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Sunday, December 12, 2010

Julian Assange's Childhood

A friend of Julian Assange who knew him in the early days said he was a brilliant, socially awkward crusader who wanted to change the world - a hard core geek who would rather spend time on his computer than interact with people. He is disillusioned by both sides of politics but is more closely aligned to the liberation values of the right. Ironic, isn't it, because it's the extreme right in America who want to catch him and send him to jail.

Back in 1991, Assange was arrested and charged with more than 30 counts of computer hacking offences. The court case dragged on for five years and he pleaded guilty to 24 charges. County Court Judge Lesley Ross obviousy had a soft spot for Assange and felt that he hacked into systems only to "empower himself". He said that had he sought any personal gain and not had such a disruptive childhood, he would have been jaied for up to ten years. Addressing him in court, the judge acknowledged the "unstable personal background that you had to endure... and the rather nomadic existence that your mother and yourself were forced to follow and also the personal disruption that occurred within your household".

The judge who initially thought that a jail term was warranted noted that Assange had not been able to obtain formal educational qualifications but said he could have put his intelligence to better use and hoped that the court case would set him on a better path. "These offences could only have been commited by intelligent individuals and you now have a black mark against your name and if there is any repetition of this behaviour, your chances of avoiding a jail sentence would be very slim" Judge Ross said. Although he was lucky to get off with a fine and a good behaviour bond, Assange still challenged the judge by saying "Your honour, I feel a great injustice has been done here and I would like to record the fact that you have been misled by the prosecution".

Born in tropical Townsville in July 1971, his childhood was idyllic. He grew up on beautiful Magnetic Island, just off the coast of north Queensland. He describes his childhood as Tom Sawyer like - he had his own horse and built his own raft and went exploring down mine shafts and tunnels. Magnetic Island resident Royce Dalliston 49, remembers a young Assange and his "reclusive" mother Christine. "She used to do drawings in the shade of the banyan trees at Picnic Bay" Dalliston recalls. "She wore green bikinis and one of those hats made out of coconut palm leaves. He was a pretty quiet kid..... a scrawny little blond haired kid, pretty withdrawn". There is no record of Julian Assange attending the island's only school.

In the early 1980s Julian was living in Lismore where locals still remember how his "alternative lifestyle" mother and step-father ran a puppet theatre. He attended a tiny school in the nearby village of Goolmangar where he appears to have struggled to fit in with his fellow students, mostly children of dairy farmers. "Jules wasn't a ratbag or anything" classmate Sharon Graham says "He just kept to himself". Another former pupil Peter Graham remembers Assange mostly for his compassion. "He was the sort of kid that moved a spider and let it go free when others wanted to kill it" Graham said. "He was always a nurturing sort of fellow". Christine Assange broke up with her husband in 1982 and during the custody struggle for Julian's half brother that followed, she took the children into hiding and Julian moved house 37 times by the time he was 14. Christine said her son was taught not to blindly respect authority figures and was often home-schooled because she did not want to see her children's spirits broken by the school system.

When Julian was 18 years old, he was living with his girlfriend and they had a son together but after the hacking trials she left him and disappeared, taking Daniel with her. Julian descended into a dark depression. His mother said her son was hospitalised for several days. "I wouldn't call it a breakdown, he was highly stressed and needed a rest and break from it all" she said.