Early Internet

The first TCP/IP Internet connection to Australia was received by the Department, and the system for the allocation of all domain names in Australia was developed and managed here.

For many years the machine munnari at the Department was the bridge between Australian Internet users and the rest of the world.

The University’s pivotal role in Australia’s early Internet was due to Peter Poole’s connections with the international UNIX community and the work of the Department’s System Administrator Robert Elz.

The first connection to the Internet took place on June 22, 1989, in Hawaii (June 23 in Australia), when a TCP/IP connection was opened to the University of Melbourne, conducted by Robert Elz. The subject line of the first message into Australia was “Link Up”.

Early Internet connections were limited by low bandwidth, so information sharing occurred via usenet newsgroups and email, where the exchange of ideas and software led to more sophisticated technology. The speed of the first Internet connection was 2400 bps; in 2015, an average broadband connection is around 6 Mbps.

For most of us, the Internet didn’t have a big impact initially. Before the permanent connection, you would rarely be logged on at the same time as the person you wanted to communicate with.

Lee Naish, academic, recalls his time as a graduate student in the early 90s

When I enrolled for a MSc in 1991 the CS department had this new thing called the Internet. I had heard a little about this in my previous job… but the real Internet was much more exciting, and Melbourne Uni was one of the few places you could see it.

Greg Wadley, former student and current academic

Kevin Robert Elz (usually known as Robert Elz, or kre) and the Department technical team played a major role in establishing and managing the email systems which connected Australian research and academic communities internationally and managed the system for Internet domain name registrations in Australia.

Robert Elz set in place standards such as the “reasonableness” criteria for names, preventing a domain name goldrush from happening in Australia as it did elsewhere. When the demand for domain names eventually exceeded the capacity of even the most dedicated volunteer, the provision of domain names was commercialised by Melbourne IT.

In 2003, Robert Elz was inducted into the Pearcey Foundation Hall of Fame for his pioneering work in connecting Australia to the Internet.

History of computing

Computer terminal c1987. Image courtesy University of Melbourne.
1200bps modem, c1983. Image courtesy University of Melbourne.
Melbourne IT, the domain name company was floated by University of Melbourne in 1999. Image courtesy University of Melbourne.
Extracts from email recounting Australia’s first permanent Internet connection, 1989. Image courtesy Tim Bell.

View full size images in photo gallery