Australian Bulletin Board Systems - BBS

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Did you run an Aussie BBS?

Share your story, and ASCII OR ANSI art j00 might have you l33t hax0r!

What hardware/modem did you use?
How many lines did you operate?
Was it public or private?
How many users did you have?
Where did you advertise?
What made you start a BBS?

In the 1990s I ran ZWSBBS in Toorak, Melbourne, initially as a point off 3:634/384, then I got my own Fidonet address of 3:634/396. Started out with a single line 2400baud system, gradually worked up to three lines; two V.FC and one 14.4k. The slow line was public, the other two required membership. For a while I was the import pipeline for a few Dr. Who related Fidonet groups from the US; I called across the ocean once a week to get the latest. I worked for Swann Computers back when it was a single-storefront place run by David Swann (tragic to hear about his son’s death some years ago) - so I had wholesale price access to hardware. The BBS moved between a few different software and hardware platforms, but I preferred Optimus as my BBS even though it was a lot of work to draw all the ANSI art. I experimented with Desqview and OS/2 Warp as my OS, and the machine itself started out as a 386SX and became a 486SLC2, then a 486DX4-100. In its final iteration it was in a huge server tower with four CD-ROM drives and several hard drives.

In 1996 I registered zws.com (which I still own) and gradually moved most of my interactions off Fidonet and onto Usenet. zws.com and the zwsbbs residue were noticed by a company in New York, who invited me over for a job interview and imported me to the US in 1999 :slight_smile:

5 Likes

Great story!

I’m not familiar with Fidonet and how it worked.

Working for Swann must have been quite interesting!

Are you still based in the US, that must have been quite a seriously cool move and fascinating how this all linked back to the BBS data!

Hi There!

I ran a small Amiga based BBS (Amiga Exchange Australia) back in the late 80s into the early 90s. Was running CNet Pro on an Amiga 2000 and a single line. It was a public BBS providing access to shareware, FidoNET and I also ran UUCP via APANA (so basically you could get email well before email was mainstream).

During low call cost times (remembering when a call to the US was $1.50/minute on a 28.8k modem), I’d grab files from US BBSes to provide over here.

Advertised on other boards and also within Commodore & Amiga Review magazine. Ended up pulling the pin on it when I moved house and had no way of funding it.

I also co-sysop’d a multiline TBBS as well (Infinity Systems 2000) - think it was running about 12 lines…maybe up to 20 - can’t quite remember. I have no idea how the guy who was running it could afford it!!

I’m actually starting a BBS again - and for added degree of difficulty, running it on an emulated Amiga, with CNet Pro as the backend BBS software. About halfway through setting things up. This one will be aimed at Retro Computing, will have online games/doors, file areas, multiple FTN (FidoNET, AmigaNET, RetroNET, C=Net) plus also linking to other CNet boards for online chat.

3 Likes

I used to run Cafe Chrome BBS out of Melbourne.

Started mid-1988, closed mid-1996. Public system, aliases allowed, from 150-400 callers a day, depending on how long people stayed on and how many lines were running at the time. People could pay $5 (once off) so they could stay on for up to 60 mins a call, rather than the 45 mins that was default for verified users. When it closed down, Cafe had over 2000 users. I’d regularly remove accounts for people who hadn’t called in over 6 months (unless they’d paid for more access), otherwise I expect I’d have had well over 5000 users when I closed it down.

FWIW: The setup was a system originally run by another person under the name Zen BBS. They decided to get out of running a BBS (and out of computers actually), so I bought the hardware and software off them. I’d been calling BBS’s for about 4 or so years at that point, had a reasonable income through work and thought I’d give it a shot. I got 4 phone lines installed in my bedroom (I was still living with my parents) and set up the software the way I wanted (different look and feel). I’d already announced on a few other places when it’d finally be online and ready for callers.

I still remember the first caller after I set it all up at my place and actually allowed callers to connect (their name was Dara, aka Captain Blood). He was also there on the last day as well. Still keep in contact with a number of the people who used to call the BBS, some still close friends to this day. It was very much a community, with regular meetups in the Melbourne CBD, from just hanging out to seeing movies, catching up for lunch, birthdays and parties at people’s houses, etc.

