Net Retrospectives

It was twenty years ago today

Twenty years ago today, I posted my first online writing

Exactly twenty years ago today, on the 12th of August 1990, I posted my first online writing — under the distinctly odd title the Toxic Custard Workshop Files. Being well before the Web, it went to a handful of people at uni via email.

The very first Toxic Custard email

As I later wrote (in 1997):

Well, back in them days of ’90, I was in the second year of my course, a Bachelor of Pretending Cobol Is Structured, failing Photocopying 215, and me and me mates had just discovered the Internet. We suddenly realised that there was more to computer networks than just using Phone and Talk to annoy people in the next room, or sending Mail to tell people to meet you for lunch and Tetris at the corner shop.

I was messing around with my mate Bw.. err Brian Smith. Hi Brian, if you’re reading. And another pal of ours, Ray Chan, who was in an Electronics, Robotics And Other High-Tech Stuff course, came up with an idea for an electronic magazine, called “The Serial Saga”. Hi Ray, if you’re reading. We thought this was great, and immediately mugged him in the corridor and stole his idea. Ray never actually wrote anything, but did manage to create a monster robot which went berserk the next semester, and killed 5 lecturers due to a faulty diode in its corduroy detection circuits.

Ray actually vanished completely, at least from where I’m sitting. I’m still in regular contact with Brian, though he went crazy and emigrated to the USA about ten years ago.

The wacky title dated back to my last year of high school in 1988, when Mark Bainbridge and David Holicek and I planned to do an amateur comic sketch video show. It never actually happened.

Toxic Custard web site, November 1996

My early writing drew on inspirations from uni, as well as some recycled material from high school, with a good dose absurdist Pythonesque influence. Some of it was fairly juvenile. As was I.

The Internet as we know it today — an unparalleled worldwide high-technology time-wasting device — was in its infancy. I recall frequently having to explain to people the concept of this new-fangled “email”.

Over the years my writing slowly matured and moved from the surreal into the real world, the humour that was deliberately infused into everything was gradually toned-down, and now the blog has taken over just about completely.

I dabbled in a lot of technologies as they came along — never the first, but often early: the web site came along in April 1995, and shortly after that the first diary/blog entries. Tried what is now known as podcasting in 1997. Blogged the 1996 election. Issued an official screensaver in 1998. Online video? 1999… originally in RealVideo format, which probably nobody can play anymore, so here it is on YouTube:

Most (all in fact, I think) of my old pre-blog absurdist writing is still online.

And even now, I occasionally meet people who tell me they used to read the Toxic Custard list, or Usenet posts, back in the 90s.

Some of my favourite Toxic Custard highlights:

And also:

  • Your taxes are paying for this: This blog, archived at the National Library — “World Wide Web diary/weblog of: Daniel Bowen, a computer programmer in Melbourne. His web diary is a straightforward account of his daily life. The website includes numerous photographs, information about the author and links to his home page and to the weblogs of other diarists. It also includes an archive of the diary from its inception in 1994. Recent entries feature the comments of readers.”
  • An early Usenet post (TCWF 6, 5th September 1990. The man referred to at the start, Ewen G MacPerson, was based on a lecturer, Ewen D McPherson.)
  • Debate over whether Toxic Custard should have its own newsgroup (January 1991)

The twenty-year-old email list still exists, by the way, mostly as a weekly compilation of my blog posts here and at

So, happy birthday, Toxic Custard.

By Daniel Bowen

Transport blogger / campaigner and spokesperson for the Public Transport Users Association / professional geek.
Bunurong land, Melbourne, Australia.
Opinions on this blog are all mine.

25 replies on “It was twenty years ago today”

I started reading your emails in about 1996, then followed you on the web soon after.
The highlight for me is the photograph you posted of the back of your then wife walking toward the customs gate at Melbourne Airport leaving you. It was definitely showing life as it really is!
PS Look forward to the next 20 years.

Twenty years? Your online age is showing! ;-) Awesome to read about how things were before the internet exploded. Thanks for sharing, I look forward to reading some of the old stuff you posted there.

I don’t remember how I came across TCWF, but I have read all of them (that I have been able to find). Personally I think you should never have grown up and become such a concerned and upstanding citizen… I haven’t….on the other hand, I’m glad that someone grew up and am glad it wasn’t me.

Oh, and I still read the BOFH if and when they are released.

