An ogle of nudes came down the mountain. As bushfire evacuations go, here was perhaps the most evocative we have seen.
Packed into trucks were paintings of sirens and sketches of naked nymphs tumbling about in the moonlight. Artist Norman Lindsay's collection also features novels and models of galleons and great clippers. Down the Blue Mountains they came, delivered to safe haven in Sydney.
The Norman Lindsay Gallery, in Faulconbridge, boasts a fireproof storeroom. But the worsening bushfire threat prompted the precautionary move on Tuesday. “The decision has been made to play it ultra-careful,” says gallery manager Amanda Trevillion.
"Everything here is being packed up and stored off the mountains. The sculptures can't be moved but all the paintings are being packed up and moved.”
The popular gallery will remain closed until at least Monday, she says. Other tourist providers will feel the effedcts of the NSW bushfires for many more months still.
Across the Blue Mountains National Park, Mike Sperling of the Bilpin Springs Lodge says a wedding party has cancelled their $4000 reception this weekend. A family group has similarly cancelled the following weekend, at a cost of $3500 in lost revenue.
“It's very serious. Within 12 months it will all be fine but we will be severely affected over the next six months,” Mr Sperling says, as a water-bombing helicopter roars overhead. He is busy hosting Rural Fire Service pilots and media. Beyond that short-term boon lies a "huge hole", he says.
"People won't want to stay because they think the whole place is burnt out, which it is not,” he says. “The financial impact can be quite severe and sharp for an area like this, when all the money stops pumping through the place.”
Occupancy rates have plummeted more than 50 percentage points for some accommodation providers, says Randall Walker, chairman of Blue Mountains Lithgow & Oberon Tourism. The regional tourism industry generates $550 million a year in visitor spending and employs more than 5000 people.
Some operators will have no income for four weeks and may run at a loss for several months, he says.
NSW Tourism Minister George Souris says "it could be some months until areas are back on track to usual visitor numbers".
University of Queensland tourism researcher Dr Gabrielle Walters, who studied the 2009 Black Saturday fires in Victoria, says the impact across NSW might run longer still. “There are people who will come back in six months, the majority will return within two years after a fire,” she says.
A report into the effect of bushfires in Victoria's Alpine national parks, in 2006-07, which burnt more than 1.1 million hectares, found some tourism operators experienced no trade for almost the entire summer season. Cancelled bookings and falling visitor numbers cost millions of dollars in lost revenue, with a significant flow-on effect on retail businesses.