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   and 8 a.m. When the owner went to bed, he or she would plug the home

   phone line into the BBS and leave it there until morning. Others ran

   24 hours a day, but the busiest times were always at night.


   Of course it wasn't just intellectual stimulation some users were

   after. Visitors often sought identity as much as ideas. On an

   electronic bulletin board, you could create a personality, mould it

   into shape and make it your own. Age and appearance did not matter.

   Technical aptitude did. Any spotty, gawky teenage boy could instantly

   transform himself into a suave, graceful BBS character. The

   transformation began with the choice of name. In real life, you might

   be stuck with the name Elliot Dingle--an appellation chosen by your

   mother to honour a long-dead great uncle. But on a BBS, well, you

   could be Blade Runner, Ned Kelly or Mad Max. Small wonder that, given

   the choice, many teenage boys chose to spend their time in the world

   of the BBS.


   Generally, once a user chose a handle, as the on-line names are known,

   he stuck with it. All his electronic mail came to an account with that

   name on it. Postings to bulletin boards were signed with it. Others

   dwelling in the system world knew him by that name and no other. A

   handle evolved into a name laden with innate meaning, though the

   personality reflected in it might well have been an alter ego. And so

   it was that characters like The Wizard, Conan and Iceman came to pass

   their time on BBSes like the Crystal Palace, Megaworks, The Real

   Connection and Electric Dreams.


   What such visitors valued about the BBS varied greatly. Some wanted to

   participate in its social life. They wanted to meet people like

   themselves--bright but geeky or misanthropic people who shared an

   interest in the finer technical points of computers. Many lived as

   outcasts in real life, never quite making it into the `normal' groups

   of friends at school or uni. Though some had started their first jobs,

   they hadn't managed to shake the daggy awkwardness which pursued them

   throughout their teen years. On the surface, they were just not the

   sort of people one asked out to the pub for a cold one after the



   But that was all right. In general, they weren't much interested in

   footy anyway.


   Each BBS had its own style. Some were completely legitimate, with

   their wares--all legal goods--laid out in the open. Others, like The

   Real Connection, had once housed Australia's earliest hackers but had

   gone straight. They closed up the hacking parts of the board before

   the first Commonwealth government hacking laws were enacted in June

   1989. Perhaps ten or twelve of Melbourne's BBSes at the time had the

   secret, smoky flavour of the computer underground. A handful of these

   were invitation-only boards, places like Greyhawk and The Realm. You

   couldn't simply ring up the board, create a new account and login. You

   had to be invited by the board's owner. Members of the general

   modeming public need not apply.


   The two most important hubs in the Australian underground between 1987

   and 1989 were named Pacific Island and Zen. A 23-year-old who called

   himself Craig Bowen ran both systems from his bedroom.


   Also known as Thunderbird1, Bowen started up Pacific Island in 1987

   because he wanted a hub for hackers. The fledgling hacking community

   was dispersed after AHUBBS, possibly Melbourne's earliest hacking