The CIA (no, the other one)

post by Doug Burbidge

I started going to Curtin in 1988, and I saw some posters around for a group called the CIA, I think with some Star Trek TNG art on them. (TNG was brand new then.) I took them for some sort of joke. But in second semester, a friend had made his way over to them, and I learned that CIA in this instance stood for “Curtin Imagination Association”, and that they were the local SF group. They had previously been known as the Curtin Fantasy and Science Fiction Society, but that acronymed to an unpronounceable mess.

I became a member myself, and went to video days, which were held on weekends in university tutorial rooms. I remember seeing The Running Man that way. I also recall at least one party at the house of Brian Ende, who I think was then-president.

I wound up on the committee myself. We got a club room, and a military surplus refrigerator (painted khaki), which we stocked with soft drink. To buy a can, you had to find a committee member, because only committee members had keys to the fridge padlock. Then you put your 80 cents in the plastic cup in the door, and took your can. That 80 cents was cheaper than Coke machines around campus, which were a dollar, but still represented about a 100% markup — we watched junk mail for supermarket sales and typically bought cans at about 40 cents each.

We acquired some bookshelves (some of which came from a member) and expanded our library. At that time the state library system had a library book sale periodically in the car park under Battye Library. We became a well-oiled machine: most of us scanning trestle tables for anything science fiction and bringing them back to our “camp” within the confines of the book sale; some of us going through our library’s catalog, sorting what we already had into a reject pile and putting the rest into the “to-buy” stack, for the princely sum of 50 cents a book. At the height of our power, we had other science fiction clubs feeding off our reject pile.

We played laser tag: Quasar as it was then. In those days UniSFA were much better than us, and so the inter-club War Of The Ring was generally a foregone conclusion. (Much later, it became a foregone conclusion in the other direction.) We wound up with an every-other-week Quasar night. It was so difficult to get a hit on another player that you could easily get to hand-to-hand range without hitting each other. I could tell if it was an off-week or an on-week by checking the state of the wounds on my gun hand: one week after, the various scratches from the previous week would be itchy and peeling; two weeks after, the old wounds would be gone (and it would therefore be time to acquire new ones).

The guild had a Social Council — since we were a social club we had a rep on Soc Council, and Soc Council voted on grants. There was a list of grants that clubs could go for, and we of course turned that into an attempt to get every grant. You could get (I think) two printing grants per year, and so we published an annual newsletter-like-thing, and we printed club T-shirts. Buy the shirts, print them, flog them to members at cost, and the printing grant is pure profit.

We “camped” at a member’s holiday house, we played Battletech at great scale and in great depth, we played roleplaying games, we discovered Swancon, we (mostly) graduated. And eventually the club waned — because uni clubs are composed largely of uni students, people move through, and a particular group of movers-and-shakers all graduate, and may or may not be replaced.

But there’s a new SF club at Curtin now, with new people and new movers and shakers. So the wheel has turned, and it’s all good.

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