My weekend at the Sydney Anarchist Book Fair and Canberra Zine Emporium, with bonus swipes at Sydney’s public transport system

When I learned that $50 was the asking price for a table at the inaugural Sydney Anarchist Book Fair (22 March 2014) I was a bit disappointed but not surprised. For some reason, that seems to be the going rate at anarchist book fairs. Why? Answers on a postcard to PO Box 4, Enmore NSW 2042, please…

The cost of tables nearly put me off booking, but that would have meant breaking my main resolution for 2014, which was to stop being the biggest pikelet in zinedom and table some fairs other than the MCA* and Canberra this year. I was already going strong on this resolution, managing to get myself, Tim and a suitcase fulla zines to Melbourne for the Festival of the Photocopier in February, FINALLY, having said I was gonna go the previous three years or something, but pike-pike-piking every time.

So I booked, and on Saturday me and Anwyn (Tim having flown to Paris – Paris! Bastard!** – a few days earlier) made our way by the mysterious 428 bus (mysterious in that many have wondered where the fuck it is***) to the Addison Rd Community Centre at the too-early-for-me-hour of 9:30 AM. The big hall at Addison Rd was full of tables that were covered in books, zines and other paraphernalia, and the walls were hung with inspiring banners from rallies and pickets, our favourite of which was one that simply said ‘STRIKE’, in big letters painted red and black on the diagonal. Why beat around the bush, right?

Thank you and well done to members of the Jura Books collective, who were largely responsible for organising the event: it was pretty ace, despite the price of stalls, and I hope it becomes a regular thing. I suck at estimating how much of a given thing there is in a given space at a given time, but there were enough stalls to fill the big hall at Addison Rd, and enough people in attendance to provide a constant, relaxed hum of activity. Highlights for me included getting a long desired back issue of Shotgun Seamstress from Race Riot Distro and seeing the amazing stuff that Negative Press have been publishing from their DIY print workshop. The best zine of the day – though admittedly I didn’t nab them all – was Lou’s ‘Flighpath and other zines’, a compilation of excerpts from zines they made between 2000 – 2007. Everyone should know that these are literally the best zines that were made in Sydney during the early 00s.

There was a lot of other stuff going on at the fair – choirs singing, panels panelling, a yoga class yogaing, speakers speechifying etc etc. The Counter-Revolution crew made some really nice vegan burgers that tasted on par with a Lord of the Fries burger but didn’t give me an upset tummy: delicious AND digestible. Win! I tried to go back for seconds but they’d already packed up, looking knackered. For most of the day I mostly stuck to my seat (literally: it was hot), but S kindly minded our stall for a bit so we could see the Sydney Feminist Discussion Circle give their panel presentation, ‘Casting Spells’, which pretty much went off, in a manner that panels generally don’t. I was reminded a bit of Stewart Lee’s ‘I agreed the fuck out of it’ joke from the latest season of Comedy Vehicle, but still: it can be good to be in a big room full of people who seem to share views about important things, especially in these dark times. See the Golden Barley School blog for a transcript of one of the papers.

The day wrapped up and R gave me and Anwyn a lift home in their hilariously macho ute, manoeuvring the gear stick wedged between A’s legs like the beginning of some horrendously clichéd porn routine. We got home safe before the threatening storm broke, and prepared for the following day’s zine activities: the second annual Canberra Zine Emporium (23 March 2014)!

I must have been feeling pretty hardcore to take on two zine fairs in as many days. There were moments, I confess, when I contemplated copping out on Canberra. But I remembered the time when R (a different one) wasn’t gonna come to an exhibition opening I was having, but at the last moment decided to Toughen The Fuck Up, and I thought, yes: that indeed is sage advice. Anyway, preparation only consisted of filling another gym bag full of zines and writing my home phone number (yes, I have a landline) on the back of A’s hand so she could call me in the morning in case I pegged my mobile at the wall when the alarm went off and went back to sleep. I sleep like a pupa, wrapped up tight from head to toe in my sheets with only a small aperture for air. I am very strict about the quality and quantity of sleep I get, and there are very few things I will sacrifice sleep for. We were catching the coach to Canberra, meaning we had to be at Central before 7 AM, meaning I had to be out of bed by 5:30 AM. Could I do it?

