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Saturday, March 21, 2015

The Norma K Hemming Awards 2015: A Guest Post By Bill Wright

According to the trophy designer, graphic artist Sarah Xu, 

The award trophy consists of a mounted glass plate with a boab tree-hydra design motif. The circular  design represents the yonic (in contrast to so many phallic representations)   and the boab symbolises  the Australian speculative fiction landscape, the boab being uniquely fantastical in itselfand the hydra reminding us of diversity within that.”


Compared with a lot of other science fiction awards the Norma K Hemmings are quite new, having only started in about 2010. This year's will be presented at Swancon in only a couple of weeks. I've posted this on the ASIM blog, but as a fan, thought it might be nice to make this guest post available here as well.

Take it away, Bill!

The Norma K Hemming Award sponsored by the Australian Science Fiction Foundation


Contributed by Bill Wright, ASFF awards administrator on 21 March 2015.


What is the Australian Science Fiction Foundation and what is it for?


The Foundations website at: says its main purpose is to sponsor and encourage the creation and appreciation of science fiction in Australia.


It does that through the sponsorship and administration of writing workshops and short story competitions, seed loans to national conventions, and the publication of its newsletter, The Instrumentality. The Foundation has, since its inception, been a resource centre for everyone involved in science fiction in Australia.


The Australian Science Fiction Foundation runs two jury awards, viz.


       The A. Bertram Chandler Award for outstanding achievement in science fiction, established in 1992, where the winner is selected from eminent achievers nominated by Australian science fiction fans; and


        The Norma K Hemming Award for excellence in the in the exploration of themes of race, gender, sexuality, class and disability:


What is the Norma K Hemming Award, why is it given, and who is Norma K Hemming?


Established at Aussiecon 4, the 68th World Science Fiction Convention in Melbourne in August 2010, the Norma K Hemming Award is given by the  ASFF for excellence in the in the exploration of themes of race, gender, sexuality, class and disability:

         in the form of science fiction and fantasy or related artwork or media.

         produced either in Australia or by Australian citizens;.

         first published, released or presented in the calendar year preceding the year in which the award is given.


The Norma K Hemming Award is gaining in prestige. Its gestation was foreshadowed in the late 1990s when academic researchers Van Ikin, Russell Blackford, Sean McMullen and Paul Collins uncovered works by pioneer Australian feminist science fiction writer and playwright Norma Kathleen Hemming.


Norma wrote in the 1950s, throughout the decade  before her death from breast cancer in July 1960. She was 33 years young.


Her writing fizzes with potential. The science was not always sound but it was on a par with the majority of science fiction writers of her day.


Most of her stories, but only two of her five plays, have survived.


Readers can visit Norma K Hemmings Wikipedia entry at: for her biography, her bibliography, and how to purchase a collection of her works by Dr Toby Burrows, Principal Librarian, Scholars' Centre, University of Western Australia Library (M209).


One of Normas plays, 'The Matriarchy of Renok, in which a cast of formidable and at times vulnerable women wrest control of the galaxy from the depredations of alpha-males, was read over two successive Swancons (peak WA sf conventions) in the mid-noughties.


The Matriarchy of Renok was again performed at Aussiecon 4 (the 68th Worldcon) in Melbourne in August 2010) as a staged reading produced by Sean McMullen, with overhead space opera storyboard projections by Katoomba-based artist and digital image pioneer Lewis P Morley.


Besides being a powerful drama with lots of interpersonal tension, the play is a work of unalloyed, joy that is fun to read, fun to act in, and fun to watch. I cant understand why an enterprising movie mogul hasnt picked it up for global release.


Given the patriarchal and, by todays standards, sexist mores of the fifties, it was more that a tad courageous of Norma and her troupe, which she named The Acturians, to expose their parts to varying degrees of hostile response from science fiction fans. Male chauvinist denizens of the Sydney Futuran Society staged a mock auction where they sold he off to the highest bidder. Such was the excitement if thats the word for it that they are rumoured to have accidently set her hair on fire. She fared better in Melbourne, where she and her troupe were welcomed by members of the Melbourne  Science Fiction Club at their conventions. 


Gestation of the Norma K Hemming Award


The two Swancon readings were so popular that the Western Australian Science Fiction Foundation thought of instituting an award in Norma Hemmings memory, However, they soon realised that her importance as the pioneer feminist science fiction writer in Australials post-WWII history indicated a national focus. So their spokesperson, Emma Hawkes, referred the proposed award to the Australian Science Fiction Foundation for implementation.


