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1989: It came without a manual


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New Zealand nearly didn't get the Internet that day. After years of waiting, negotiating and technology advancements, the key piece of hardware arrived broken. With no manual.

Track of the Year 1989

Inside And Out (Size of Food, 1989)

The Jean-Paul Sartre Experience - Inside And Out (Size of Food, 1989)

"Inside and Out" is the opening track of The Jean-Paul Sartre Experience 1989 album 'The Size Of Food' and sets the scene for the significant change of direction and tone that the band had undertaken at the time. It is a well formed song, ridden with angst and regret while seeped in slowly developing moods, and altering layers of sound punctuated by sharp and to the point drumming and spindly guitar. Highly personal, but also absolutely indicative of the time. - Roger Shepherd. [ Watch Video ]

Track of the Year by Flying Nun Records

The year it all paid off

1989 was the year in which the hard work of many finally paid off. During the previous decade, a handful of people – mostly at our universities – had various forms of access to the fledging cyber realm. From expensive overseas phone calls to digital tapes of Usenet news delivered by post, it was hardly the broadband experience many of us enjoy today.

Andy, Don & Mark

Remember their first encounters with this Internet thing.

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Andy, Don & Mark

It was the year that we finally got an always (or at least mostly) -on link to the world using the recently agreed standard for the Internet – TCP/IP. To most of us, this meant as little then as it does today. But the ramifications for the next 21 years would be staggering. 

Dub Dub Dub arrives (in theory)

While the Internet would remain a largely text-based affair for years, it was in 1989 that Tim Berners-Lee proposed an implementation of ‘hypertext’ for the Internet. Overseas, especially in American and European universities, Internet access was already popular and essential for communicating via email and Usenet, and for transferring files via FTP. But there were no user-friendly means of presenting textual (let alone graphical) content or for linking interesting information. 

Solving that problem would earn Berners-Lee a knighthood 20 years later. If his original name for the invention had stuck, we'd now talk about ‘surfing the mesh’ rather than the ‘web’. But the name changed two years later when he finished implementing early versions of the WWW.

Prof. John Hine

On the need to overcome the tyranny of distance.

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Prof. John Hine

And for this we have to thank...

We owe many individuals for helping secure us our first Internet connection and for ensuring the infrastructure was there to support it. When our link to the world arrived, we already had networks criss-crossing the nation connecting universities, government and even some commercial businesses for email and file exchange.“Australia nearly stole our first Internet link!” Useful for some, of course, but it was only when that first link was plugged in that a whole world of possibilities opened up to us.

It was John Houlker of Waikato University and Professor John Hine from Victoria University’s Computer Science department who negotiated the arrival of the first link through NASA, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. It took two years of to-ing and fro-ing, during which our rivalry with Australia again threatened to make us the poor cousin and lose us the link. In the end, we won through, and in April, New Zealand became the first country in the Pacific region with a full and direct connection to the US Internet backbone. NASA itself had agreed to pay for half of the 9.6kbit/s undersea link from Hawaii through to Waikato University. 

Exactly why NASA was so willing to get us Kiwis wired is still unclear, despite various theories. Houlker believes we were something of a pawn in an American plan to ensure its technical standards spread throughout the Asia Pacific region – as well as a bid to influence the direction that Japan was taking. Whatever the reason, we were grateful, and once the link arrived, the race was on to spread the signal, first from Waikato to Victoria in Wellington and then into other universities. 

John Houlker

Describes the day the Internet arrived - with no manual.

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John Houlker

... But not Telecom

1989 was also the year in which our love-hate relationship with Telecom New Zealand began. Two years earlier, the then state-owned enterprise had been carved off from the Post Office as a separate entity. In April of this year, the telecoms market was deregulated and Telecom lost its monopoly protection.

New Zealand's pioneering US Internet link

New Zealand's pioneering US Internet link

In April, Waikato Uni connects to the NSFnet node in Hawaii using the ANZCAN undersea cable. That humble 9.6kbit/s connection, 50% subsidised by NASA, makes New Zealand the first nation in Asia Pacific with direct access to the US Internet backbone.

It would take a few more years before real competition entered the market – and seven years before Telecom would launch its public Internet Service Provider (ISP), Xtra. It would, however, be unfair to call Telecom ‘Johnny-come-lately’ to the Internet.

The company was already hawking the ‘Billy-not-so-many-mates’ ISDN connection for ‘fast’ data connections. It was also promoting the X.25 networking standard instead of the TCP/IP standard that arrived at Waikato and shortly linked the entire world...

Come and get it… if you want it

Very few people outside of academia knew of the Internet, let alone had any interest accessing it. That didn't stop our first commercial ISP, Actrix, from launching in November and selling public access to email and Usenet news via a link to Victoria University. To even have a computer at home was a rarity, but for those who did, even a painfully slow modem didn’t stop them sending emails at a cost little cheaper than sending letters by post. Internet access was finally available Down Under.

Brenda Leeuwenberg

On finding someone to discuss sheep reproduction with.

