Connection to recovery

Mobile-phone technology will help draw people back to Victoria's Black Saturday towns, Chris Vedelago reports.

Visitors to parts of Victoria devastated by the Black Saturday bushfires will soon gain a unique insight into the area's recovery thanks to a new tourism application for the iPhone.

It is hoped that the app - an interactive visitors' guide, navigation aid and, eventually, a pictorial chronicle of life before the tragic events of Black Saturday - will boost tourism in the hard-hit Mitchell and Murrindindi shires, which include Kinglake and Marysville.

The chairman of the Murrindindi Mitchell Bushfire Tourism Recovery Group (MMBTRG), Mark Challis, says the popularity of the iPhone provides an opportunity to reach prospective visitors and encourage them to return to bushfire-affected areas.

"I think we're actually breaking new ground in terms of Victorian tourism, particularly in terms of the application's functionality," he says. "Murrindindi Mitchell is a touring destination. People will be typically moving around within the region, so something that is portable makes absolute sense."

A US developer released a similar app recently, the 9/11 Walking Tour, which uses an interactive map, photographs and audio tracks to guide visitors around the World Trade Centre site and chronicle the events and aftermath of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

The Watch Us Grow app, which should be available for free download by the end of the month, will provide a database of activities, accommodation, food, dining and shopping in the Murrindindi and Mitchell regions

The iPhone's ability to access the satellite-linked global positioning system means the app will also show users points of interest in their immediate area, provide directions or notify them of special offers or discounts. But what is expected to set the app apart will be its ability to show users what a given area looked like before the Black Saturday bushfires in February last year, according to the program's designers, Red Fish Blue Fish Creative. Using the iPhone's camera and GPS function, the app will be able to access and display pre-bushfire photographs from its database.

Not surprisingly, the tourism recovery group and app developers are moving ahead cautiously with this project, given that the tragedy happened little more than a year ago. "This is sensitive, sensitive ground," Challis says. "The reality of it is that a lot of people are interested - not in a ghoulish way but genuinely interested - about how things were. Particularly in … Marysville, where effectively just about everything was lost."

The marketing manager at Lake Mountain Resort, Trudi Ackerman, believes the app will communicate the message that the area is open for business. "I think there's a perception out there that we don't want people coming. [In fact] we want visitors to come and we rely on visitors as part of our recovery process, to get things back up and running."

Advertising group AdMob estimates there are about 1 million iPhones in use in Australia - about 93 per cent of smartphones in the country.

The Watch Us Grow app will also work on Apple's iPod Touch.

See www.watchusgrow.com.au.

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