At the time, in mid-2007, I had just been appointed to the ASFF board, taking over the position of A. Bertram Chandler Award administrator from Julian Warner who was, and still is, a tireless effectuator acrpss a wide range of activities in Melbournes science fiction community. Needless to say, my job description was upgraded forthwith. With no experience in awards administration and no small press contacts (except from being part of the audience at panel discussions at science fiction conventions) I was thrown in at the  deep end and told to set up from scratch an ASFF-sponsored Norma K Hemming Award with a national focus.


I quickly discovered that an ASFF board member had access to a vast array of resources, most of them human, chief among whom was the Foundations academic representative Van1kin.


Van Ikin the Icon


Van Ikin is an academic and science fiction writer and editor. He was, until his retirement in 2015, a Professor in English at the University of Western Australia, where he acted as supervisor for a number of Australian writers completing their post-graduate degrees and doctorates. They include such literary luminaries as science fiction and fantasy writers Terry Dowling, Stephen Dedman and Dave Luckett. In 2000, he received the University of Western Australia's Excellence in Teaching Award for Postgraduate Research Supervision.


He has reviewed science fiction and fantasy for The Sydney Morning Herald since 1984, but he is best known in the Australian science fiction community for his editorship of the long-running critical journal Science Fiction - A Review of Speculative Fiction.


Van was the inaugural winner of ASFFs prestigious A. Bertram Chandler Award for outstanding achievement in science fiction in 1992.


With Van smoothing contacts in academia and my awesome title giving me the clout to negotiate program space with with peak State and National convention organisers, I spent the next three years hobnobbing with my intellectual betters in the academic streams of those conventions. Taking our cue from the feminist bias in Normas stories, Gender was an obvious criterion for the award. Universities being hotbeds of disputation on social issues, my academic collaborators sought to identify additional criteria in that milieu.


The Eureka moment came when I suggested they look for skify elements in their search. Being possessed of minds of power that, for all I knew, might have been stable at the third level of stress (ref. Gray Lensman by E. E. Smith Ph D. first published in book form in 1951 by Fantasy Press),  they ascended into realms of abstraction inaccessible to mortals of lesser degree.


Coming down from on high, they evinced humorous `literary allusions that were opaque to me. Venturing to intrude where Angels fear to tread, I sought to enter the conversation with an observation to the effect that their gestalt was passing strange. Suddenly I was in there, informed by past reading from Weird Tales and Face in the Abyss by A. E. Merritt and wrestling with postmodernism  with the best of them.


Strange carved out of mind space by science fiction is acknowledged as its sovereign territory. Strange is the key word. Look for Strange in the human condition. Gender is strange, Sexuality is strange. Class differences are strange. The concept of Race as applied to human beings is very strange. Engulfed in a tide of memories long suppressed, I fought for stability on a mental plane of utter desolation contemplating the isolation of people in our midst whom many regard as strange.


Such was the gestation of the Norma K Hemming Award for race, class, gender and sexuality in speculative fiction  Disability was added as an additional category for the 2011 competition.


Establishment of the Norma K Hemming Award at Aussiecon 4


Despite its aforementioned careful gestation with inputs from the academic community at every turn, the inaugural Norma K Hemming Award presentation at Aussiecon 4 came at speculative fiction writers, editors and publishers from left field, so to speak. No other award encourages writers to have something worthwhile to say about all categories of otherness in the human condition. Isolated minorities have been have been ignored or characterised in negative stereotypes too often, and it is time to redress that.


Anyone who doubts the efficacy of having such an award to set standards for speculative fiction writers has only to read the 2013 winning entry, Sea Hearts by Margo Lanagan, to be convinced that ASFFs full on approach works. In her novel, Margo shines fresh light on what it is like to be a man, what it is like to be a woman, what it is like to be human.


Parallel initiatives on the way to establishing the Norma K Hemming Award


As mentioned earlier, In the late 1990s a small number of fannish scholars including Van Ikin, Russell Blackford, Sean McMullen and Paul Collins researched the life and times of pioneer Australian feminist sf author and playwright Norma Kathleen Hemming (September 1928 - July 1960) whom a few surviving oldies such as Doug Nicholson (Sydney) and Mervyn Binns (Melbourne) knew well. Among publications arising from that research was a biography of Norma K Hemming in Strange Constellations : A History of Science Fiction by Russell Blackford, Van Ikin and Sean McMullen, published 1999 in the USA by Greenwood Press.


