My parents would have the ABC news on at home each night, and I'm pretty sure I remember the news item reporting the establishment of that first Internet connection to Australia, into Melbourne University in 1989. I would have been 12 years old, and wasn't much of a computer enthusiast (though we had them at home as my father was an electronics engineer); I just remember seeing it on the news and thinking "that seems important".

Just 6 years later, when I started university (in a course I didn't much care for as no profession or career seemed of much interest), as I sat at a computer lab PC and started perusing the Windows 3.11 desktop, I saw the Netscape icon, clicked on it, started browsing - finding music lyrics and chat boards, and sporting results and transgressive humour, and thought "OK, this is exciting". Pretty soon I was building webpages and thinking about how to turn this into a career.

The first internet-related job I got was for OzEmail, in 1999, in the building that was previously occupied by corporate-focused ISP Access One (OzEmail had acquired it from Solution6). Access One had been founded by Labtam, a company that was formed in 1972 making/importing scientific instruments, then made PCs in the 80s, then in 1989 developed a world-first RISC-based X terminal and started exporting it globally [1][2]. Once I was chatting with a guy I'd gotten to know at OzEmail, who'd started as an Access One phone support rep then learned about Cisco routers and soon became a network engineer, and he pointed into the server room at the rack where he'd installed the first Yahoo mirror in Australia. All this was going on in a nondescript light-industrial area of Braeside in outer south-eastern Melbourne. There was still a Labtam office in that street when I worked at OzEmail, and old X terminals lying around the office. They let me take one home once and I tried to connect it up to my home network. I didn't get very far, but it was a bit of fun. These days I live past Braeside and occasionally drive down that road and reminisce, lamenting that the people working for the construction and import/export companies occupying those buildings now would have little knowledge or care for what feats of innovation and commerce that had happened there in decades past.

I once had to email Robert Elz in order to apply for a domain name for a community group I was in. He was cranky that my DNS records weren't set up right, but we got there eventually (he must have been extremely busy and it could often take a long time to get a response; someone once told me gifts of good Scotch could help move things along). I've often wondered what he thought of the way control of the .au tld was given to Melbourne IT, and privatised in a way that enriched the University and also established clients of their IPO underwriters, JB Were. It really didn't seem much in the spirit of the early internet, of which he was such a champion.

Sometimes I think it would be fun to do a bunch of interviews with the people making everything happen back then and make a podcast or video series about it. It was such an exciting time and I feel lucky to have been there when it was just taking off. I'd love to help document it for posterity. (If anybody reading this happens to know of anyone who was at Labtam in the early 90s I'd love an intro.)



> Ownership of the Australian internet was transferred to Telstra in 1995, as private consumers and small businesses began to move online.

A bit of a weird thing to write. Telstra never “owned” the Australian internet, actually they tried very hard to undermine it, with MSN - which most people forget/don’t know actually started life as a dialup walled garden.

There was at least one hard working Aussie ISP that had their own international transit - Connect did ultimately drop their independent transit in favour of Telstra, but IIRC that was the end of them - lack of independent transit meant they were paying the same wholesale rate as everyone else. It was sad to see them fail.

Some friends and I founded one of Australia’s very early regional ISPs, in Ballarat, and I’m quite proud that I personally gave quite a few people their first experience on the dialup internet.

We ended up buying our own transit too, in fact we were the first Australian ISP to use satellite for backhaul, our transit was commissioned a few weeks before Optus.

Connectivity was charged per byte downloaded, but uploaded was free. So we set up asymmetric routing where downloads came over satellite direct from the USA, while uploads went via Telstra. This dramatically reduced the cost of internet, at the expense of a small amount of latency, which nobody really noticed considering that it was mostly dialup and that terrestrial links were very oversubscribed.

Telstra eventually got wise and started charging for total (up+down) but it was still cheaper to do it our way. I think it worked financially and practically (in terms of latency) until the first big cable was laid, Southern Cross. But by then I was out of the game.

Running from school in 1994 straight to my local library to beat the rush for a 30 minute allotment of “the internet” on a crappy computer. But it blew my mind, I loved every byte. When I discovered I could download and print guitar tablature others had transcribed, I was in awe. When I discovered I could save images of my favourite bands to a floppy disk, it was magic. And finally when I realised that I too could build websites using HTML… I’m just glad I grew upon that era, and I could build a career, and a life out of something I love.
It was out of necessity because transit was fucking expensive back in the '90s. You had a national monopoly basically with a single cable to the US. Any other transit was satellite and had piss poor latency. Our ISPs had metered traffic (traffic that went out to that external monopoly) and unmetered traffic (stuff that stayed local inside peering points) so of course a lot of our local services grew up around the far cheaper peering points like PIPE, WAIX, SAIX and so on.
I always forget that my online experience predates the internet: I occasionally will stumble across old articles or postings where my email address is given in three or four formats because it would be addressed differently depending on whether someone was send me email from BITNET, ARPANET or UUCP. The transition to modern standardized hostname hierarchies and DNS happened in the late 80s which removed some of that awkwardness at least. I had a number of correspondents in Australia back then when their email addresses all ended with .oz (IIRC this remained a TLD in the early internet days before ultimately being superseded by The intrinsic quirkiness of using .oz as their TLD was in itself an indication that Australian internet users were very much in a class of their own.
I worked at UTS from 1991 in the IT department, starting just as NCSCA Mosaic and HTML was killing off Gopher and Turbo Gopher. UTS was the backbone for AARnet and I had a couple of computers with IP numbers that were directly accessible from anywhere. At that time the only people with e-mail addresses were staff from IT and staff and students from the faculties of engineering and science, but some time in the mid to late 1990s Sydney University offered free e-mail to all 50,000 students and all others universities were forced to follow suit (it was a HUGE support load).

