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The National Library Is Archiving The Aussie Internet, And It's Hilarious

Trying to forget the questionable choices you made in the 90s and early 2000s? The National Library's latest initiative won't let you.

While you might be able to burn the photos of your personal aesthetic journey through that period -- JNCO Jeans, we're looking at you -- the same can't be said for the remnants of the early internet.

Now, for your viewing pleasure, the National Library of Australia has pulled together an archive of webpages ending in ".au" since 1996 -- back when your computer had its own room and you had to wait for your mum to get off the phone before you could connect your modem to the internet superhighway.

The Australian Web Archive [AWA], launched last week, is the collection of our cultural and social history as told through our digital footprint.

At the end of each year, a cart is rolled into the library carrying a disk containing snapshots of every publicly viewable website, ready for sorting and archiving.

Akubra Hats homepage 1998. Image: provided

The first thing to pop out at most people while clicking down memory lane is the evolution of the web design itself, said head of the National Library's Trove service, Alison Dellit.

"It really is a shock to someone that what we used to think was really effective website design is really something that throws a lot of really bright colour at  you very quickly and competes with your attention in every corner of the screen," Dellit told 10 daily.

We're talking bold, fluoro colours, rotating GIFs, hyperlinks galore and pictures, pictures, pictures.

The Wiggles' site from 1997, for example, appears to have been designed solely by former yellow Wiggle Greg.

The Wiggles homepage as of April 16, 1997. Image: provided
Image: provided

"One of the ones we like to talk about the most is the pm.gov.au website," Dellit said.

"Because obviously in Australia that one changes rather frequently."

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John Howard was the first PM to have a website using the address -- currently being used by Scott Morrison-- way back in 1998.

The page had a super slick wood paneling background, a photo of Howard in his equally wood-paneled office, and even a kids' page.

John Howard's official PM homepage in 1998. Image: provided
The kids' page on Howard's page. Image: provided

Today, the PM's website is used less for educational purposes and more for promoting the policies of their party. It also serves as a chance to communicate something about their personality.

ScoMo's homepage currently features a photo of him with his wife and two daughters -- the same family portrait you may remember from a certain Photoshop mishap.

Many national libraries around the world have internet archives, but Australia's is one of the first fully searchable platforms.

"The library made this decision back in 1995," Dellit said.

"It's one of the most far-looking decisions that the library has ever made. We identified really early that there was a whole flight of Australian life and culture on the web that isn't reflected anywhere else."

The WA Government's homepage (left) and the Victorian Government's homepage (right) in 1997 and 1998. Image: provided

Questionable visuals aside, websites from the past capture moments in our history much the same way a catalogued photograph or news article does.

"You see the changing of people's attitudes," Dellit said.

"If you take a website like the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras, you see that event evolve from being something that was very much representative of a small section of a community to a complete celebration of Sydney and a major event."

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The Mardi Gras website as it was on December 2, 2002. Image: provided
The Mardi Gras website as it stands today in 2019. Image: Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras

Moments like the 2000 Sydney Olympics, the biggest sporting event to take over the city, are also among the pages collected.

While some of us are lucky enough to still have a ticket from the Games, the archived snapshot is a digital memento for all Australians.

"That's a real moment in time for Australia that we captured such a sense of pride," Dellit said.

"Cathy Freeman lighting the torch is a moment for Australia that I remember really vividly and it invokes so much nostalgia."

The internet's been with us for about four decades, giving us plenty of time to tone down our design choices and stop underlining hyperlinks.

Nevertheless,  the National Library will continue to diligently collect snapshots, Delitt said -- so be careful about what you post today, because it might end up in a library someday.