Dr Helen Merrick is co-editor, with Tess Williams, of Women of Other Worlds: Excursions through Science Fiction and Feminism (University of Western Australia Press, 1999) in which the contribution of the feminist fan community to science fiction is strongly acknowledged. This scholarly and informative publication makes the point that Australian SF fandom, in tandem with American fandom, has over the last 40 years moved to include issues of racial, sexual and cultural diversity and has contributed to major feminist fan movements such as slash fiction and the femmefan movement of the 1970s.


In a contribution to the work, Helen recalls that trailblazing Canadian femmefan Susan Wood visited Australia in 1975 for the first Aussiecon, meeting with and being strongly influenced by principal Guest of Honour Ursula Le Guin who ran the seminal writers workshop at that first Australian Wordcon. A year later Susan ran the first identity-oriented panel at a SF convention, entitled Women and Science Fiction. The following year WisCon (the feminist Worldcon in Madison, Wisconsin) was established as an annual event.  Obviously, Australian fandom benefited from these influences. Today, women are involved in Australian science fiction as authors, editors, publishers and fans at all levels.


Interestingly, Helen Merricks co-author, Tess Williams, is one of the four distinguished permanent Jurors for the Norma K Hemming Award.


The 2015 Norma K Hemming Award


The 2015 Norma K Hemming Award will be presented to the winner at Swancon 40, the 54th Australian National Science Fiction Convention in Perth on 2-6 April 2015. The judges, writer and editor Russell Blackford; editor Sarah Endacott; writer, editor and publisher Rob Gerrand; and writer Tess Williams, have released their shortlist:


Collection: The Female Factory by Lisa L Hannett and Angela Slatter published by

         Twelfth Planet Press in November 2014


Novel:         ‘Nil By Mouth by LynC published by Satalyte Publishing in June 2014


Novel:         ‘North Star Guide Me Home by Jo Spurrier published by

          HarperVoyager in May 2014


Novel:         ‘Razorhurst by Justine Larbalestier published by Allen and Unwin in

         July 2014


Novel:         ‘The Wonders by Paddy OReilly published by Affirm Press in July 2014


Why is there is no cash prize for the Norma K Hemming Awards?


The Norma K Hemming Award has no cash prize because it is a fan award. Fan activity is much the same all over the world, conforming to traditions of the World Science Fiction Society, an unincorporated entity described in its Wikipedia entry at:


Fan activity includes convention running, encouraging sf small press enterprises, and writer and reader education at conventions, writing groups and workshops - all run on a not-for-profit basis  by volunteers drawn from, and trained within, our ranks.


Within socially acceptable parameters of passion and dispassion, we capture the young and imprint them with a sense of wonder, respect for science and the scientific method, and an appreciation of good story telling in literature, art and theatre.  That community of interests breeds talent.


It is why there is no cash prize for the Norma K Hemming Award, and why ASFF cannot afford to cover competition winners travel expenses.  It is also why we go out of our way at conventions to have high profile luminaries in Literature and the Arts on tap to represent award winners when they cant be present to receive their trophies.


In conclusion, I wish to make the observation that ASFS does  not have an exclusive patent on Norma Kathleen Hemming. She belongs to all of us. There is nothing to prevent any fannish institution, e.g. the Canberra Speculative Fiction Group (CSFG), setting up, say, the Norma K Hemming Medallion for Romance of Science in Science Fiction, under criteria that support respect for science and the scientific method in storytelling.


Norma Hemming confronted gender issues head on. For its own purposes ASFF added additional categories of otherness in its award. Peak fannish institutions in each State may take different approaches.


It has been a privilege to have been entrusted with the development of the Norma K Hemming Award under the auspices of the Australian Science Fiction Foundation and it has been a  pleasure as its administrator to have developed the award to its present stature.


Health issues in old age may force me to pass the baton to a younger administrator. Or ASFF might have a succession plan. In either event, having fought the good fight and won, I am content.


Bill Wright                                                          Australian Science Fiction Foundation (ASFF)

ASFF awards administrator                                 Website:,

                                                                                                                                   21st March 2015



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