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Monday, January 13, 2014

Memories of Wombat.... A Guest Post By Susan Batho

With Charlotte, a wombat he sponsored at Taronga Zoo

Last week, I went to the Blue Mountains with my friends Edwina Harvey, Susan Batho and Anne Devrell. Our purpose was to scatter some of the ashes of our mutual friend jan howard finder (small letters deliberate - it was how he spelled his name), also known as the Wombat, whose partner, Lin Daniel, had requested that the ashes be scattered in parts of the world he had loved. And he adored Australia. He actually read Aussie newspapers on line and once he emailed to tell me that there was going to be a Shane Moloney book launch that evening at the Trades Hall in Melbourne. He was a huge fan both of Shane Moloney and Kerry Greenwood, authors to whose work I'd introduced him. He made sure he emailed them both to say how much he loved their books. And he knew about something happening in my city that I didn't! Of course, I went, and bought a copy to be signed. When I asked Shane to sign it to the Wombat, his face brightened. "Oh, the Wombat! How is he?" Kerry Greenwood was a good friend too; when he came to Melbourne, she kindly showed us around to places she had used in her novels and then shouted us both to lunch.
Susan handed us each a CD of Wombat memories, saying she would love to have the article below published, and as I was the one with a full scale blog I said I would do it.
With me at Aussiecon 3

You have to understand that jan was a huge part of science fiction fandom, which was important to all of us. I made most of my friends in fandom - even a workmate friend who likes SF turned out to have been in Austrek at one time, knew several people I did and had read the first fanzine in which my stories were published.!

Jan was funny, warm, cuddly and knew absolutely EVERYONE. He even had a letter from J.R.R Tolkien and was planning a Tolkien convention when he died.

So I hope you'll read and enjoy Susan's article and perhaps look up more stuff about this delightful friend of ours. We all miss him terribly, but have had our closure with our little ceremony in the mountains.

On Making Contact... 
In 1972, I put out my first solo fanzine, GOF – Girls Own Fanzine.  I was a university student, engaged to a BNF
 , Ron L Clarke, exploring the world of the perzine
.  I was armed with addresses of Loccers
 to Ron’s fanzine, The Mentor, and received a LoC from Italy from an American who was working with US troops in that country.  I replied, and next thing you know, we had a correspondence going which lasted 43 years, outlasting fanzines, and conventions, although I know jan was working on yet another convention when he passed.

Meeting the Wombat
Aussiecon 1 was held in 1975.  Ron and I were living at 32 Spurwood Road, Warrimoo and had our first child, Evelyn.  We were building our home at Faulconbridge, and things were tight financially.  However, it was way too good a chance not to meet our friends from overseas, many of whom we still correspond with.
Early August, we met jan in person at Sydney airport.  He walked straight up to me, picked up my hand and kissed it gently, with finesse, and said “Bellisima”. Sigh.
We took jan to his motel on top of the Cross which had been booked by the convention travel agents.  Unfortunately, they did not realise that jan was not a girl, and booked him into a triple with two ladies.  Not sure how that worked out, but I am sure jan would have charmed them, and the hotel staff.  On the way there we passed a statuesque blonde that he could not resist wolf whistling.  She/He turned and smiled beautifully, and with a bass voice, said “Why thank you, buster.”  Such a hoot!
Unfortunately, I did not make the convention, as my best friend, Marea Ozanne stayed home also, as her son, Alex, had been hit by a suicidal driver.  We kept each other company, and joined in the fun when the con goers descended on the mountains after the convention.  Jan came to stay with us, and that was when we discovered that he was Jewish. It had never come up before.  One night we came to end of the food in the house, except for a can of spaghetti, which, if you know me, I can feed a crowd with if necessary, but jan decided that we could eat out.  And when he asked us what we wanted, we said in a chorus, roast pork.... oh dear....
Louis Grey, Susan Batho, Rusty Hevlin, Unknown, Sheryl Birkhead, Michael Glickson, Wilson Tucker, Wombat, Marea Ozanne & Eric Lindsay.  Taken  Faulconbridge, NSW.  September 1975.