Most callers were there for chat, but we did have messages (including some networked messages), plus a bunch of files for all sorts of machines (eg: Apple ][, IBM, Mac, Amiga, Atari, C64), mainly catering to utilities (eg: archiving tools, other basic tools, terminal programs, offline mail readers, etc).

There was the main number (03 894 2815, then Telecom went to 10 digits so they added the 9 so it became 03 9894 2815) which was the 4x 2400bps modems. Added the extra number for line 5 initially(03 9894 3483). When I added 6 and 7 they were originally separate numbers, but I pooled them under the line 5 number by the end of things.

Advertising was mainly word of mouth, on other BBS’s log-off screens (or in their messages), getting added to local lists of BBS’s, or passed on through computer user groups. For a while, the local Zone3 laser games venue in Melbourne provided a computer for people to dial BBS’s, and Cafe was at the top of the dial list (most of the staff and regulars were also callers of the BBS).

Equipment/software started out as:

  • TBBS 2.0m - (8 lines supported)
  • Intel 386DX-25 with 1MB RAM (can’t remember what motherboard)
  • Hercules clone video card (mono)
  • 40MB of hard disk (MFM)
  • Digiboard 8 port serial card (16450 chips)
  • 4x Datacraft Quadcraft modems, 2400bps
  • 4 lines for callers, 1 serial connection for sysop (me) from a 2nd machine

The equipment/software eventually finished up as the following:

  • TBBS 2.3m - (16 lines supported), with extra modules TDBS 1.2 (16), Sysom, Interchange, TIMS, QSO and Ultrachat
  • Intel 486DX4-100 with 40MB RAM on an Octek Hippo DCAII motherboard (8MB of the RAM was their fast 15nS EDRAM, the rest was 60nS)
  • 3Com Etherlink III network card
  • S3 805 video card (one of the fastest for drawing text at the time) and a 14" colour monitor
  • 2x Tekram DC-680C VL-IDE cache cards (one with 16MB ram and the other with 4MB ram)
  • 720MB of hard disk (1x 220MB disk, 1x 500MB disk, each one attached to a separate IDE cache card)
  • Digiboard 8 port serial card (all chips replaced with 16550A’s)
  • 4x Datacraft Quadcraft modems, 2400bps
  • 2x USR Dual Standard modems, 33.6kbps
  • 1x 28.8k Saruman Modular modem, 28.8kbps
  • 1x Netcomm Telebit Trailblazer, 18kbps (outbound only by that stage)
  • 7 lines for callers, 1 line for dialling out (mainly for me to call other places, but also for mail), network login for sysop (me) from a second machine

All menus, ANSI, and non-changing files (eg: file area indexes) were loaded into a ramdisk on boot. Rest of the BBS files (Users, Messages, etc) were on the primary 220MB drive, with the cache card with more ram on it. Files for download were mostly on the other drive with the cache card with less ram on it. At one point we did have a 1GB SCSI drive instead of that second 500MB IDE drive, but it was slower and quite bulky (full height 5.25" vs a regular 3.5" hard disk). Also we didn’t need to carry “that” many files, so it was overkill.

All the menu texts were usually created in TheDraw, and sometimes then manually edited to remove extra ANSI codes. Mostly these were functional menus rather than aimed at graphics, so they were optimised to display the text of the menu first, so even users on really slow connections would get that info first to speed up navigation. We also supported ANSI with only 7 bit character sets, since a lot of the callers weren’t necessarily on IBM machines, so they got ASCII line art instead of the extended IBM characters.

With the software: TBBS was very much built around speed. It didn’t run multiple copies of itself for multiple lines; that was all built into one program that would talk to all the lines. The TDBS module allowed various games and tools to be written. This meant that you generally couldn’t run traditional “door” software, though a bunch of the more popular games made it across (like LORD, Virtual Sysop, etc).

We shared mail with a few other local systems/networks using the fido protocols, but not as a Fidonet node. I could also connect to the BBS, from remote or over an emulated serial session on the network, then use any line to dial somewhere. Mostly I’d use the 8th line to dial out to another BBS or for sending mail (it was my personal number, so wasn’t set to answer calls).

