WikiLeaks founder's Lismore roots
THE Australian founder of a whistleblower website at the centre of an international furore for releasing US Afghan war documents this month grew up on the Northern Rivers.
The man now dubbed by the international press as 'one of the world's most intriguing people' was recognised by one of his Goolmangar Primary School classmates this week.
Wanted by US authorities, and described as the 'internet's freedom fighter' by mainstream media, Julian Assange founded WikiLeaks - an 'uncensorable system for untraceable document leaking' - in 2006 and remains its editor-in-chief after years dodging computer hacking charges and fighting for freedom of information.
Mr Assange lived in Terania Street, North Lismore, with his puppeteering parents from the mid-70s to the early 1980s, attending Goolmangar Primary School from 1979 to 1983.
Current Goolmangar principal Don Sams was bemused at the fuss, but not surprised that last year's winner of Amnesty International's media award and the Economist Index's 2008 censorship award spent his formative years at the small rural school.
"We try to develop free thinkers and people of independent thought here and Julian would be the ultimate example of that," he said.
A distant family relative still living in the area remembers the young Julian as a 'geeky smart kid'.
"It didn't surprise me when I heard what Julian is doing now," she said, asking not to be named.
After splitting with Mr Assange's father in the mid-70s, his mother Christine moved to Lismore where her father, Warren Hawkins, was principal of the Northern Rivers College of Advanced Education, now Southern Cross University.
Mr Hawkins is remembered by work colleague and historian Maurie Ryan as a stanch traditionalist who ran a tight ship.
"We didn't get on that well, but he did his job - though not how I would have done it," he said.
Christine, and new husband Brett Assange, Julian's stepfather, ran a small eccentric theatre company opposite the current Rainbow Wholefoods site in Terania Street in the 70s and 80s specialising in puppets.
Julian Assange, now 39, has since told reporters he was enrolled in 37 schools and six universities during his childhood.
He studied mathematics and physics at the University of Melbourne and worked as a computer programmer and free software developer before starting WikiLeaks.
As a Melbourne teenager he pleaded guilty to 24 charges for hackinginto government and commercial websites, receiving a six-month suspended sentence, and was arrested again for hacking into a Canadian telecommunication company's website in the early 1990s, but escaped prison when the court ruled his actions benign.
Mr Assange said that angry reactions to WikiLeaks' release of tens of thousands of US military documents on the Afghan war show the whistleblower website is succeeding in its mission.
"If journalism is good it is controversial by its nature - it is the role of good journalism to take on powerful abuses, and when powerful abuses are taken on, there is always a back reaction," he told the Guardian newspaper.
WikiLeaks attained international fame last year when it published internal documents from multinational shipping company Trafigura implicating it in toxic waste dumping in the Ivory Coast.