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Undergound. Go to Table of Contents.

   months, presumably until she required another visit.

  

   The BBS users had a few things in common. They were generally of above

   average intelligence--usually with a strong technical slant--and they

   were obsessed with their chosen hobby. They had to be. It often took

   45 minutes of attack dialling a busy BBS's lone phone line just to

   visit the computer system for perhaps half an hour. Most serious BBS

   hobbyists went through this routine several times each day.

  

   As the name suggests, a BBS had what amounted to an electronic version

   of a normal bulletin board. The owner of the BBS would have divided

   the board into different areas, as a school teacher crisscrosses

   coloured ribbon across the surface of a corkboard to divide it into

   sections. A single BBS might have 30 or more electronic discussion

   groups.

  

   As a user to the board, you might visit the politics section, tacking

   up a `note' on your views of ALP or Liberal policies for anyone

   passing by to read. Alternatively, you might fancy yourself a bit of a

   poet and work up the courage to post an original piece of work in the

   Poet's Corner. The corner was often filled with dark, misanthropic

   works inspired by the miseries of adolescence. Perhaps you preferred

   to discuss music. On many BBSes you could find postings on virtually

   any type of music. The most popular groups included bands like Pink

   Floyd, Tangerine Dream and Midnight Oil. Midnight Oil's

   anti-establishment message struck a particular chord within the new

   BBS community.

  

   Nineteen eighty-eight was the golden age of the BBS culture across

   Australia. It was an age of innocence and community, an open-air

   bazaar full of vitality and the sharing of ideas. For the most part,

   people trusted their peers within the community and the BBS operators,

   who were often revered as demigods. It was a happy place. And, in

   general, it was a safe place, which is perhaps one reason why its

   visitors felt secure in their explorations of new ideas. It was a

   place in which the creator of the WANK worm could sculpt and hone his

   creative computer skills.

  

   The capital of this spirited new Australian electronic civilisation

   was Melbourne. It is difficult to say why this southern city became

   the cultural centre of the BBS world, and its darker side, the

   Australian computer underground. Maybe the city's history as

   Australia's intellectual centre created a breeding ground for the many

   young people who built their systems with little more than curiosity

   and salvaged computer bits discarded by others. Maybe Melbourne's

   personality as a city of suburban homebodies and backyard tinkerers

   produced a culture conducive to BBSes. Or maybe it was just

   Melbourne's dreary beaches and often miserable weather. As one

   Melbourne hacker explained it, `What else is there to do here all

   winter but hibernate inside with your computer and modem?'

  

   In 1988, Melbourne had some 60 to 100 operating BBSes. The numbers are

   vague because it is difficult to count a collection of moving objects.

   The amateur nature of the systems, often a jumbled tangle of wires and

   second-hand electronics parts soldered together in someone's garage,

   meant that the life of any one system was frequently as short as a

   teenager's attention span. BBSes popped up, ran for two weeks, and

   then vanished again.

  

   Some of them operated only during certain hours, say between 10 p.m.