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Brenda Leeuwenberg

Wellington, despite being further flung from the Internet's landing point at Waikato than the larger Auckland, was pioneering both public and local government Internet access. Richard Naylor, IT Manager at Wellington City Council, spent the late 80s linking city departments in an effort that would eventually launch CityNet. Two years later, it was to provide free dial-up access to council information… and the Internet to Wellingtonians.

Tomorrow: Having landed the link, the rush was on to spread access to it – and where we had access – to make use of the early Internet's tools of email, news and file transfers. Join Down to the Wire tomorrow to learn how the Internet solved the mystery of the exploding fish.




  It began for me with BBS-ing; typing in each string needed to connect (TCP) and the excitement of exploring the various Boards and their delights. No browsers in those days; everything began with a C: prompt and I felt very advanced and technical when I tackled downloading with FTP. The Green Goddess Bulletin Board was my favourite and I had some great discussions there. I was new to computers and in my 40's; my sons got me interested and from then on, there was no holding me back. Netscape eventually came along and I learned HTML to put up my first webpage (oh, the frustration of a wrongly placed dot or slash!). It all seems too simple now, there's no challenge to it: point and click is too easy :)  

Lynda Finn - Monday 12/1

TV3 launches, providing competition for state owned broadcast Television.


  The late 80's was a great time to be at Waikato University, there was so much creativity from so many people because there were no rules about the way things were done. We made it up as we went along. From the research paper that started Google, through to my own work which ended up in the core of 3/4G networks, Waikato was the perfect birthplace of so much. Thanks Rex Croft for keeping me on the straight and narrow.  

Greg Munro - Friday 4/4

American Online (AOL) launches in the USA.


  1989 - 7 years after getting our first "home computer" (a Microbee) and 4 years after starting work at the Meat Industry Research Institute of NZ (MIRINZ). The first PC arrived at MIRINZ in 1986 - strictly for datalogging and off the 'net! A few had started using the web on the VAX via a direct link to Waikato Uni. Gradually more and more of us started using the 'net (Usenet, etc.) These days, coming across an old Telex on file is a real memory jog! Thanks to those early "pioneers"!  

Robert Kemp - Thursday 6/6

  In 1989 I was at Waikato University having a great deal of fun arguing with my peers about which would be the system of the future: would it be Apple, Amiga or Acorn? Of course, we were in denial as the IBM PC had already taken hold of New Zealand businesses. And yet, Apple and Acorn (in the form of the ARM) still survive.  

Bruce Cassidy - Saturday 16/10

  By 1989 I'd already spent 15 years designing microcomputers for research applications at the Institute of Nuclear Sciences, DSIR. I was using newsgroups to correspond with overseas researchers into acoustic emission, and I was frequently invited for coffee in France because they didn't realise I was not just around the corner. Servers such as SIMTEL were amazing repositories for free software (accessed via ftp) and I even had my own niche application to minimise the amount of copper etched off a PCB hosted there. Newsgroups such as windsurfing.rec gave me contact with other sailors around the world who constantly asked me about windsurfing in NZ, so I compiled a guide as a text file which I emailed back.  

Bruce Spedding - Wednesday 13/10

  I first saw the internet in 1989 at the Government Printing Office in Wellington. They already had internal email via DEC's VAX system, but I remember one of the technicians showing me how I could email people outside the organisation, anywhere in the world, which seemed incredible. Then they showed me Usenet and newsgroups. By 1989 Usenet already seeemed vast to me, with more info and discussion going on than anyone could consume. This feeling of some massive thing available out there on the net, that I could never really feel I was on top of and up to speed with, has never left me.  

Greg Comfort - Wednesday 13/10

  1989 still in London, had graduated from squatting to a proper flat just off the now very fashionable Northcote Road. Spent much of my time wrestling with Lotus 123 (black and white version) and dot matrix printers, this training proved to be character building and a great asset for what was about to come.  

Richard - Tuesday 12/10

  I worked with Rex Croft around the mid-1990s, when he was running the entire DNS registry for the .nz domain practically single-handedly. Another colleague, Donald Neal, got hold of some Perl code that the Australians were using, with a view to adapting it to automating our own operations. I was roped in to help out, which was when I started learning Perl. At that time, Rex was handling about 20 DNS requests a day, which took him at least 3 hours to process, involving manually updating BIND config files. By the time we got our automated system working, he could perform the same amount of work in 20 minutes.  

Lawrence D'Oliveiro - Monday 11/10

  In 1989 I paid $200 per year for New Zealand's first private domain name: I got my feed via uucp through who got it via a 3B2 at Mt Albert's MARC - DSIR. Not long after I paid $2000 for my first 9k6 modem! (ouch!)  

Pete Belt - Monday 11/10

  In the early part of 1989 was when we got our first 286 home, Dad was working for Alsys, working with VAX mainframes while I was writing an animated steam train program for his birthday present in basic.  

