It seems such a long time ago. Before we had heard of COVID-19, this time last year there were other things on our minds.
While now we are looking at border closures, face masks and isolation, 12 months ago there were other issues in our lives.
Back then, our journalist Nicholas Fuller took an indepth look at local artists, writers, and academics who were protesting Nauru and Manus Island offshore detention centres in an exhibition at Armidale Art Gallery...
First published by The Armidale Express in August 2019
Thirty-eight locals have painted, wrote poems, and created installations in response to a painting and poem by Farhand Bandesh, a Kurdish artist imprisoned on Manus.
Manus Island and Nauru may be more than 3000 km away - but for these New England residents, the plight of the detainees is close to their hearts.
Their works are on display at the gallery, in "Power and Process", a political consciousness-raising exhibition organised by Armidale Rural Australians for Refugees (ARAR).
Community midwife and poet Maxine Ross said Bandesh's pieces gave her an insight into the struggle of being in long-term detention.
"It increases the anger and shame - because it is in our name, whether we like it or not," she said.
She felt despondent about the government. "It's not about people, unfortunately," she said. "It's about economics. There's no humanistic value into the decision-making. That makes me sad."
She wrote her own poems, on fragile pieces of paper like prayer flags, symbolising their predicament and pleas.
The exhibition, she believed, created solidarity in hope; like-minded people could express their sadness together. "Art - poetry, painting, or whatever we do - is such a powerful way of doing it."
The offshore detention centres are hells burning under tropical suns, almost as vile as the crimes of Pol Pot, some of the artists and writers believe.
Jim Walmsley, Emeritus Professor and former Chair of UNE Geography and Planning, drew parallels between the Australian government and the Khmer Rouge.
"What we're doing with refugees on Manus is not much better than what Pol Pot did," he said.
His grim photographs show S21, the former security prison that housed prisoners before they were executed, and of the killing tree where children were killed.
"Let's get real about this," Professor Walmsley said. "We tend to think the baddies are over there, but we are marginalising people in our own country, stigmatising them, and treating them in an immensely cruel way."
Julian Croft, poet and Emeritus Professor of English at UNE, spent five weeks on Nauru in 1961 as an apprentice documentary filmmaker for the Australian government.
It was then called "Pleasant Island"; now, his poem "Paradise Lost: Revisited" suggested, the Australian government had made 'a hell of heaven'.
"It takes tried criminals to make the fastest prisons in paradise; and there, tied to a burning equatorial rock, we'll test the souls of any who think they should share our hell with them."
Maria Hitchcock OAM's painting "Illusions of Freedom" depicts a tropical paradise; the tourist office uses this sort of image to attract visitors, she explained, but refuses entry to asylum seekers.
"You're not welcome here," she said; "this is ours; it's an empty space, but we want to keep it empty for us."
Ms Hitchcock herself is a refugee; she came to Australia in 1950, in the post-WWII migrant intake.
"We changed this country; we brought economic development; and eventually Australians welcomed us," she said. "They didn't at the start.
"Over the last 20 years, even people who were quite progressive have now turned into anti-boat people. Australians are amazing; they have this dual way of thinking. People who understand that migrants will bring progress still worry - and it goes right back to colonialism - of Australia being the strategic British outpost in the Pacific; they're terrified of the Asians."
She did not know whether politics had changed the country, whether it was media or an increasingly conservative population - "but my God, I hope it changes!"
Dr Marty Branagan, UNE Lecturer in Peace Studies, displayed his painting "Refugee from Australian War in Villawood Prison" (2001); its subject, an Iraqi detainee, seemed saintly in the conditions of that immigration detention centre, he said.
Patsy Asch's "Adrift" and "Hidden" were metaphorical contrasts, she said, depicting beautiful tropical islands transformed into dark and isolated spaces.
Bar Finch's "Reflection" quoted lines from Bandesh's poem - 'You throw me into the corners of your dark shadows... You put me into the very depths of exile... I will not see any more light' - on cedar blocks across mirror glass. (Mirrors, the Argentine writer Borges observed, are abominable because they multiply and affirm reality.)