I found you somehow when I was living in Sweden (possibly on ‘aus.jokes’) in 1998(?) and feeling very very homesick. Here was a bloke writing about my home town!!. OK, he was from the other side of town, but beggars can’t be choosers. I thought it was fantastic stuff and wenta long way towards holding my sanity at a socially acceptable level.
Now days, I like your PT stance and just enjoy reading you stuff.

Thanks heaps!!! :-)

Wow 20 years of writing, congrats. I’ve been on the ineternet since the early 90s but only started writing on and off since the late 90s.

I took most of my juvenile earlier writing offline incase anyone one day found it :).

Got it archived though so maybe I’ll delve back into it one day. Anyway that’s only a decade, must feel even longer to have 20 years up your sleeve!

Copious applause, but hold briefly as we remember Virginia Haussegger, vociferous writer for the Canberra Times, who dumped Daniel because he wasn’t “average” enough for her. Okay enough pause. Have loved your ruminations Daniel, solid progress achieved with PTUA, and all the best for Friday week.

Well done Daniel. As far as I can work out I started reading your stuff back in 1992. One of my abiding memories of your early work (and it may be a faulty memory, because I can’t find any reference to it in the back issues) is describing how vegemite should be applied to toast in such sparing quantites that a single jar can last for decades, getting passed down the generations as family heirloom. Was that you who wrote something like that?

Amazing to hear that it’s 20 years — congratulations!
I remember “2031” as it evolved… Is that so long ago? :-)

Congratulations on the 20 years! I think I first started getting the emails in about 91 or 92 or thereabouts…. I’m feeling old thinking it’s been that long!

.. you mentioned Robotics as a subject, did you go through RDT at Monash in Clayton? My father used to lecture there …

Time sure flies, eh? Congratulations! I’ve been reading since 94 ~ 95 ish, when I did receive TCWF in my inbox. RSS feeds are much more convenient!

Thanks Daniel!

Happy birthday Toxic Custard! Here’s to another 20 years [Bowen passes out and is carried off, stage left].

I have lost track of when I signed up for TTCWF, but is was early in its life. The best story I remember was the tram driver who announced the bind school and then the next stop announced the deaf school, yep over the PA.

Well done Daniel.

I was sorting through one of my old hard drives earlier this evening when I came across a copy of the ‘How to Destroy a VCR’ video. A happy coincidence.

I can’t remember when I started reading the TCWF but it I came across it on the rec.humor newsgroup. I vaguely remember that to subscribe, I had to send the message ‘hello possums’ to an email address.

Wow – two decades. I think I found TCWF around 1991 – must have been on a usenet group – and have been a subscriber since. Like Theodore, I think you’ve grown up too quickly for me – I still want to read some of the immature stuff…

Only 20 years?
I could have sworn it was in the ’80s I started reading TCWF (I miss ASCII-ART :-)

I was well & truly into failing my degree at RMIT by ’90 – I remember we used to use the 24 hour terminal rooms at CIT & connect back to RMIT’s mainframes (via VICNET?) – musta somehow got onto it then…..(but then my memories from Uni are suitably blurred :-)

then I re-found it later – probably mid-’90s and have been receiving the emails ever since :-)

Congratulations Daniel and thanks.

Like many I have fond memories of the Toxic postings, I do miss your rants against motorists but with liable laws the way they are now I guess you have to be adult about the whole thing.

Well…. The casting call is out. We got the go-ahead for our satirical sketch show.

We’ll have to do live crosses to Europe for Dave’s bit though.

Rod Quantock also sends his love.


I was dating an American guy who moved out to Aus in 1999 and he got me onto the Toxic Custard Guide to Australia. But it was my love of Melbourne and my wish to live here one day, that kept me reading the diary. Then once I moved to Melbourne in 2002, it was my pro-PT stance and love of Neal Stephenson that kept me reading. But most of all, I think your lefty-pinko social justice approach to life and similar cultural references being only a few weeks apart in age, meant that I find it comforting to visit every week. My life isn’t always so stable, so it’s very nice to check in with the abbreviated public version of yours. Have to agree with Roger tho – the post about your wife stopped me in my tracks – just raw and honest but still respectful. Happy year of the dog!

Congratulations…. Just like Shell and Roger started following you when you were going through turmoil in your home life, at the same time I was going through a very similar situation, although mine moved to Malaysia. It provided comfort to me at the time, and since then I have enjoyed all your posts, especially the April fools day joke you were writing a book and no longer publishing on line!!! May you have many more reasons to entertain, and though provoke all of us who are interested in an ¨Average australian¨

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