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A Computer Server and Indigenous Reconciliation

Melbourne School of Engineering

‘Munnari’, the VAX 11/780 computer, 1980s


Commencing in the early 1980s, computer staff were seeking unique names for the university’s main computer servers. This was at a time when communication between computers required spelling out lengthy network pathways to ensure files and mail reached the right destination.

Staff selected a series of Aboriginal names for the computer servers, starting with ‘mu’ to denote Melbourne University (‘mulga’, ‘murdu’, ‘mullian’, etc). At the time, there was no consultation with Aboriginal communities regarding this cultural appropriation. ‘Munnari’, a word meaning ‘sleepy lizard’ in the Ngarrindjeri language of South Australia, was applied to the largest computer, the VAX 11/780.

‘Munnari’ became a legendary name in Australian internet history. Australia’s connection to the Internet was achieved on 24 June 1989, through a permanent satellite link connecting ‘munnari’ to a computer at the University of Hawaii and hence to emerging academic computer networks in the United States. This was the birth of the internet in Australia, and all internet traffic would be directed through ‘munnari’. The network would evolve into the hub of the Australian Academic and Research Network in 1990. Given its historical significance, ‘munnari’ continued to be used for subsequent servers.

In 2020, contact was made with the Ngarrindjeri community explaining the unauthorised past use of the name and requesting whether the community would permit continued use of ‘munnari’, given its significance for the University and internet in Australia.

The Miwi-inyeri Pelepi-ambi Aboriginal Corporation (MIPAAC), which deals with language matters for the Ngarrindjeri community, has endorsed the use of ‘munnari’ for a new computer server. They are pleased to have this historical association with the internet in Australia. MIPAAC has also approved the use of the name for a multifunction space at Melbourne Connect, using the correct orthography, ‘manhari’ or its dialect variation ‘mandhari’. Addressing past wrongs can enable the strengthening of connections now.