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Sir Tim Berners-Lee has been the highest profile keynote speaker in the history of the Australian national Linux conference, but after his visit to Australia this year the main organisers of his trip appear to have been left holding the can.

Berners-Lee was reportedly paid in excess of $200,000 as a fee for his visit and the main organiser, open source advocate Pia Waugh, appears to have been left out of pocket after making up the shortfall in finances when sponsorship agreements did not work out.

Pia's former husband, Jeff Waugh, made an appeal on his personal blog for donations to raise the outstanding amount.

"Pia has volunteered hundreds of hours of her time to pull together the project; wrangle sponsors, minders and media requests; and assist with the tour as TBL has travelled through New Zealand and Australia," he wrote.

"But in addition to her time and energy, Pia also put up a large sum of her own money to see the project through, hoping that late sponsorship agreements would cover her risk."

A crowdsourcing effort has now been launched by high-profile Sydney open source personality Silvia Pfeiffer, partner of the former Linux Australia president John Ferlito, to cover the shortfall.

At the time of writing, the appeal has raised $2020; it is aiming to raise the $20,000 needed by March 31. The appeal features a picture of both Berners-Lee and Waugh, smiling on the stage at the LCA.

A separate website was set up for the visit by Berners-Lee and he received a mountain of press coverage during his stay in the country.

Asked for comment Pia Waugh responded: "There is no bitterness at all. If you read the blog post, you'll see what happened. A largish sponsor pulled out a few weeks before and although we were mostly able to cover it, we were till left short. The tour has been a fantastic success and we are really pleased with the outcomes and this crowdsourcing is a way for the community to help give something back to the organisers, who ran this as a non-profit public good activity."

Berners-Lee's talk to the LCA hasn't exactly been a big hit.

Mike Carden, treasurer of the LCA in Canberra, where Berners-Lee was the keynote speaker on the last day of the conference, February 1, was highly critical.

Reacting to an appeal from Mary Gardiner, another high-profile open source personality from Sydney, to contribute and help raise money for making up the shortfall, Carden said:

"The TBL Koolaid has been drunk far and wide. In expressing my opinion, I expect that many of my friends will be Very Angry Indeed - no more so than Pia Waugh who did an amazing job of bringing TBL to Australia. Pia, I apologise unreservedly for what I am about to say.

"First off, I have to say that two years ago when we started organising LCA2013, I put my head up to suggest that TBL would be an awesome keynote. Back then, I had no idea we might get him. And thanks to Pia, we did.

"Tim wants more than two hundred thousand Australian dollars to be in Oz for a week. Of course not every cent goes to Sir Tim, but let us imagine flunkies and taxes suck up $100k... it's still not a bad paycheck.

"As our very public financials will show, LA (Linux Australia) paid more than $20,000 to Sir Tim and other sponsors made up the balance of the more than $200,000 he asks for.

"My opinion is that Tim is and was a terrible public speaker and we paid a lot of money for an empty shell. I will not support an effort to give him any more money."

Another LCA delegate, Ivan Lazar Miljenovic, agreed: "Since someone else from this year's committee (and who knows much more of the details behind it all than I did) has said so, then I'm going to come out and wholeheartedly agree with him," he said.

"I could barely understand him half the time because he spoke so fast; then, I ended up leaving early when he began waxing too fan-boyishly about Aaron Swartz.  Some of his background information and stories were actually interesting, but when he started going on about how what Aaron did wasn't wrong in no uncertain terms I had enough; not because I disagreed with him but because of how he was doing so."

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Sam Varghese

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A professional journalist with decades of experience, Sam for nine years used DOS and then Windows, which led him to start experimenting with GNU/Linux in 1998. Since then he has written widely about the use of both free and open source software, and the people behind the code. His personal blog is titled Irregular Expression.

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