Mayors of the bushfire-ravaged South Coast have welcomed an evocative tourism marketing campaign launched today by news publisher ACM to boost visits to holiday towns hit hard by what one mayor calls "the lost summer of the beast".
The South Coast is Calling campaign features a series of specially commissioned artworks by Walkley Award-winning cartoonist David Pope of ACM's The Canberra Times.
Styled as vintage tourism posters, the lush illustrations celebrate the seaside beauty spots and quaint country villages that made headlines worldwide as deadly bushfires besieged Australia's south-east, trapping thousands of residents and holiday-makers and choking major cities in smoke.
ACM has committed an initial $500,000 worth of advertising space for the posters, which will appear over coming weeks in The Canberra Times and 50 newspapers across NSW, including The Land, Newcastle Herald, Illawarra Mercury and Sydney's St George and Sutherland Shire Leader.
Urging readers to take a short-drive holiday or book a longer stay to help regional communities, small businesses and local jobs, the campaign promotes the tourist information websites of the South Coast councils.
The first eight artworks in the series feature Cobargo in the Bega Valley, holiday towns Batemans Bay and Narooma, Conjola in the Shoalhaven, Mogo of Mogo Wildlife Park fame, Nelligen on the Clyde River, Murramarang National Park and Clyde Mountain.
David Pope said his illustrations were seeking to "celebrate these places and the things we love about them".
"They take some inspiration from the old Art Deco travel posters in Australia back in the '50s and '60s," he said. "They have elements of the fire present in them because we can't pretend that these beautiful places haven't been affected and that the people in these towns haven't gone through incredible trauma."
ACM chief executive Allen Williams said the company's employees and publications in fire-affected areas had "done remarkable work through the summer emergency keeping their communities informed and connected"
"This creative initiative is ACM's next phase of support for the region," Mr Williams said. "Like our journalists, photographers and editors, David Pope is a storyteller through his Canberra Times cartoons and these illustrations show his deep affection for these coastal communities, as well as some of his trademark wit and whimsy."
Pope's cartoons for The Canberra Times appear in many of ACM's 170 newspapers. He won a Walkley Award in 2015 for his powerful 'He drew first' cartoon which went viral around the world in the hours after the deadly terrorist attack on the Paris offices of satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo.
"These are beautiful pieces of work by David," Mr Williams said.
"ACM feels strongly that audiences will warm to his depictions of the NSW South Coast and respond to our message, which is to get down to the coast for a holiday and help these towns and small businesses get back on their feet."
Bega Valley Shire Mayor Kristy McBain said holidaying on the South Coast had "taken on new meaning and depth".
"Many have asked 'What can we do to help?' My response is come and spend some time in my community, you won't regret it," she said.
"We need the people who love holidaying here to return and we need new people to discover what a great place this to visit and holiday. Without those people our recovery and rebuild challenge is greater.
"The role business has played during this testing time has been key in the strength we see across our community and this promotion from ACM is the latest example of that generosity."
Eurobodalla Shire Mayor Liz Innes, whose local government area takes in some of the towns hardest hit by the fires around Batemans Bay, said she hoped the campaign inspired "optimism in our small businesses and, for visitors, a longing to get back to the coast".
"Eurobodalla residents valued their local papers as a source of information and comfort during the fires," Ms Innes said. "Now this beautiful campaign will help us welcome our Canberra friends back, and remind people in Wollongong and Sydney what a magical place the South Coast is."
Shoalhaven City Mayor Amanda Findley welcomed the support for local tourism and said Pope's art would touch anyone who "felt deeply on a personal level the lost summer of the beast".
"International uncertainty also makes the timing of the campaign perfect," she said, adding that visitors to the region could "still enjoy our gorgeous autumn days and warm seas".