On the same day that winter officially arrived, so did spring for our way of life.
Some restrictions that had kept us huddled inside to reduce the spread of COVID-19 were loosened on Monday. We could travel a little further, visit a museum or art gallery, and have our nails done.
What's more, places of worship are now allowed to have up to 50 people. So are places of music worship, the pubs and clubs.
On a chilly Thursday night in the back area of the Wickham Park Hotel, Nick Raschke plugged in his 12-string acoustic guitar, sat on a stool and uttered into the microphone, "Right! We're going to play some music."
That simple statement almost underplayed the enormity of the moment.
Nick Raschke was the first musician back in the pub and playing to a live audience in almost three months.
It was a small audience, with the social distancing rules. As the sign on the wall behind the performer pointed out, a maximum of 24 people were allowed in the room at any one time.
People had to book to get in. For those attending, it felt - and sounded - like a privilege to be at the performance.
"It's pretty special after being home-based for such a while," said Anne, from Merewether. "It's beautiful having this intimate gig with Nick."
In one sense, Nick Raschke was returning to what he knew. He has been performing around Newcastle for more than three decades. He has played this pub many times.
But he was also trying something new. In the past, the acclaimed guitarist has been a member of rock bands, sharing the stage with other musicians. Now he was alone in the spotlight.
"I'm terrified!," he admitted before the gig.
"I might just sit there, shaking and crying!"
Nick Raschke has become a solo performer because of the pandemic.
As the threat of coronavirus grew and venues were shut, Raschke lost a lot of work. But Nick Raschke carries something even more potent than COVID-19: a love of music.
Virus or no virus, gigs or no gigs, he was going to keep playing.
His new stage was his lounge room. One day in early April, he recorded into his phone a bluesy, raspy version of The Loved One to settle a debate his neighbours were having about who wrote the song. He posted the performance online.
Suddenly, Nick Raschke had a new audience, virtually crowding into his lounge room and clamouring for more. He obliged.
Each weekday, he would record himself singing and playing a song, ranging from rock classics to Britpop, then he would post it on his Facebook page. In all, he recorded 50 songs.
"It was a wonderful distraction," Raschke said of his COVID project.
For the hundreds who listened and watched each day, it was more than a distraction. It was a connection, a respite from the restrictions of COVID-19.
"What he did with Facebook was really special," said Anne. "He provided this beautiful outlet for people, something to look forward to. For many people, this was their outlet for the day."
Many were also waiting for the day when they could see Raschke perform these songs live. Not that Nick Raschke intended to do that.
But as the comments kept coming after each performance was posted, and the virtual audience grew, he thought, "Why not?"
And so here he was at the Wicko, not shaking and crying but singing and strumming. And reconnecting.
The hotel's venue manager, Sharmaine Nunn, was delighted to hear live music in the pub once more.
"It's fantastic," she said. "It's starting to feel a little bit normal again."
In the audience was Scott, from New Lambton. If not for COVID-19, he would have been overseas on holidays.
"I'm supposed to be in Milan tonight," he said, adding that on the plus side, he got to hear his friend play.
The pandemic brought about some changes in behaviour.
When a few people danced, they observed social distancing.
As Raschke sang the Rolling Stones' Sympathy for the Devil, one dancer, Tim, responded to the lyric, "Pleased to meet you" by doing elbow-bump greetings with other audience members.
And Nick Raschke's internet presence featured in the audience-performer banter.
"I'm going home to watch this online," one yelled out.
"Yeah, it's better on Facebook!," responded Raschke.
But some things don't change.
The audience sang along to the songs, they applauded, and they wore the smiles of people happy to be in the company of live music, and of each other.
"There's the same joy of human interaction, of fun and seriousness," said audience member Andrew.
Nick Raschke said he was looking forward to playing with bands once more, but now that COVID-19 had pushed him to perform solo, he would keep doing it.
As long as he was playing music. And as long as he had someone to play to.
"We are herd animals, and we love to do things together. And haven't we missed that?," Nick Raschke said.
"Seeing people sing and dance, what a joy.
"To think it's just me on a stool who can generate that, that's beautiful."
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