Bill Walker - Monday 11/10

  By '89 I had saved up enough pocket money for 24oobps modem to connect to Waikato bulletin boards with romantic names like The Great Escape run by a Fraser Kemp if I remember correctly. Getting online via fidonet and usenet were a gateway to an unimaginable new world for a 14 year old. Playing Global Wars (think Risk) was also a huge highlight for me when I could make my turn for the day.  

Sam P - Monday 11/10

  In 1989 (and I had to check my CV) I was working at ANZ in their dealing room , they were still running telex's for taking orders - remember the tricks on the newbies , having someone at the other telex asking for turtles - and the new person running around the room asking where does he get turtles from , the pace was definitely slower in those days , with the space to react to changes definitely there , unlike now where millions are made and lost in seconds  

wendy - Monday 11/10

  In 1989 I was working as a system manager for DSIR; things were pretty primitive in those days - one of our divisions (which became Allied Telesyn Research) made our own NZ routers. Configuring networks was an arcane art of ASCII commands. Trying to connect all the VAXes on a DECNet cluster was hard enough, let alone trying to talk to any other proprietary network, such as IBM SNA or others.  

Mike Pearson - Monday 11/10

  I remember being asked to send an email 15-odd years ago (I was a temp in the UK)...I had no idea what an email was. Ended up pushing any button and hoping like hell something went somewhere.... it was a short term assignment, thank God.  

Jacquie Burns - Monday 11/10

  Back in '89 I was 9 years old and was just starting to write my own very simple little applications on a pre-computer 1000 using some form of BASIC. From then on I always had a strong interest in programming in general.  

Wayne Gray - Monday 11/10

  I was working for ICL (International Computers Limited) in Wellington, and arranged to connect our support team to the network at Vic Uni. We had "" email addresses, even though we had no one to email to, and we pulled a full Usenet feed through our 2k4 modem, and kept it with about two weeks history, on our unix box with a total of 40Mb of disk space. I believe we were one of the first, if not the first, commercial organisation in Wellington to connect.  

Ross Wakelin - Monday 11/10

  Halfway through high school, in '89 I was really only interested in what games I could play sneaking onto my brother's C64 (and School's old Apple IIe's). Meanwhile my brother was fresh into his computing cert at ATI (aka AIT...AUT) and destined for developer greatness, whilst immersing himself into several BBS communities...  

Jacob - Monday 11/10

  In 1989, I was 8 years old and we'd already had a few computers pass through our house at that stage and the love for the technology was already very strong...  

Alison Hogg - Monday 11/10

  It was around '89 that I was a young guy working in a company called CSNZ - Computer Sciences NZ, and we connected to Vic Uni to start using UseNet, primarily trying to get input from others around the world to help solve some technical problems we were having with a product called "BRS" (if I recall correctly). It was Paul Gillingwater (who was a colleague at CSNZ) that set this link up. He went on to co-found Actrix.  

Andrew Thompson-Davies - Monday 11/10

  In 1989 I was a hyop wee 4-year-old, hooning around my hood... just metres away from where the internet was being connected up the road from me at the Uni! Who would have thunk? What a fantastic milestone for Waikato Uni - go the 'Tron!  

Greer McDonald - Monday 11/10

  1989 was a important year in my life, left home, started Uni (Lincoln University, or Lincoln College as it was in 1989) first contact with email and first batch of homebrew.  

Luke Nicholas - Monday 11/10

  In 1989 I was taking 5th Form Computer Studies. We spent all our lunch times playing Codename Droid and coding animated line drawings in BASIC. Hadn't even heard of this interweb thing ;)  

Shane Garelja - Monday 11/10

  In 1989 I was working for DEC (Digital Equipment Corporation) in Reading, UK. DEC then had its own international network, and VAXmail and VAXnotes were the equivalents of email and UseNet. A lot of DEC thinking (and a lot of DEC equipment) went into the development of the Internet and its core protocols. It was a privilege to be part of that company at the time.  

Chris Lipscombe - Monday 11/10

  1989 was the year the ad agency I worked for (UK) got rid of its typewriters. It decided to keep the Linotype typesetter though because it didn't believe page make-up software would ever take off. The Internet? What the hell was that?  

Nick - Monday 11/10

  My dad worked for Telecom and one day brought home an old modem, as big as a VCR (and that comparison *so* dates it). We hooked up to this thing called Pacnet. I also remember having access to the car registration database, and I looked up the plates of some of the older kids at school.  

Robyn - Monday 11/10

  1989 is the year I joined an American company to work in the mainframe industry. My first contact with the Internet was the usenet access we had through our green terminals connected to mainframes in the U.S. through our 1200 bps modems...  

freitasm - Monday 11/10

  I had a friend who's dad was 'into computers'. That meant he had mainframes in the basement... there were several, and they were each about the size of a fridge. I never saw them actually do anything, but they did look quite impressive!  

Luke Pierson - Monday 11/10

  In 1989 I was 12 years old and the Internet was still a thing of science fiction for me until I got a modem to access BBSes 3 years later.  

Thomas Scovell - Monday 11/10


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.