Of course, computers being computers, things would occasionally fail or crash. Usually it was a modem that had locked up, though rarely the PC would need a manual reboot. Sometimes when I wasn’t home, my mother (who was in her late 50’s to early 60’s) would do stuff like power cycle a modem, reboot the PC, or just check if things were working. She’d see the status screen showing all the users and would occasionally comment about things like specific hours that users would be online and the like.

One last note: I still have most of the BBS setup (mainly no hard drives). The motherboard for the PC was damaged slightly due to a corroded battery, but I’ve done a bit of work on it (not yet finished) to see if I can get it back into order. Got all the cards, the original case, the software manuals, most of the modems (plus a lot more since), etc.

4 Likes

Sounds like an awesome project to get it back running!

Fidonet still exists, though far smaller than it used to be. FidoNet - Wikipedia

I am a US citizen; I haven’t been back to Australia since I left it in 1999, though I’ve moved around and worked for a few different companies here. Sadly I couldn’t bring any of my 100+ vintage computers (I had two PDP-11/23s for instance, which I miss…). Gave most of them away before I left Australia. However I have rebuilt my collection then - I have around 180 catalogued machines, and lots of stuff I haven’t cataloged… yet :smiley:

1 Like

I ran ratzbbs in Melbourne on an Amiga500, then upgraded to an Amiga2000 - I added a 40MB hard drive( cost about $1000 in the mid 80’s) I was a fidonet node(3:633:351) and had around 30 “points” collecting fidonet and amiganet mail

1 Like

The Dungeon BBS - Canberra Australia

The Dungeon BBS, Canberra Australia began life on 1985-02-15 after I had spent several years through the early 80’s as an assistant SYSOP on the 64BUG BBS (Blacktown Commodore User Group) and also Graham lee’s BBS in the eastern suburbs of Sydney.

After heading to Canberra for my first real job, I moved into a tiny little bedsitter under a house and set up my first personally owned public BBS system on a single phone line. It ran on a HEAVILY Modified Commodore C64 with 2 floppy drives, an internal IEEE interface, and 2 CBM D9090 7MB Hard drives.
You can imagine the noise! It that tiny bed sitter 24x7. 8-).

Single Phone Line with initially a 1200baud modem, later upgraded many times as new modem standards were developed.

The Software I chose to run was called KBBS, developed by brilliant programmer Kris Hatelid. It had lots of standard BBS features for the time, and saw a great amount of use, however FIDO Netmail and EchoMail was handled offline for quite a while until Fido tossing tools were developed for the commodore systems. I don’t think I ever managed to use that phone line for actual voice! it was on the go 24x7. :sunglasses:

We varied between 30-60 regular users early in the life of the BBS, mostly from the local ACT Commodore User Group. I still have a Floppy backups of the User database as well as some of the message bases 8-). Eventually The Dungeon became the official BBS of the CUGACT.

I remember some unique members of the BBS, ranging from local Mainframe Operator and computer guru “DAC” to, Famous Australian Hacking group members such as “The ShadowLord” and a very shady character called “The Gremlin” who was my assistant SySOP. One users dad was a high ranking Embassy (I won’t say which one) as a result, The FBI were even on their trying, to trap several of the hacker fraternity that frequented “The Dungeon BBS”. Let’s just say a significant amount of cracked commodore software may have originated in Canberra!

Into the BBS Dark ages and following the closure of the CUGACT group, the BBS remained running on my C128D in a reduced form and became a private BBS, for myself and several “special friends”, Still on Fidonet and UseNet, but relatively low activity. Late in 90’s I migrated the BBS over to one of my Amiga’s trying out various different Amiga BBS environments, until the late 2000’s at which point I moved the BBS over to the IBM PC based Citadel Software. In the late 2010’s as the BBS world came out of the BBS Dark ages and more and more interest grew around a re-invigirated BBS Scene, I blew the whole citadel system away and started from scratch using Syncronet BBS Software by Rob Swindell and team, which has remained brilliant ever since.

