Saturday, 2 August 2014

Historic Launceston by App

I'm in Launceston, Tasmania, for the first time in six years, being hosted by the Launceston City Council as I research a story about cider for a major newspaper.

While here, I also decided to test out the city's new Launceston Heritage Trail: Cameron Street iPhone/iPad app.

Because Launceston is Australia's third-oldest city, it has a splendid array of Georgian and Victorian facades which have somehow escaped the march of progress.

There's a particularly good selection of these along Cameron Street in the city's heart (see screenshot at right), so the app focuses on that thoroughfare.

The great advantage of an app over the traditional printed tour brochure is the wealth of information you can squeeze in, and the flexibility with which it can be presented.

The cleverest element of this Heritage Trail app is its juxtaposition of then-and-now photos of the buildings being highlighted. So an on-screen image of the current Queen Victoria Museum and Art Gallery (1887) dissolved into this:


... and looking up from the screen, I could see this:


The journey east along Cameron revealed a nicely diverse collection of colonial buildings, from elegant public institutions to gritty industrial edifices. I won't add any more screenshots, but here are some of the structures featured along the route.

Next after the gallery was the local Supreme Court building. It had started life in the 1870s as Struan House, the home of a prosperous businessman, then later became a hospital before being incorporated into the court complex (it's the building on the left):


You may notice that I was walking along Cameron Street on a wet afternoon. As I progressed further east and the drizzle increased, I felt ever more strongly that I was walking the streets of a provincial market town somewhere in England, rather than Australia.

But onward to Macquarie House, an attractive 1830s warehouse which had somehow survived demolition even though it's located right on the city's Civic Square:


A block further east I found two significant public buildings. First, the 1867 Town Hall:


... and across the street, the clock tower of the 1890 Post Office. The tower, however, dates from 1910. Due to penny-pinching, the original construction budget didn't include enough cash for a clock. Twenty years of pressure from locals finally led to its addition:


A block further on was Trinity Church, a bulky red-brick place of worship which was opened in 1902 but not completely built until 1986:


And nearby, the former Cornwall Hotel, now known as the Batman Fawkner Inn. This old pub belonged to John Pascoe Fawkner, and it was within its walls that Fawkner and John Batman independently planned to sail across Bass Strait and found the settlement which became Melbourne:


Two more buildings finished the app's collection - the excellent 1895 Crown Mill, lit by the new-fangled electricity to which Launceston had access:


... and near the corner of Cameron and Tamar Streets, the grand 1891 Albert Hall, built for an international exhibition and still in use as a performing arts venue:


There was one noticeable flaw in the app's layout, especially when standing on a cold wet street trying to shield the iPhone from rain.

The explanatory text for each sight is broken into a short "Story" section and a long "Further Reading" section.

However, the short intro tends to be the start of an essay, rather than the expected pithy overview of a building and its significance. I often had to scroll through a fair bit of the "Further Reading" section to discover basic facts about when a place was built, for example.

The app is also very focused on great civic buildings. As I walked along the route I also spotted some interesting but less grand commercial buildings I would've liked to learn more about.

On the positive side, the fade from old to new photos is an excellent idea and helps orientate the user, especially when the building has undergone some expansion over the years (as you can see in the images of the art gallery above).

Also, the extended text, offering a history of each building and its owners, would be an interesting read before or after the tour.

Overall I enjoyed the experience, and it was good to walk the route in my own time. The new Heritage Trails app is a great way to add context to Launceston's visual appeal.

Download the Launceston Heritage Trail: Cameron Street iOS app free at this link (NB it doesn't appear to be available for Android devices yet).

Disclosure time: On this trip I was hosted by the Launceston City Council.