Helena Binns 1941–2023

Helena Binns in 2014. Photo by Canberra writer and photographer Cat Sparks. Used by permission.

By Bruce Gillespie: Helena Binns has been a stalwart of Melbourne fandom since 1958, when she made contact with the Melbourne Science Fiction Club. She has been both artist and writer for MSFC publications, and for the last fifty years she has been the photographer for most conventions held in Melbourne, including four Aussiecons.

Born Margaret Duce on December, 18 1941, in the countryside outside of Melbourne, Victoria, she was introduced to science fiction at a very young age by an uncle, and read her first sf short story when she was 5 or 6. Her uncle’s magazine stash gave her, at the age of 13, the address of a fan in Wellington, New Zealand, which led to a pen friendship with famous New Zealand fan Mervyn Barrett. He told her about the Melbourne Science Fiction Club. She began to contribute to Etherline, the Club’s long-lived magazine of the 1950s.

When she was 15, she was denied permission to study science during the last two years of her secondary schooling at a country high school. This heartbreaking event was a major influence on the rest of her life. She was able to study Art at Melbourne Technical College, and later tried to rely on her artistic talent to try to make a living. She retained a vital interest in the sciences for the rest of her life, but could never find a way of acquiring qualifications in those fields.

On January 23, 1958, she visited the Melbourne Science Fiction Club for the first time, making friends immediately with fans such as John Foyster, Chris Bennie, Dick Jenssen, and Mervyn Binns. She remained a contributor to Etherline and attended Melcon, the Melbourne convention of 1958, the last Australian convention until 1966. She remained in touch with the Club, which in the early 1960s was kept going almost solely by Merv Binns.

In 1965 she married Kelvin Roberts, a commercial artist who specialized in photographic retouching. They both enjoyed the movies shown regularly at the MSFC. For reasons that she cannot account for, she changed her name from Margaret to Helena.

1966 saw the revival of Melbourne fandom at the Easter convention in Melbourne. In 1973 she received her first camera, and began her lifetime of chronicling every convention she attended. Helena and Kelvin were the official photographers for Aussiecon in 1975 in Melbourne, the first Worldcon to be held in Australia.

Kelvin died in 1991 of lung cancer. Helena gradually became closer to Merv Binns, who had been a good friend for over thirty years. They married in 1998, and attended every Melbourne convention together. Helena was made an Honorary Life Member of the Melbourne Science Fiction Club in 2009. She was also involved in Star Trek and Tolkien fandom, and was a lifelong member of the Space Association of Australia.

Merv died in 2020 of heart failure. Helena found it difficult to maintain the large house they rented in South Oakleigh. She entered the Wantirna Views nursing home in early 2022, and died there on September 18 this year. She is remembered with great affection by all her met her. She left behind an enormous collection of books and memorabilia, and also a large collection of CD-ROMs of convention photos.

[By Bruce Gillespie, based on Helena’s own autobiographical essay.]

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