The following is my recollection of how things got started. I can't claim to have had much to do with it, other than having been an enthusiastic reader since the early days.
The first board was put up on Dallas's site (Oz Reef Marine Park).
Oz Reef was originally set up as an online journal of Dallas's tank, and grew into a reference source for marine aquarium information in general, and a slant on the Australian experience in particular.
is still going strong, and is well worth a browse. I don't know of a more comprehensive source of aquarium DIY information anywhere on the net.
I first discovered his site back in 1997, but I don't know how long it had been going before that.
Another pioneer of around the same time was Nathan Cope over in WA who set up an online Australian Marine Aquarists directory. That wasn't much more than a list of names and email addresses from the various states, but it was the first attempt I had come across to bring marine aquarists together via the internet.
Both guys were involved with local state societies, MASOV
respectively, which at the time were primarily non-web based societies.
I had been involved on a US based bulletin board for a few years (Aqualink) and had run into Dallas over there a few times, and swapped the odd email. So I remember being really interested when I discovered that he had put up a UBB message board on his site. From the very start, he had called it "Reefing the Australian Way". I can't remember when that was, but 1998 sounds about right. I used to drop in and have a look from time to time, but traffic was pretty low to start with, and I wandered away for quite a while.
In mid 2000 I discovered, and subsequently joined, the newly set up Marine Aquarium Society of Sydney, which had been pioneered by Gavan Harrison (Gavan) and David Macnamara (maquaman). They had their own bulletin board for managing internal society business, but most members were using Dallas's RTAW board for discussing aquarium topics.
I have a hard copy printout of one of the first threads I posted on RTAW in August 2000 - a question about metal halide lighting
. The thread includes a lot of familiar names: Gavan, Jamie (The_Bandit), ATJ, Caevan, Tony Fendt. It even includes the obligatory argument with Kent from Reeflections that was part and parcel of those days.
The concept of a national body - The Marine Aquarium Societies of Australia - had been spoken of for a while, but it really crystallised in 2001 when we needed a coordinated response to Senator Hill's proposal to close down the coral and live rock
fishery on the Great Barrier Reef. Whether or not we had anything to do with the eventual reversal of that decision, (we like to think we did), it resulted in a push to formalise the formation of national group to represent the interests of the various state societies. I wasn't really involved in MASS
committees at that point, so will need others to perhaps fill in some of the gaps in how that all came about.
website was launched around the end of 2002, and incorporated the databases and registries. It was put together between Maquaman, Caevan and Dr_DBW, and it was at this point that RTAW was handed from Dallas to MASA
, although the site at that point was still hosted under Dallas's Ozreef domain.
It certainly took some vision from individuals to set up the structures on which MASA
and RTAW is built. But at the end of the day, it has only been as successful as it has through the dedication of all of the members who choose to continue to visit the site and contribute to the community. There have been a number of other attempts to start up marine bulletin boards in Australia, with varying levels of success.
To my mind, the forum's membership base of real-life societies - people who actually know one another as friends and have seen each other's aquaria - is the key to why RTAW has succeeded while other boards have not. Add to that the important early decision that was made for RTAW to remain commercially independent, and the dedication of people who are in it for the long haul, and hopefully RTAW will still be here to provide helpful and commercially unbiased information resources for many years to come.