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Undergound. Go to Table of Contents.

   The Australian computer underground in the late 1980s was an

   environment which spawned and shaped the author of the WANK worm.

   Affordable home computers, such as the Apple IIe and the Commodore 64,

   made their way into ordinary suburban families. While these computers

   were not widespread, they were at least in a price range which made

   them attainable by dedicated computer enthusiasts.

  

   In 1988, the year before the WANK worm attack on NASA, Australia was

   on an upswing. The country was celebrating its bicentennial. The

   economy was booming. Trade barriers and old regulatory structures were

   coming down. Crocodile Dundee had already burst on the world movie

   scene and was making Australians the flavour of the month in cities

   like LA and New York. The mood was optimistic. People had a sense they

   were going places. Australia, a peaceful country of seventeen or so

   million people, poised on the edge of Asia but with the order of a

   Western European democracy, was on its way up. Perhaps for the first

   time, Australians had lost their cultural cringe, a unique type of

   insecurity alien to can-do cultures such as that found in the US.

   Exploration and experimentation require confidence and, in 1988,

   confidence was something Australia had finally attained.

  

   Yet this new-found confidence and optimism did not subdue Australia's

   tradition of cynicism toward large institutions. The two coexisted,

   suspended in a strange paradox. Australian humour, deeply rooted in a

   scepticism of all things serious and sacred, continued to poke fun at

   upright institutions with a depth of irreverence surprising to many

   foreigners. This cynicism of large, respected institutions coursed

   through the newly formed Australian computer underground without

   dampening its excitement or optimism for the brave new world of

   computers in the least.

  

   In 1988, the Australian computer underground thrived like a vibrant

   Asian street bazaar. In that year it was still a realm of place not

   space. Customers visited their regular stalls, haggled over goods with

   vendors, bumped into friends and waved across crowded paths to

   acquaintances. The market was as much a place to socialise as it was

   to shop. People ducked into tiny coffee houses or corner bars for

   intimate chats. The latest imported goods, laid out on tables like

   reams of bright Chinese silks, served as conversation starters. And,

   like every street market, many of the best items were tucked away,

   hidden in anticipation of the appearance of that one customer or

   friend most favoured by the trader. The currency of the underground

   was not money; it was information. People didn't share and exchange

   information to accumulate monetary wealth; they did it to win

   respect--and to buy a thrill.

  

   The members of the Australian computer underground met on bulletin

   board systems, known as BBSes. Simple things by today's standards,

   BBSes were often composed of a souped-up Apple II computer, a single

   modem and a lone telephone line. But they drew people from all walks

   of life. Teenagers from working-class neighbourhoods and those from

   the exclusive private schools. University students. People in their

   twenties groping their way through first jobs. Even some professional

   people in their thirties and forties who spent weekends poring over

   computer manuals and building primitive computers in spare rooms. Most

   regular BBS users were male. Sometimes a user's sister would find her

   way into the BBS world, often in search of a boyfriend. Mission

   accomplished, she might disappear from the scene for weeks, perhaps