Straight after the launch of the less than scintillating travel jingle Matesong, the poorly-timed Tourism Australia campaign to boost visitors to our country had to be pulled. Yes, removed from advertising schedules where it was possible to do so. Not because Kylie wasn't on song. She was and always will be.
But because, as I predicted, our international audience knew that blue sky paradise was a lie. Offensive even in the planning, when we knew Australia was going to be torn apart by fire this season and certainly deeply out of touch by the time of its launch date, Christmas Day.
I'm not sure which advisory Tourism Australia uses but I'd be very glad if it got the chop.
Now TA has been forced to rely on a former employee to do its work, one it didn't even want to keep. Introducing Scott Morrison, travel ambassador. Mr Morrison was briefly managing director of Tourism Australia between 2004 and 2006, a job he couldn't keep. Now he's back! Working for free. Now he's pleading with tourists to come. Don't change your plans! And hey, don't ask for a refund in a hurry. We are bleeding here.
"Whether it's here domestically in Australia or indeed overseas because I've spoken to many leaders particularly in the last 24 hours that Australia is open," he said.
This bit, filmed on Kangaroo Island on Wednesday, is true. Australia is still open to most tourists.
The next bit needs an urgent fact check. Morrison said: "Australia is still a wonderful place to come." Wonderful if you don't mind hazardous air quality up and down the coast and inland. Wonderful if you don't mind dead and dying native animals lying in agony on the sides of the road. Wonderful if you don't mind queues for food, water and fuel. Wonderful if you want a side serving of deep anxiety along with the other options on offer.
Morrison invites tourists to "bring your family and enjoy your holiday" and he's even got activities in mind.
"I just have been at the Salvos volunteers and we've got two tourists from Belgium who were there in the Salvos gear actually volunteering." I love these Belgian tourists and they are obviously amazing humans but I'm not sure that's everyone's idea of a way to rest and relax for the year ahead. This is why we holiday.
I'm pretty sure the next bit of his siren call to tourists is my favourite.
"Even here on Kangaroo Island where a third of the island has obviously been decimated, two thirds of it is open and ready for business and it's important to keep these local economies vibrant at these times so I'd ask you if you have already made those plans and otherwise can't change them then by all means follow through because I'm sure the local tourism businesses whether here in South Australia or other places where they are able to continue to take visitors that you would proceed."
Please, those at home and abroad, please avail yourselves of tragedy tourism. The Prime Minister thinks it's a good idea. Be a gawker as a town tries to come to terms with its terrible losses. The economic losses are one thing but it's easier to recover from those than from loss of life and loss of habitat. We talk about habitat as if it's only for those poor burnt koalas and kangaroos, but it is also our habitat, those trees and bushes which shaded us and provided home to the birds, to all the insects.
Morrison is awkward and ill-prepared to be an ambassador of any kind. He is an ill-prepared and tactless representative of our nation. Witness him on Kangaroo Island speaking to a group of locals: "Well thankfully, we've had no loss of life".
Except for the two killed as fire overtook their car, Dick Lang and his son Clayton. Morrison said he was only thinking about firefighters. Those two were returning home after fighting a nearby fire for two days.
Our international reputation is borked, destroyed by successive governments who care not about climate change and accelerated by the incumbents. And their carelessness - or more aptly, care for coal dollars, is now international news, considered an emergency by politicians far and wide (except for charlatans trying to palm off the catastrophe on to arsonists, of whom there have only been a handful).
We can tell it's a real emergency because those overseas, exposed to image after image of our burning land, wanting to know we are OK are doing the unthinkable. They are making phone calls. Not only texts, not only Facebook messenger, not only WhatsApp (but all those as well). Actual phone calls. (I am so unused to the sound that I startle on the odd occasion the phone rings unexpectedly and get set to shout at NBN scammers.) Jackson Fairchild, a senior policy and strategy advisor from Rainbow Health in Victoria, says he's had an older friend call twice - from San Francisco - checking everyone is OK.
"People seem super unsettled and genuinely worried for Australian and what it means for us," he said.
Lesley Podesta, the CEO of the Alannah and Madeline Foundation, says she too has fielded international calls, "basically calling to see if we are OK and to commiserate", she said. Others have called to donate to the Foundation's Buddy Bag project for kids in firezones. Another says she had a Greek friend, who would normally message, call because she was so worried.
I hope to heaven we don't have to throw the glorious Kylie and all she stands for (in this ad) in the bin because our international reputation is already there. Tourists don't want to see burning lands and it will take a while for our country to recover from those endless images. The Matesong campaign emerged because British tourism to this country has plummeted. I doubt citizens of a country already in a binfire (or even bonfire) want to travel thousands of kilometres to witness the real thing. And if you're a local, send money or #gowithemptyeskies.
- Jenna Price is a Canberra Times columnist and an academic at the University of Technology Sydney.