Yep, I did, it all went fine. I even made a Thermos of tea and everything. Only stuff up was that on my way to Dulwich Hill station, gym bag of zines breaking my shoulder in the still pitch black, naughty-cat filled morning, A rang to say that according to her trusty train tracking app the train was running twenty minutes late, so we had to call a cab. Oh Shitty Rail, you never fail to fail! (And I don’t care if you’ve changed your name to ‘Sydney Trains’ and have a passive-aggressive train-bot making all the announcements now, either. Bah). The cabbie let us out opposite the coach terminal and in the wait before boarding ‘someone’ had a chance to do a bit of quick Sharpie work on a Biennale of Sydney poster which, despite the success of the recent boycott, still advertised detention centre profiteers Transfield among its sponsors. A side note: when did everyone stop using ‘Textas’ and start using ‘Sharpies’? Answers on a postcard etc…

On days when I start work in the early afternoon, I usually arrive in time to see my work mate Josefino sleeping perfectly upright in a chair in the lunchroom with his lower jaw dangling open, in a creepy, death mask kind of way. I felt my own jaw slackening involuntarily as I attempted to sleep in my coach seat, but I’d covered my face with a jumper to block out the ever increasing sunlight, so no one saw me dribble into my sleeve. At the beginning of the trip the coach driver had made a long announcement about how the seat arm rests work, why you shouldn’t vomit in the restroom sink, where you should dispose of your rubbish and why you should not accuse him of being drunk if the coach is buffeted by high winds off Lake George as we roll into Canberra. ‘I am perfectly sober’, he assured us. He also said that yesterday he’d knocked 15 minutes off the estimated arrival time, and that he hoped to do the same today.

True to his word, 3 hours and 15 minutes later we arrived in Canberra: ‘we are fifteen minutes early, just like yesterday’, he intoned with modest pride over the PA. We lugged our zines to Gorman House. There, almost everyone else had already set up. We found ourselves seated next to Safdar from the Refugee Art Project, who aside from helping to run that important project is a nice chap and was kind enough to trade his personal zine – Safdar’s Weird Shit – for one of mine.

Every zine fair I’ve been to in Canberra has been good, and this was no exception. Chiara – author of Rhetorical zine and one of the CZE crew – postulated that this is because nothing much happens in Canberra, so when something does happen people are very responsive. Actually, she said: ‘in Canberra, people like shopping’. I would have liked to have been in town for the other zine related entertainments that CZE collective organised, especially the slide-show on Saturday night, but for obvious reasons I couldn’t make it. You’ll have to ask someone else for a run down on that.

There was other stuff going on at this fair, too: CZE collective members announced periodically that a zine workshop was happening here, a magician was performing there… But to be honest, when I go to a zine fair there’s pretty much two things I’m interested in: minding my table, and looking at what other people have on theirs. And talking to people, you know. And food. But that’s just me. There was plenty of food on hand, and I was soon stuffing myself, first with a gozleme then a soysage sandwich then a rather delicious cinnamon doughnut, with what now occurs to me to be a complete lack of solidarity with A’s gluten intolerance. Sorry.

One of the great things about both the SABF and CZE was that very few people asked me to explain what a ‘zign’ is or for me to spruik my stuff to them. What does this mean? That we’ve reached some sort of saturation point in educating people about zines, or that the novelty value has worn off and only those who actually know and care what they are bother to attend zine fairs these days?

By about 3 PM I was feeling pretty tired. I did a bit of looking around, got some stuff from Sticky, Burrows & Co. and individual Canberran zinesters. I am particularly looking forward to reading ‘Better things to do: the early history of Canberra straight-edge’, because I like it when people use zines to document secret, underground histories, and I haven’t thought about Forward Defence in a very long time. I guess the secret histories thing is also why I was so excited about Lou’s ‘Flightpath’ zine. When I have a chance to read everything properly I might do a long overdue zine-haul-round-up post on my poor neglected blog, Flying Machine.

So, the CZE ended at 4 PM. As seems customary at zinester organised fairs, everyone helped stack the chairs and fold up the tables at the end. A and me made our way back to the coach terminal, and then back home to the small area of Sydney where we and all our friends seem to live these days. And that was my weekend. It was lovely to see zine friends from Melbourne and Canberra and other places, and to hang out with friends in Sydney. It’s quite an honour to know so many good people. Thank you all, friends.

X Emma

* Of course, I will be at Other Worlds, not the MCA, this 25 May.

** ‘Paris! Bastard!’ might be the name of my new band, watcha think? Answers on a postcard etc…

*** I actually know why the 428 is always late, but there’s no time to go into it here.