On the darkest and longest night of the year, QEII Square stood empty.
Silence stretched through the streets of Albury.
There was no gentle roar of fire, no soulful tunes or colourful bunting.
For the first time in seven years residents did not gather in the cold to find warmth in connection.
And instead of standing side of stage in QEII Square, Annette and Stuart Baker were in a studio in Melbourne with David Astle.
Like much of this year, the 2020 Winter Solstice was a changed experience.
But in a time of prolonged isolation, the event was a much needed tonic of connection designed to remind us we are never as alone as we might feel.
Despite the new format the Solstice's message was a familiar, and desperately needed, reminder of hope.
As professor Patrick McGorry said these are strange times, but there are still reasons to be hopeful.
"The fear and the disruption and the kind of lives-being-turned-upside by this pandemic have made us much more aware than ever before, of the importance of good mental health and what happens if you lose that gift of good mental health," he said.
The erosion of mental health during the pandemic has magnified the need for a complete rethink of the way mental illness is addressed.
MORE WINTER SOLSTICE NEWS:
"It's a chronic epidemic, it's a chronic crisis that we haven't responded to," he said.
The COVID-19 isolation and lockdown, while necessary for the physical health of the community "comes at a cost", he said, and the pandemic had shaken people's confidence in the world and their own safety.
Dr McGorry warned tough times were ahead, but said he remained optimistic that the pandemic would spark an entirely new compassionate and holistic system of mental health care.
The virtual ceremony stayed true to the usual Solstice experience, with music from the Scots Pipe Band and the Northern Folk as well as Liv Cartledge.
But the new format allowed the audience to follow along as illustrator Shaun Tan drew the protagonist from his book The Red Tree, providing for one of the most poignant moments of hope in the solstice event.
While turning sporadic pencil strokes into art, Tan illustrated the fine line between despair and hope.
"[Hope] starts with a recognition that something exists in the first place, both the sadness and the possibility of happiness," he said.
"The hardest thing to see sometimes, when you're feeling that low, is the possibility of that change.
"And when it does happen it's such a powerful corrective force over your whole understanding of the universe."