20 Years of Linux.conf.au [Memoirs]

Memoirs of LCA

On the first night I arrived in Christchurch, New Zealand for Linux.conf.au 2019, a group of around a dozen attendees went to dinner. Amongst them were Steve Hanley and Hugh Blemmings, whom I have known since the early 2000’s at various LCAs around the region. They asked for some memoirs of LCA – something small; what follows was my throughts, far longer than expected

Dateline: Just after the Year 2000. The Y2K bug. The first billion seconds of the Unix™ epoch (Sept 9 2001)…

In the summer of 2001, some friends from Perth and I made a trip to a new conference we had heard about called Linux.conf.au. I was a new Debian Linux developer, my friends were similarly developers, sysadmins, etc. What met us was one of the best interactions of like minded individuals we had seen; deeply technical discussions and presentations by key individuals who not only knew their subject matter, but wrote the code, created the community, or otherwise steered a section of the Open Source software movement from around the world.

Linux.conf.au 2001
Linux.conf.au 2001 – day 1

Living on the opposite side of Australia in Perth meant we were intellectually starved of being able to talk face-to-face to key people from this new world of Open Source and Free Software. The distance across the county is almost the same as East to West coast United States, and not many visitors to Melbourne or Sydney make the long trek over the Great Australian Bight to reach Western Australia’s capital.

We found ourselves asking the LCA 2011 organisers if it would be possible in future to run Linux.Conf.Au in Perth one day.

Having had the initial conference (then called the Conference of Australian Linux Users, or CALU) in 1999 in Melbourne, and then Linux.conf.au 2001 in Sydney, it seemed a natural progression to having LCA roam around different cities year; it felt almost unfair to those who could not afford to travel to Melbourne or Sydney.

The result from 2001 was that in 2002 it would run in Brisbane, but that we should make a proposal and get organised

MiniConfs at LCA

In 1999 I went to AusWeb in Ballina, NSW, and ApacheCon 2K in London.

Closing of ApacheCon 2000 in London – developers on stage Q&A

I also went to DebConf 1 in Bordeaux, France. DebConf was run as an adjunct to the larger French Libre Software Meeting (LSM), as Debian felt that its gathering of developers was too small to warrant the organisational overhead for its own conference at that time.

Debian Developers at DebConf1, Bordeaux 2001

I liked the idea of a pre-conference gathering for Debian for Linux.conf.au 2002 in Brisbane – a Mini Conference.

So in parallel to talking about running LCA in Perth for 2003, I asked Raymond Smith, LCA 2002 lead organiser, and the rest of the Brisbane organising team if I could turn up a few days early to Brisbane for the 2002 conference, use one of the rooms for a small pre-event.

The principle was simple: minimal organisation overhead; don’t get in the way of those setting up for LCA.

LCA2003 Bid Preparation

The Puffin/Penguin suit, and a small Tux
Puffin/Penguin suit

In December 2001 we found what was probably closer to a full-size puffin costume at a fancy dress shop – close enough that it could pass for a penguin.

We started to plan a video as a welcome video – to show some of Perth, and what could be expected in coming to the West.

With a logo I designed from a classic Australian yellow road sign, we had a theme of the Road Trip to Perth.

So with the Puffin/Penguin suit in hand, and a few phone calls, we found ourselves with camera kit on New Years’ Day 2002 at the arrivals hall of Perth airport to film segments for a video to play at the close of LCA2002: the story of tux arriving and making his/her/their way to the conference venue at UWA. Much of the costume performance was Nick Bannon, but also Mark Tearle, and others. I filmed and rough scripted, Tony Breeds edited video, and sought licensing for the music, generously donated by the band credited.

LCA 2002

The MiniConf at LCA ran smoothly. People arrived from around the world, including then DPL Bdale Garbee.

Debian mini-conf at LCA 2002 in Brisbane
James Bromberger (c) and Bdale Garbee (r) at the Dbeian Mini-Conf, 2002

The main conference was awesome, as always.

Rusty Russell speaking at Linux.conf.au 2002
Jeremy Allison (l) and Andrew Tridgell (r) tlaking Samba at Linux.conf.au 2002
Raymond Smith, lead organiser LCA 2002
Ted T’so talking filesystems at LCA 2002. “In Ted we trust”.
LCA2003 closing
James Bromberger (l) and Tony Breeds (r) – co-chairs of LCA 2003
LCA2003 invite video being played at LCA2002 Closing

Post 2002 prep for 2003

We ran monthly, then weekly face to face meetings, we split into teams – web site, papers committee, travel & accommodation, swag, catering, venue, AV and more. Bernard Blackham made significant changes to get us able to process the crypto to talk to the CommSecure payment gateway so we could process registrations (and send signed receipts).

We thought that not many people would come to Perth, a worry that drove us to innovate. Sun Microsystems agreed to sponsor a program we devised called the Sun Regional Delegate Programme, funding a sizable amount of money to fly people from across the state down to Perth to attend

I left my full time job in November 2002 to work full time on the conference, having planned to start travelling in Europe sometime after LCA in 2003. Hugh Blemmings (then at IBM) sponsored Linus Torvalds to attend, which we kept under wraps.