Those mid-1990s were spent browsing through the free software archives of (I may have the names wrong) InfoMac and the another at the Berkeley. And general text-based nonsense on Usenet, of course.

At one stage I had a Mac running FileMaker Server 4 hosting then-popular documents about Jaguar (the car) XJ6 and XJ-S maintenance that I'd converted into a database (each sentence was a record) so it was fully searchable. It was up for a couple of years before the university's internal network was moved off the backbone.

As for Telstra buying the internet: most likely they took over the running of the hardware to support the backbone and moved it off-site (ie, out of UTS premises). It was getting expensive. I remember when it happened, our bandwidth dropped overnight and overall quality dropped. IIRC a couple of years later the universities built their own network again.

The internet underground in the late 90s/early 2000s was absolutely full of Australians. I feel like I hardly encounter them anymore, for some reason.
I helped start an early (1998) Australian ISP in Sydney (a modem bank connected to an ISDN line) with a Linux 2.0 infrastructure (Slackware…) and Perl based billing system running on Postgres 96. I was 16.

The early Australian internet was a lot of fun.

Sadly, Australia missed great many opportunities when it came to the internet.
Another post on the front page now has reminded me of an icon whose roots go back to the Australian internet scene of the late 90s: Fastmail [1].

Co-founder Jeremy Howard is now a leading educator on AI, as seen here:


A few other data points:

* Around 1993 as a 15yo I wrote (by post!) to AARNet asking about internet access, they kindly wrote back and referred me to a couple of places: APANA and schoolsNET.

* APANA, the Australian Public Access Networking Association, was how 15yo me got UUCP, and eventually 2.4kbps SLIP, access circa 1993. It had all the good things small communities have and many people from that time went on to do very interesting things (e.g. Mark Delany).

* schoolsNET was an interesting ISP I ended up working for, bringing internet access to secondary education way before it was common in Australia.

* Also, don't forget Trumpet Winsock: before Windows 95, it was pretty much the way to connect Windows 3.x systems to IP networks.

* Tangentially related, but don't forget the first port of UNIX was done at the University of Wollongong. Driving past it the other day I was reminded of this.

Sadly few mentions of major milestones in Australian pwnage.

To throw up just two, of many,

* WANK (computer worm)

    a computer worm that attacked DEC VMS computers in 1989 over the DECnet.

* Roadshow Films Pty Ltd v iiNet Ltd

    a case in the Federal and High Courts of Australia between members of the Australian Federation Against Copyright Theft (AFACT) and other movie and television studios and iiNet, Australia's third-largest Internet service provider (ISP) at the time.
Landmark Australian copyright case.

Hollywood lost, Australians were permitted to pirate with no oversight required by their ISP's

The internet took off in aus due to social networks. The popular ones were all the cc field of email. Many had work addresses first before deciding they wanted that at home. Hotmail worked ok too. There were a lot of weaknesses to that unstructured and decentralised approach to social networks but also something to be said for it that has been lost.
I felt this article was all over the place and basically very weak coming from an academic. It didn't tackle cultural histories, didn't mention BBSs, X.25 or ISDN, didn't tackle issues of politicisation such as censorship, infrastructure privatisation, etc. Few hard numbers or any recognition of the technical issues being overcome. Bandwidth over POTS. Circuit vs. packet switched networks. Decentralisation. Storage media evolution and volumes. The death of Australian manufacturing. If only the Powerhouse Museum wasn't a political football, perhaps we could get a decent social history done.
I was hoping for some mention of OzEmail (largest mail service in the southern hemisphere at the time. My firm acquired the company December 1998. The 90s were indeed golden years.
Another interesting book about the microcosm of tech is the book Gaming the Iron Curtain. It's about the Czech Republic before the velvet revolution, so not about the Internet, but fascinating how people there used technology despite their constraints.
> Given current concerns about the state of the internet – from the power of large digital platforms to the proliferation of disinformation

The word 'disinformation' has become a trigger word for me. Whenever I come across it, I instantly feel hostility towards the writer or speaker. It's a disingenuous word to use because it's not possible to say what is true or false with much accuracy. It's a word which is used by people who want to oppress others by silencing them.