994 Austrek was a dominate force within Star Trek fandom despite the launch of a rival Star Trek club also based in Melbourne. This year also saw a celebration for The Captain's Log reaching its milestone 200th issue, featuring its first ever full colour cover and detailed historical overview. Alongside this was the newly launched annual Austrek 'Fete at Farpoint' which featured a creative theatrical stage production based around Wolf 359
However, the surge of dynamic growth and popularity Austrek had been experiencing wasn't to last as the club was about to be brought to its knees.
The first casualty the club faced was losing its beloved St Luke's Church Hall venue, which caused a major upheaval to the members who had come to regard the South Melbourne venue as a second home. With a burgeoning membership and no venue to call its own, Austrek flittered between Hobson's Bay Secondary College in Albert Park, Coppin Hall in Prahran and St Francis Church in the city.
The second casualty was the arrival of the Official Star Trek Fan Club in NSW - which resulted in the closure of Astrex thereby promoting Austrek to be the longest running Star Trek club in Australia (and second longest in the world).
With brand new episodes of The Next Generation and Deep Space Nine being sent from the US on video and screened to masses of eager fans at club meetings, Austrek was impacted by the Official Club's mandate in that it was no longer permitted to publically show these episodes as they hadn't appeared on TV yet - and wouldn't for at least another couple of years. As a consequence Austrek lost its primary source of entertainment which it had become heavily reliant on for its programming.
It was now “the worst of times".
With the inability to screen new Star Trek episodes at club meetings and the rival club successfully luring older Austrek/Star Trek fans to their meetings, 1996 became a dark time for Austrek which culminated in a massive membership drop as people, including the committee, left the club in droves seemingly overnight.
Yet despite these ominous warning signs there was at least one shining light for the year. August 1996 saw the Star Trek 30th Anniversary Banquet held in Heidelberg, which Austrek assisted in organising alongside the rival club. Although the event had 180 attendees and was a major success (especially considering Austrek had turned 20), it still wasn't enough to bolster Austrek's falling membership numbers.
By the start of 1997 Austrek was sitting on the brink of closure, and nowhere was this more evident than at one club meeting which was so small it was held in a coffee shop.
Despite this dire predicament, salvation appeared in the form of a handful of devoted members who, under the new leadership of Shane Campbell and Rowena Christensen, kept the club's candle alight for the next few troubled years. Also after living a somewhat nomadic existence post St Luke’s Church Hall, in 1997 the meetings finally settled into a new venue at St David's Church Hall in Camberwell.
Despite barely being a shadow of its former self, Austrek continued to survive even after the eventual closure of the Official Star Trek Fan Club as well as the rival Melbourne club. Unfortunately the once proud club meetings now struggled to gain an audience of fifteen people, and gala events like the enormously popular Christmas parties of the late 80s and early 90s were now a thing of the past.
Yet early in the new millennium Austrek started to steadily grow again, thanks in part to three particulary dedicated members Bruce Seidl, Frank Derksen and Peter Nesbit who assisted and arranged the relocation of meetings to the Northcote Town Hall in around 2004. From here new members who were blissfully ignorant about the recent, troubled past began to emerge.
Finally after a few years of continuing and resurgent growth, the club, which was now being run by a new and enthusiastic committee led by Scott Liston, started to regain a respectable membership base and had re-established itself as a main player in Australian Star Trek fandom. Amongst the club's new achievements was one very successful meeting which was run at the Melbourne Museum in conjunction with a Star Trek exhibit.
Further evidence of the club's triumphant comeback occurred in 2006 when Austrek ran its special 30/40 Banquet and mini-con to celebrate Austrek turning 30 and Star Trek turning 40. This gala event was a great success on all levels, which even saw some former Austrek members from the 1980s come along to celebrate the significant milestone.
Austrek also got yet another taste of prime time TV fame by having a Star Trek team appear on Bert's Family Feud in 2008. In this show, Austrek were pitted against a Star Wars team in a charity episode which has had many repeat airings - unfortunately the Austrek team lost.
It was also during this period where many club members appeared in numerous photo opportunities for magazine and newspaper articles, including Austrek's second appearance in the Moomba parade in 2009.
By 2010 Austrek was happily cruising along providing great entertainment to its members whilst keeping the spirit of Star Trek alive in Australia. By 2012 the success of the club became particulary evident at its all new Christmas lunch gathering which often had the largest attendance of any meeting for the year.
As a reward for its great service to the fan community, Paramount Pictures invited club members to attend the exclusive cast and crew world premiere of Star Trek Into Darkness held in Sydney in 2013.
By the end of 2015 the club started to once again increase its profile as news of a new Star Trek film AND a new TV series grabbed everyone's attention. With the impending 50th anniversary of the franchise along with the club's own 40th birthday to occur in 2016, club meetings started to bring in some impressive attendance figures which hadn't been seen in many, many years.
As to be expected 2016 was a very hectic time for Austrek. In July the club was invited to the official premiere of Star Trek Beyond in Sydney, which featured the added bonus of club president Melanie Nemer actually interviewing the film’s cast for a segment of The Morning Show on TV.
At almost exactly the same time as the premiere, Austrek featured in a large, double spread article in both The Age and Sydney Morning Herald newspapers discussing the club’s history and the viewpoints of Star Trek from various members.
But the most significant event of the year occurred a month later in August.
August 2016 saw the club run its 40/50 ball to celebrate Austrek turning 40 and Star Trek turning 50. This was a lavish and successful event, which saw 100 Austrekkers, including club founder Geoff Allshorn, celebrate this special double milestone with an abundance of positive and enthusiastic energy.
But perhaps more importantly, after what had been a long and “fascinating” (Spock pun intended) 40 years for the club, Austrek was now just as popular and successful as ever with a great future ahead of it.
As the second oldest Star Trek club in the world and one of the only four surviving social sci-fi fan clubs in Melbourne, the meetings, which are still being held on the first Saturday of the month (even though the marathons have long gone), continue to draw a good contingent of fans eager to learn what's going on in the Star Trek and general science fiction world at large.
At a time when fan interaction is now heavily Internet dominated, Austrek has proven there is still great joy to be had when interacting with other Star Trek enthusiasts in a friendly social environment.
Still boldly going where no one has gone before…
- Trekcon III con book - 1987
- Geoff Allshorn, "Austrek: The Voyage Home” - 1991
- The Captain's Log #200 - 1994
- National Library of Australia “History of Star Trek Fandom in Australia” article - 1995
- D. Maxwell fandom memoirs – 2013
- Geoff Allshorn "The Pioneer Days" – 2013