MARS: The Early Years

Post by Elaine Walker

There have been a number of SF based clubs in Western Australia over the years. Most of the Universities in Western Australia have, or have at some point had one. UWA has UniSFA, Curtin had the Curtin Imagination Association (CIA) and at Murdoch University the most well known one was the Murdoch Alternative Reality Society (MARS). There may have also been one at Edith Cowan which I am informed may have been Sector 23 but confirmation or correction of this is welcomed. While, as is the nature of student clubs, only UniSFA still remains as an active club, it was at Murdoch that I did my study, and thus it was a Martian that I became. The club had been going a couple of years in one form or another by the time that I reached University in 1990 and thus it was only through an article in the MARS/SAGA Annual of 1993 (SAGA = Southern Area Gaming Association) that I had any knowledge of the earlier years.

The prototype of the club started back in February 1988 when AJ (Lev) Anderson (Now Lafayette) decided to start a role playing club at Murdoch University. He managed on the clubs and societies day to sign up a total of 8 people into joining the Murdoch University Gamer’s Club, 2 of whom were women, which was fairly unusual for a role playing club, but a sign of things to come. Another 3 were signed up by the end of March which was enough to have it recognised by the Guild. Roleplaying campaigns were started (Rolemaster) and a tournament, and the first appearance of the Phantasmagoria fanzine, and the first games purchased for the library.

The tournament in that year garnered public recognition for the club was advertised as a combo ” Advanced D&D/Runequest/Middle-Earth Roleplaying” tournament and included a survey about game preference on the back of the advertising, which got 80 people turning up and 120 filling in the form. At the end of that year there were 27 members, a library of 50 items and more campaigns running.

In the next year the membership increased to 40 people and the club was renamed to MARS to acknowledge that it wasn’t just a gaming club any more, links were made with the Gamer’s Guild, and tournaments run. There was also an abortive attempt to start a national role playing/science fiction magazine that alas was not able to attract enough funding, this being the days before online distribution. Various roleplaying campaigns were running including Rolemaster, Warhammer Fantasy Role Play, Call of Cthulu, Paranoia, Judge Dredd, Harnmaster and Champions. By the end of 1989 they had a membership of 54 and an executive of 5. (A very modest number considering some of the positions to occur in future years).

The next year started well with MARS members attending Swancon XV for the first time, and Murray Wood organised an impromptu panel on gaming which apparently was the second largest at the convention and went on for three hours. Thus establishing gaming as a common panel topic for future Swancons. But there were not so many events on campus and the membership shrank a little.

In 1991 MARS attended Swancon which had a cyberpunk theme, and then the club had a not entirely successful D&D tournament. Things picked up in the second half of the year and there were a few “pitbashes” and a proposal to do a Phantasmagoria Annual. Gaming consisted pretty much of Champions campaigns. (I still remember seeing Captain Carrot’s character sheet – nothing to do with the Pratchett character – with its ‘cute’ attack).

1992 had a load of MARS members attending Swancon (including myself! My first convention!) which was then followed by a ‘Month of MARS’ (MARScon1) which was a month of doing things such as holding panels, playing games, showing videos and playing SF radio serials, painting the ref wall and a ‘Gothic Horror’ Friday the 13th Party. With a fresh executive and enthusiasm there were weekly stalls, group movie outings, including 2 outings to the Rocky Horror Picture show. There was more live role play, some laser games, as well as the more standard role playing games including the 78 hour game of Rolemaster (please let us know if this record has been beaten) in the middle of winter (I didn’t play but did drop in and remember distinctly one of the players attempting to outstare a plush dragon called ‘Figment’).

At the end of 1992 there was another AGM where Adam Coleman who had been elected President earlier in this year was re-elected unopposed and MARS was fused with SAGA (Southern Area Gaming Association). There was even an end of year dinner.

By this point in time there were nearly 180 members and the club was the most active club at Murdoch, and the largest SF club in the state.

This information was summarised from an article by Anthony Jon Lev Anderson, the founder of MARS in the MARS/SAGA Phantasmagoria in 1993.


About australian sf-history

ASFDAP was set up in 2011 after the rediscovery by the wider SF community of an impressive hoard of Australian SF community related ephemera, fanzines and other materials in the Murdoch University basement.
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