Tux at Linux.conf.au 2003

A small group worked on making a much better, full size Penguin costume, which days before the opening we proposed to put Linus in as part of the opening welcome.

Holy Penguin Pee, LCA 2003

I sourced some white label wine, designed and had printed some custom labels, naming this the Holy Penguin Pee, which was to be our conference dinner wine (amongst other beverages). While at the time this was a nice little drop; the bottles I now hold some 16 years later are a little less palatable.

Perth 2003

Miniconfs had blown out to several sessions. Attendance was projected to exceed 500 attendees (excluding speakers and organisers).

As the audience gathered for the welcome in the Octagon Theatre at UWA, we had amongst us Tove Torvalds, and their three small girls: Patricia (6), Daniella (4), and Celeste (2).

The opening of Linux.conf.au 2003
James Bromberger (l), Rusty Russel (c), Linus Torvalds (r

As the conference opened, I took to the stage, and the Penguin waddled on. I commented that we have a mascot, and he’s here; Rusty then joined me, and removed the head of the Penguin to reveal Linus within.

Linus in Penguin costume talking to his daughters

Along with Linus, we also had Tove Torvalds, and their three small girls: Patricia (6), Daniella (4), and Celeste (2). During the earlier rehearsal, the girls were so amused to see their Daddy in a penguin suit; there were some lovely photos of them inspecting the suit, and looking at their Dad change the world while having fun.

On that opening welcome – the morning in the Penguin suit – the temperature was over 40°C.

For a non-profit event, we had too much money left over that it was decided to reduce the profit by ordering pizza for lunch on the last day. Days ahead, we drove to a local pizza hut branch, and asked what would be required to order some 300 pizzas, and could they deliver them effectively. We cut a cheque (remember those) two days in advance, and on the day, two minivans stuffed to the roof turned up.

LCA spelt with Pizza Boxes, a slang name for a common form factor of servers around this time, and one of the LCA yellow banners.

Prior to recycling, I suggested we spell out the name of this even in Pizza boxes as a fun tribute to the amount of pizza we all consumed as we cut code, and changed the world. This photo embodies LCA (and appears on the Wikipedia page). I think I took the image from the library balcony, but I may be wrong.

LCA2003 was the first time we had full audio recordings of all main conference sessions. Ogg Speex was the best codec at the time, and video was just beyond us. A CD was produced containing all recordings, plus a source copy of the Speex codec.

LCA2003 closed on 25 January 2003.

Then on the 26th (Australia Day) my then girlfriend and I grabbed our bags, and moved to the UK for 1 year (PS: it was 8).

Roaming around the northern hemisphere

My time in Europe got me to FOSDEM and DebConf many times. I was at UKUUG, tripping through Cambridge occasionally, seeing people whom I had previously met from the Debian community at the LSM in Bordeaux. I met new people as well, some of whom have since made the trip to Australia in order to present at LCA.

James Bromberger (far l), Barry White (l), Pierre Denis (c), Simon Wardley (far r), at the Fotango Christmas party (skiiing) in Chamonix in 2004.

I spent time at Fotango (part of Canon Europe) working with some awesome Perl developers, and running the data centres and infrastructure.

Returning Home

Upon my return to Perth in 2010, I went back to PLUG, to find a new generation of people who were going to LCA 2011 in Brisbane.

I started a cunning plan with the PLUG crew; we put forward a proposal to the Lottery commission for $10,000 to get equipment for us to set up a single stream for video recording using DVSwitch in order to record the regular PLUG meetings.

Euan (l) and Jason (r) playing with DVSwitch at Perth Artifactory in 2011

It worked; a crew came together, and PLUG had some practice at what running a Video Team required (at the time).  I managed to convince Luke John to put forward a proposal to run LCA – it had been nearly 10 years since it had been in Perth – and thus it came to pass.

I, however, was not going to be front and centre in 2014 (though I did give a presentation on Debian and AWS at the 2014 conference).

But I found a new role I could play. With the additional video kit, and a bit of organising, we grabbed a couch and for one year, created LCA TV – an opportunity to grab on video some of the amazing people who come to Linux.conf.au. While we now have great video of presentations, it’s nice to have a few minutes for chat with those amongst us, captured for posterity.

LCA TV 2014

I want to thank LA Council who have had the courage to have LCA wander the region year to year. I want to thank the LCA crews I have worked with in 2003 and 2014, but I want to thank the crew from every year, the speakers who have stood up and spoken, the video teams, and the volunteers.

Looking forward; I want to thank people who haven’t done what they are going to do yet: those who will run LCA in future, and those who will give their time to share their knowledge with others, across countries, languages, companies and more.

Linux.Conf.Au has been central to the success of technical talent in the Linux and Open Source space in this region.


Arriving at CHC Airport, LCA 2019 was present for conference registrations in the terminal.

I have one more person to thank. My then-girlfriend in 2003, now my wife of many years who has put up with me spending so much time attending, planning and running a technical conference over the years. Thanks Andrea.

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