Wilderness Workspace, an innovation hub in the making, is poised to make an enormous leap with the recent announcement that Mallacoota is set to receive new mobile infrastructure to improve 4G mobile capacity for the north-east Victorian coastal town.
The Victorian government and Telstra are investing $2.2million in the upgrades, which will help businesses, residents and visitors to Mallacoota.
Driven by joint project leaders Mary O'Malley and Meg Allan, the co-working, learning and innovation Wilderness Workspace project grew out of the Black Summer bushfire recovery.
"We were looking for ways to diversify. This is an enabling project which pulls together a lot of different strands, ultimately building our capabilities" Ms O'Malley said.
"Reliable internet and connectivity is a game-changer for every age group, especially young people. It will help us in supporting traditional businesses as well as other digital creative projects," Ms Allan said.
Entrepreneurship, lifelong learning and employment are key focuses of the project, which aims to help retain young people in the region, in the knowledge they don't have to leave town to work towards their goals.
"Taking advantage of NBN and all the possibilities, we will no longer be impacted geographically and can adopt world best practice work in the way we learn and innovate as a community," Ms O'Malley said.
"We are very hopeful we can attract the funding necessary for the next stage of implementation."
Wilderness Workspace plans to bring together a number of partners to achieve its aims, including the Australian Centre for Rural Entrepreneurship, Gippsland East Learning and Employment Network, TAFE Gippsland, plus a number of local community groups.
The population of Mallacoota swells to about 10,000 people during peak holiday season, placing extreme pressure on mobile networks which has at times made it hard to simply access a web page.
With the planned Telstra upgrades, mobile infrastructure will cope better with the increase in the area's population each tourist season, leading to an improved experience for local businesses and for families holidaying in Mallacoota.
"We are really thrilled this is happening, it's going to make a huge difference," Ms O'Malley said.
"Mobile data capability and internet has been a huge problem and this will give us viability as residents and business owners, as well as our visitors while enjoying this beautiful part of the world."
The boost to mobile connectivity is a priority for the Mallacoota and District Recovery Association (MADRA) and features in their Disaster Recovery Plan.
Peter Hancock of MADRA said the boosting of capacity of the mobile data network will be a welcome relief by the community and tourists during the peak seasons.
"We understand there will also be improvement for education, medical and emergency services users which will also be appreciated by our community," Mr Hancock said.
"MADRA would like to thank all agencies and their wonderful staff who have worked tirelessly alongside us in these trying times preceding the 2019/2020 fires.
"These agencies and individuals joined MADRA in advocating for better telecommunications for our community and this announcement is a wonderful result of all of our collective hard work," Mr Hancock said.
Wilderness Workspace has a physical space earmarked and are in the process of pulling funds together for the lease.
"The rest depends on bushfire recovery funding, we have had some support from local council and are also seeking further sponsors," Ms O'Malley said.
"We look forward to offering workshops on digital literacy, and to helping kickstart new businesses.
"Part of our vision is to attract digital nomads to town. We would love to do a digital nomads trail and really want to partner with other co-working spaces up and down the coast," Ms O'Malley said.
"We have already made contact with Merimbula and Warragul and can see it working well in giving support to the whole region in terms of eco-tourism or creative industries."
Member for Eastern Victoria Jane Garrett said the scheduled upgrades will provide a fantastic boost for businesses and residents in the region, who rely on having good internet and mobile connections to expand and grow.
The work is due to take place over the next 18 months and Telstra is currently on the ground doing scoping, planning and feasibility work.
Telstra said the upgrades should be carried out without any major disruption to services.