When massage therapist Jasmina Bacic moved from Serbia more than two decades ago, her widowed 71-year-old mother Kata struggled with the distance. While Skype helped to bridge the gap between mother and daughter, it was warm family embraces she missed most.
Bacic figured her mum wasn't the only lonely person out there. So she did what most of us do when we're a little lost - she jumped on Google.
After a few searches, she discovered professional cuddling.
"I thought, "Oh my god, what are they doing?!" But then I eventually realised it was a great idea," she said.
Bacic went on to undertake a course with Cuddle Professionals International, and is now a "professional" cuddler.
Since July, she has offered cuddle packages with singles or couples, and even runs relaxational nature walks with "hand-holding" from her Monash home studio. Her prices begin at $80 an hour, and the two-hour cuddle session is the most popular.
Bacic said she believes touch is a powerful tool for wellbeing.
"There are many studies about the power of touch," she said.
"We've learned it has the power to comfort us when we are sad, heal us when we are sick, encourage us when we feel lost and to just help us to accept who we are.
"It helps us to form attachments and trust with others, and helps us to open up so we don't feel as though we are in our own cocoon.
"Touch helps us to improve our communication. When we become lonely and isolated it does affect our health."
The World Health Organisation first explored the health effects of loneliness in the late 1970s, linking it to heart disease, depression, suicide and poor physical health in general.
In a 2016 survey undertaken by Lifeline, 60 per cent of respondents revealed they often felt lonely. More than 80 per cent believed our society was becoming lonelier.
"At my sessions, some clients prefer just a quiet hug session, while others prefer to chat while we hug," Bacic said.
"Some clients cry most of the first few sessions, but once their pain is cried out, they become very chatty and happy.
"I have an autistic client, who also has many other issues, and it is really a pleasure to work with such a client, because normally they struggle making eye contact with other people - but (they) snuggled up close to me right at the start of the first session."
A formative study on touch took place during the 1980s, when researcher Tiffany Field found that premature babies who experienced massage therapy gained 47 per cent more weight than babies who did not.
Bacic said even as adults, humans were still in need of touch.
"In this day and age, people do feel lonely," she said.
"There is little chance for people to touch another person unless they have a family. There are many lonely people in the world. In Canberra too."
That is what inspired her to host Canberra's first cuddle party.
On Saturday November 3 at 6pm, "a nice and small party" of 12 cuddlers will meet in Jasmina's loungeroom. Participants can bring a pillow or stuffed animal, and are welcome to drink water and herbal tea. It's a strictly "G-rated experience".
It all sounds rather strange, especially considering everyone will be unknown to each other. But in a world where total strangers regularly engage in sex after a 10-minute encounter at the bar - or a few emoji-filled messages in a dating app - is the act of cuddling a stranger all that crazy?
The cuddle party will begin with a "welcome circle", where Bacic will introduce herself and explain the rules, a process aimed at ensuring everybody feels safe. The doors will be locked at 6.30pm so no latecomers will be able to enter without knowing the rules.
There are ten rules - all along the lines of respect, what to do if someone changes their mind, clearly stating "yes" or "no", and wearing practical, comfortable clothes.
The rule about clothing - no lace, nighties or short shorts - might seem pointless considering the clearly-stated non-sexual nature of the event. But Bacic said this came down to ensuring there was no unwanted sexual energy, which could sometimes be conjured accidentally.
During her own private sessions, she said it was not uncommon for patients to get aroused.
"When that happens, it's normal. It's perfectly okay and there shouldn't be any concern as it's the body's normal reaction," she said.
"When people relax, their bodies do too. It's a safe environment, so the client knows they cannot act on it. So it goes away. And we will readjust positions for less intense contact."
After the initial briefing, the cuddling will commence, lasting for about an hour. At the end, the group will discuss their experiences together, chatting about what they liked and what they didn't like.
Bacic said setting clear boundaries within the cuddle party was important training for the real world.
"Sometimes people say 'yes' too often, when they really aren't comfortable. I like to think that every 'no' to someone else, is a 'yes' to yourself," she said.
The Cuddle Party is on Saturday November 3, 6.30pm in Monash. Register via Eventbrite. Free.