The Hat....
Ever wondered when jan started wearing the slouch hat which became his signature hat?  When he arrived the first time in Australia, he was wearing a baseball cap....
My brother, Chris, was an army cadet, and thought jan needed something more stylish.   My father had also taken a shine to jan. He and Chris searched out a virgin hat from the disposal store, soaked it, and shaped it.  It was just a tad still damp when it was presented to jan, but he didn’t care.  We had to leave him at the railway station at Blaxland to get back to Sydney.  I didn’t legally drive in those days and Blaxland was as far as I was willing to risk without being caught.  Chris showed jan how to doff his hat to young ladies, and guaranteed him that the best pick up line he could use was, ”G’day, sheila.  D’you know the way to Sydney?”  We watched him with a mixture of dread, amazement and laughter as he made his way onto the platform, walked up to the nearest attractive lady, doffed his hat, and asked, very charmingly, “G’day, Sheila, d’you know the way to Sydney?”
According to him, later, he spent a lovely couple of days with the young lady whilst he waited for his plane home.
You could never underestimate the charm of a wombat.
Oh, on that first trip, he asked for the hand of my first born who was six months old at the time.... 

The Great Trip...
Anyone who got to know jan, knew that he planned to the minutest detail his great trip to Australia.  There was so much he wanted to do and see and each time he came, he did some more.  But it was one of his greatest frustrations in life that he was not allowed to spend a year exploring the way he wanted to.  He offered to post a bond, to negotiate a temporary permanent visa.  He even asked my daughters both to marry him just for the year....  (one was already married and the second was still in school at the time....)
He finally purchased a brand new car, made our home his headquarters, and headed off.... driving to  Albany Western Australia  where he presented a letter from the Mayor of his own home town of Albany, New York and was given a grand time there.  He sent us back reports, and stories galore.  I wish he could have done his original trip, which, when printed off, was at least four inches thick. But for six monthes he just added to his wide experiences of Australia, meeting and making friends wherever he went. 
Oh, and he rang every finder in the phone book and found one.... in Queensland.  Like Batho, it is a rare name.  And they met up and swapped family stories.
And he shared his recipes for green beans, almonds and bacon....

With Charlotte the wombat and Anne Devrell

Jan promoted Aussiecons and the failed Syncon in 91 bid.  He did so with complete enthusiasm and gusto and sincerity.  He wanted the bids to succeed and he wanted people to know Australia and Australian fans, the way he did.
 I think Anne Devrell and Sue Bursztynski would be better describing how jan worked conventions.  I know he was a lot of fun.  He would introduce himself, and slip you a business card with ‘Free backrubs on request.’ And I believe he was a polite room buddy.  And he kept wearing that ruddy hat, even past its use-by date...
pastedGraphic_2.pdf jan at Magicon in 1992

And then there was wombats...
 One of our greatest and best memories was the wombats.  We’d collect wombats and send them to jan – not that he needed reminding.  We still have one in the garden that was meant to go over when we went to visit him.  
He supported the preservation of the threatened Eastern Hairy Nosed Wombat, for at least the 43 years I knew him.  We would go with him to visit his sponsored wombats at Taronga Zoo in Sydney.  We even learnt all about wombat sex from watching wombat porn there.  All very educational of course.  And that’s where we met a baby wombat called Charlotte.  Some of the photos of jan and Charlotte are our best memories.
Jan even made the trip to a secret location to physically help out with the preservation of the species... and found himself digging holes for a wombat proof fence.  And even though he was exhausted, he loved and was proud of every moment.

Aboriginal carvings in Faulconbridge 1999

Other memories:
Bytelock – blockages in the information highway
Arthur Upfield – jan would throw himself into those things that would interest him.  The Boney book series fascinated him, and he became a self-made expert, lecturing on the series, the man, and everything about the books.  He got to travel a lot doing this to his great delight and pleasure.
Tolkein – he was planning another convention and I wanted to go... Tolkein was one of the great loves of his life.
Hugs – he gave the best, most sincere, hugs.  Greetings and goodbyes, and just because hugs -- At home, when travelling, at conventions.  When you needed one or when he needed one, there was a hug.
Talking – okay, he woke up early, often already making breakfast for us all.  And over that we would start talking.  We would explore, or laze, but talk all the way through the day.  Then at night, long into the night, long past when everyone else had gone to bed, we would talk some more... no subject was sacred.  Nothing cruel was said of anyone.  And there was always something to talk about, never once repeating anything we had to say to each other.
And our Christmas/New Year letters each year where he made notes for it all year, and it was the whole year spread out for us to go through...  It inspired me to do the same, sharing the adventures.  I am going to miss all our letters and emails back and forth.
Jan was a unique, intelligent, warm, sincere, fun gentleman, who was one of my longest friends.
Teggedizzi, mate.  I miss you.


1 comment:

BeauSusan said...

Thank you for posting this, Sue. Darn about the formatting problems but the photos that did appear come out clearly.
There is so much more I could have written about jan but it was hard to worite with a wombat sized lump in my throat...
Much love, Susan