These days “The Dungeon BBS” runs as 8 nodes on a virtual box instance, and is a member of MANY of the growing FTN (Fido Technology (Store and Fwd) Networks) as well as the Usenet (Yes it still exists) and DoveNet.

I would like to, at this point shout out to Scott Little, whom has maintained the Zone 3 Fidonet HUB on his BBS for soooooo many years. One of the silent rock starts.

We have many connectivity options including Telnet, ssh, http, https and ftp. We even have PETSCII specific service available on telnet ports 64000 (40col) and 12800 (80col)

We have IRC, as well as realtime InterBBS chats, and several Door Games, although I am not big on Door games because they are ALWAYS high maintenance. Time is not something I have a in spades, so the BBS runs brilliantly with relatively minimal interaction from me. I usually check for new user applications every week or so, and we commonly get 3-5 new users per month from all across the planet!.

We have separate areas for many different topics, uploads and downloads, Including the Local Canberra Retro weirdo’s group and many Commodore related and FTN based Files. There is also an expanding TEXTFILES section.

I could write so many stories about the 80’s and BBS’ing. it was a heady time and technology moved so fast. The FTN and UUCP days were amazing, I suspect if the “big one” ever happens we may have to fall back to these technologies for communications Hehehehe :sunglasses:

Details

Name The Dungeon est 1985-02-15 Synchronet Operator Geo Geo@dungeon.barnabasmusic.com
Location Canberra, ACT, Australia
Web-site dungeon.barnabasmusic.com

8 nodes
20 doors
485 subs
129 dirs
87476 msgs
4372 files

Protocols
telnet dungeon.barnabasmusic.com, ssh, ftp, smtp, binkp, irc, 40Col PETSCII:64000, 80Col PETSCII:12800

Networks DOVE-Net[DUNGEON], FidoNet[3:712/620], FSXNet[21:4/124], RetroNet[80:774/36], SpookNet[700:100/28], AmigaNet[39:901/620]

Feel free to visit, if you would like to see what the FTN and Usenet networks have become! :sunglasses:

3 Likes

Now. The Dungeon is a BBS I remember. I used to subscribe to that LONG ago.
For me, I helped run Filco BBS in Canberra.
In 1994 I was assistant SysOp. In 1995 I was SysOp.
After 1995 it died in a long and complex story which was comical, but I only heard about it 3rd hand.
At the time of 1994 Filco I had an internet account with CAIRO (CSIRO/ANU). I used to do a weekly checkin online to Apogee and ID and check their latest demos.
I’m pretty sure that I was the first person to bring Jazz Jackrabbit to Canberra. I saw it at 9pm that night on day of release. Downloaded overnight.
Then compressed it across 3.5" disks (took multiple disks). Rode my bike to College where Filco was hosted and unzipped it and then hosted it there. It then spread very quickly to places like Joey SanFrancisco and the like in Canberra.
But I do remember bringing many demos from ID/Apogee to Canberra during 1994/95.
After 95, the internet had taken off so much that a BBS was a dying service. And I also wasn’t going to the college anymore which hosted the BBS (FilCo = Phillip College)

3 Likes

Excellent to hear your story!

@Cefiar i used to love Cafe Chrome, i was on there from my A500 back in the day when my olds didn’t pick up the phone just want to say so much thank you in fact theres not enough thank you’s chrome was part of who i was to become now, never realised the importance of it. should bring it back!!! there is a resurgence!

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lol “olds” - I haven’t heard that term for a VERY long time.

BBS days were awesome. I was the sysop of ‘South Central’ down on the Mornington Peninsula, we had about a dozen BBS that were local phone calls in our area. I started out on an Amstrad 386sx with a 2400bps modem. From memory (this is a long time ago man!) I wound up on a Dell 486dx2 with a 28.8k modem. I think I initially ran with RemoteAccess and migrated to PCBoard. I setup on FidoNet and my mind was blown getting messages from around the world. I was 16 years old at the time, it was seriously hardcore geeky stuff back then but turns out it gave me a very solid grounding for a career in IT. I got my first cheque for a membership to the board when I was 17, Mum couldn’t figure out how I was making bank but didn’t ask a lot of questions :slight_smile: