Created by Heyday

1991: Kicked out of the library

Before Libraries were a place for free Internet access the New York Public Library was having problems with homeless overstayers. How did New Zealand get them kicked to the curb?

Track of the Year 1991

Circumspect Penelope (Compilation, 1991)

Look Blue Go Purple - Circumspect Penelope (Compilation, 1991)

Look Blue Go Purple were a band with a powerful presence. A charisma that can actually be heard on their recordings. One of their finest songs “Circumspect Penelope” achieves this and more. It communicates a place, a mood and feelings in a way that few others ever manage. A guitar intro, quietly propulsive drums and then layers of atmospheric guitar and organ sweep you away. Then, in come intriguingly harmonized vocals and the song pushes on as we are taken on a gentle but purposeful journey before finally being returned back to our own realities. - Roger Shepherd
[ Watch Video ]

Track of the Year by Flying Nun Records

From not working to networking

Nearly a decade before ‘free Internet access’ offers bubbled the ISP-wars to new heights of unsustainability, free Internet was already available to Wellingtonians – if only they knew what the Internet was.

Richard Naylor, Wellington City Council's IT Manager, spent the latter half of the 80s tying the organisation's many diverse businesses (from a bus company to an abattoir) together using a variety of network technologies. At first, this was focused on internal tasks designed to make the council operate more efficiently, but over time, the automation aimed at saving ratepayers and businesses time on paperwork and in queues. 

By 1991, he was in a position to convince WCC to launch CityNet, offering free dial-up access to locals who could connect and browse online council information and access some Internet services.

Jo Eaton

About her first Internet connection and the man who made it possible.

Watch Now Read Now
Jo Eaton

Dub Dub Dub arrives (in practice)

Overseas, 1991 was the year that Tim Berners-Lee's 1989 vision of ‘The Mesh’ came to reality in the shape of the ‘World Wide Web’, the first Web server and page being deployed by his employer CERN (European Organization for Nuclear Research). With a way of creating rich-ish content pages that linked to others, the Web now faced its first non-technical hurdle – a need for quality content to compel people to actually use it. 

“The WWW - less exciting than watching coffee brew.”At the time, the Web couldn’t even compete with the thrill of watching coffee brew via the world's first Internet-connected (but non-WWW) camera at the University of Cambridge in the UK. Coffee-starved geeks, tired of arriving at the canteen to discover an empty coffee pot, hooked up a camera so they could remotely see the pot’s level and avoid wasted trips. Over the next few years, millions of others stared at the same coffee pot but without this sad excuse.

Helen & Chelfyn Baxter

Talk about the definition of a Geek.

Watch Now Read Now
Helen & Chelfyn Baxter

Local government at work

Unlike free ISPs years later, Naylor's CityNet had no hope of making money through interconnection fee arbitrage or advertising. Luckily, the limited nature of the text-based interface to the Internet, kept the appeal relatively limited. Individuals could email on the off chance that they knew someone else with an email address – which was unlikely with an estimated 1193 New Zealanders online. Or they could access council information – seemingly underwhelming by today's standards, but nonetheless a world first. 

Naylor heard that as far afield as New York, staff at the public library (which had a problem with vagrants), were cutting and pasting Wellington's bylaws on vagrancy to their own statutes. Originally posted to a Gopher server (a text-based information repository that allowed pre-WWW navigation of content) to help out one local administrator, these bylaws were soon being accessed and repurposed by other councils around New Zealand and even internationally.

Central govt. at work (a little later) 

The early 90s were not noted for government financial support for the Internet, despite repeated calls for intervention. Four years later, Maurice Williamson was featured in Wired magazine bragging about the government's ‘hands off’ approach to telecommunications – ignoring the opinion of many that some strong hands were exactly what was needed. 

NZers on the Internet

NZers on the Internet

Wellington City Council IT manager Richard Naylor convinces it to launch Citynet. Providing free dial-up access to council information, there’s only one other similar service outside the US. Prior to this, Network Wizards says that only 1193 New Zealanders are connected to the Internet.

But that didn't stop early pioneers within central government from delivering some world-firsts on a shoestring. A couple of years after Naylor got WCC online, Colin Jackson was tapped to provide research and advice to our Internet-mad minister and didn't have to be asked twice to set up the first government Web server at in 1994. 

Operating under an ‘ask forgiveness not permission’ motto, the Web server was set up within the Ministry of Commerce and presented over wine and cheese to other departments as the official online destination for information on the New Zealand government. It passed scrutiny and New Zealand became probably the second country behind the USA to have an official government presence online.

Colin Jackson

Talks about the first Government Web Server (1994).

Watch Now Read Now
Colin Jackson

Once it was up and running, like Naylor, Jackson then went on the hunt for good content asking government departments for funds to support the project - or at least for content that the public might appreciate. An early win was a modern translation of the Treaty of Waitangi by Sir Hugh Kauwharu, supplied on the proviso that all footnotes were also included. If there was one thing the barren Internet had at the time, it was room for content.

Over the next decades a movement to free up both government and, in some cases commercial, content for use by the public would grow. At first content was released with ad hoc disclaimers that it was "free" to use but over time formal ways of designating content as available for re-use were developed. One of these is the Creative Commons license that Down to the Wire is published under. You're free to repurpose the text and videos from this site to use in your own projects - so go ahead!

Jane Hornibrook

Talks about Creative Commons licensing.

Watch Now Read Now
Jane Hornibrook

Tomorrow: Eventually the word about this Internet thing started to spread and demand for access increased. But why was the talk of the Internet about, “the poison from New Zealand”.




  It was about 1991 when I bought my first modem, a blazingly fast 2400 baud! Up until then, I'd been using a friend's 300/300 (it was so slow, you could watch the screen re-draw). It was relatively cheap, and worked well with my Amstrad XT (8086 processor, 33Mb MFM HD and 640KB RAM). I'd dial into the local BBS in Wellington and download freeware programs written in Pascal or Assembler. It was around that time that someone introduced me to CityNet. I remember accessing resources overseas and being truly impressed that I could do all this from home. The whole experience influenced me to such an extent that I went on to study computer science at Victoria.  

Ferry Hendrikx - Thursday 4/11

  It was round about 1991 when I had a job working for the National Resource Centre for Adult Education and Community Learning (NRC) in Wellington. Part of my job was to tell community groups about the Internet and encourage them to start to use it, mainly email at first. My training sessions had to begin with an introduction that said essentially: "there's a thing called the Internet". The NRC soon connected up through Actrix, thanks to the good work of John Voorstermans. I created a web page for the organisation somewhere around 1993, mainly by looking at the HTML for other web pages and changing the coding. That early web page has long been lost, but it was mainly a bulleted list of links, in the style of the time.  

Miraz Jordan - Tuesday 19/10

  The Wellington City Council CityNet was my first real foray onto the internet, and has influenced my professional career and personal life ever since! I'd like to thank my grandma (who worked at the National Bank) for having a 2400 baud modem which quickly became more or less mine...  

Sigurd Magnusson - Thursday 14/10

  In 1991, I was using my Toshiba T1200 laptop (1Mb RAM, 20Mb hdd) to access Bulletin Board Systems, using its internal 1200 Baud Modem. We had just paid $1 million for our microVAX at work, so $10,000 for this laptop seemed amazing value for money. There were no such things as Internet Service Providers (ISPs); you had to make a phone call to the specific BBS you wanted to access. If that BBS wasn't local, then you paid the per minute toll charges ... and in those days, it was not uncommon for a toll call to be $10s, if not $100s of dollars.  

Mike Pearson - Thursday 14/10

  In 1991 I was still working with DEC Auckland. On the insistence of Richard Naylor, then the DECUS Chair, we set up a TCP/IP to X.25 gateway to enable email communications between DEC's proprietary network and the Internet. Each email address seemed like a million characters long, but it worked. Those were the days of WAIS and Gopher -- and of course Fetch, still my preferred application for transferring files over the Internet.  

Chris Lipscombe - Wednesday 13/10

  I was 12, and remember going to visit my cousin in the states and seeing his Super Nintendo Entertainment System (SNES) and freaking out. At this point, despite being wowed by the SNES, I still couldn't ever imagine where gaming consoles would get to by 2010, let alone the internet. In fact, in 1991 I am pretty certain I had no idea what the Internet was. This wasn't about to change either as I embarked on a secondary school tenure at lower decile high school who thought Polybasics were the shizz nizz.  

Mike - Wednesday 13/10

  Bryan Adams, you say, Ms Sami? It was five years after '91, but one of the very first things I wrote about on my website was a track-by-track of Bryan Adams' classic album "Reckless". Everything is related.  

Robyn - Wednesday 13/10


Down to the Wire is a story that evolves with your memories and contributions so please contribute personal anecdotes, key events and web resources you think others might find useful.

If you know of a good web resource with more information give us the http://www and we'll include it.
Remember something interesting from the year? Give us a quick story!
If you know of any significant event that you think we should mention - give us the details and we'll include it.
If you know someone who tells a great, kiwi Internet related, yarn - let us know who and we'll get in touch to ask them about appearing in a video.
Any general thoughts on the project? Likes or dislikes, let us know how we can evolve the site to be the best resource.

Add a Website of the Year

Down to the Wire is a story that evolves with your memories and contributions. Let us know what you think were the exciting local websites of the year.

Even on the Internet space is limited so we can't mention every site, but we'll do our best to include your suggestion if you tell us why.