Armidale Rural Australians for Refugees might be ordinary people in a regional city - but they're sending messages of protest and compassion to senior politicians and to asylum seekers detained on Manus Island and Nauru.
"My heart aches for you all," one person wrote. "I hang my head in shame at the hard-hearted Government of Australia. Have courage - there are many in Australia that want you here."
The group held a silent vigil on Saturday to mark six years of offshore detention, joining thousands rallying across the country. Nearly 30 people stood in a silent semi-circle at the Dangar Street end of the Mall to protest.
"It demonstrates that there are people in Armidale who are deeply concerned," ARAR spokesman Barbara Finch said.
Six years ago, the Rudd Labor government reopened the Manus (Papua New Guinea) and Nauru detention centres for asylum seekers who came by boat. Today, 350 people are on Nauru, and 450 on Manus.
Twelve refugees and asylum seekers have died - by murder, suicide, or denied medical treatment. The United Nations has declared the detainees to be genuine refugees. The UN, Amnesty International and other international organisations, have condemned the centres as violations of human rights.
"About 800 people are still there, after six years, with no hope," Ms Finch said. "A lot of us are quite distressed about that."
Armidale locals wrote messages to the detainees, and to Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton. They will send copies to local members.
The bottle holding the messages for the Manus and Nauru inmates - "hostages" - had 800 images of people "going nowhere".
The messages to the detainees, Ms Finch said, told them: "Not all Australians want you to be there; please hang on; we are doing what we can." Others were messages of love and kindness.
- We care about you. We think about you every day. We want you here in Australia ina safe place to live the full lives you are being denied. Six Years Too Long.
- I am so sorry for what my Government has done to you and your family. We will continue to fight for your health, safety and protection. With love and support.
- Hold on to the little flame of hope. Many of us in Australia are shamed by our government and working always to change its policies towards you and yours.
Morrison and Dutton, the group felt, were "acting like pirates"; tricorn hats and skulls and crossbones crowned their photographs.
The messages to the politicians, Ms Finch said, were polite - but told them "we're ashamed that our government's doing this. These are innocent people used as pawns or hostages for a policy. That is immoral."
The words "shame", "cruelty", "Christian values", and "Australia's reputation" came up frequently, Ms Finch said.
- Enough is enough. Cruelty is never good policy. Australia's reputation as a good world 'citizen' is in tatters.
- It is time for politicians to find courage - and end this misery - bring them to Australia now.
- PLEASE end this shameful practice. Australians are (always have been) a caring, humanitarian people. We are loathed by the rest of the world for this cruel stance for asylum seekers.
- I think of how else things could be - of how you could lead with life-affirming actions rather than life-destroying intention.
- I am a very moderate political voter - and citizen. But as a decent human being I cannot bear for Australia to be known by the world as INHUMANE - this detention policy does not represent US.
ARAR has protested against the government's treatment of refugees and asylum seekers since the Tampa crisis of 2001. A small group - then calling themselves Justice for Refugees - held a forum at the Old Teachers' College.
ARAR now has 150 people on its mailing list, and meets at Kent House on the third Wednesday of every month. All are welcome to join.
"Be informed; find things out," Ms Finch urged readers. "Talk to other people; we need the majority of people to be as outraged as we are. Talking to other people at work, school, and so on is the most useful thing you can do."
The group will also hold a community art exhibition at the Armidale Art Gallery from August 2. Anybody can submit a painting, sculpture, or poem inspired by a painting and poem by a Manus Island detainee. More details here: https://www.ruralaustraliansforrefugees.org.au/event/armidale-art-gallery-exhibition/