‘Make it about the two of you’: Why elopements and micro weddings are on the rise in Australia
When Mary Hackett got married, she didn’t walk down the aisle.
She also didn’t wear a wedding dress or have a professional photographer – she and her husband eloped.
“We eloped because we didn’t want all the fanfare of marriage, you know, all the hullabaloo. And we just wanted it to be a private thing for us,” Hackett says.
The Melbourne jewellery teacher was 27 when she married her husband, Nick. They’d met while they were studying jewellery making in Tasmania more than three decades ago.
They had their ceremony at a friend’s house, wore what they had in their cupboard and celebrated with “cheap champagne and pizza”.
“We didn’t tell our family until a month later,” she says.
“They were pretty cross about that bit — happy that we’re still together because we’d been together for three years before that … but not happy that we hadn’t told them about the wedding.”
‘Crazy’ number of enquiries
Bek Burrows, a wedding planner and stylist based in Tasmania, says, while historically eloping was something you did if your wedding was frowned upon, that’s all changed now.
“Now it’s sort of a very exciting thing to embark on,” Burrows tells ABC RN’S Life Matters.
Because of the pandemic, health concerns, wedding restrictions and closed borders, her business has seen more couples swapping large weddings for elopements and micro weddings.
She says elopements usually consist of the couple with very close friends or family as their witnesses, whereas a micro wedding is a traditional wedding but on a smaller scale.
“Unlike elopements that are often just the celebrant with maybe a photographer, a micro wedding will have a full team of suppliers and require coordination and structure — celebrant, photographer, videographer, musicians, catering, venue, hair, makeup, flowers, lights — all the bells and whistles,” she adds.
“The pandemic’s probably given couples’ permission to imagine their day the way they would like to do it, releasing some of the pressure of the big wedding,” she says.
She says her business has had a “crazy” number of enquiries about this recently.
“I think there was one day a few weeks ago [when] we had 16 elopement enquiries,” she adds.
Before the pandemic, most of her enquiries were for larger weddings with more than 80 guests and only about a quarter for elopement or micro wedding enquiries.
“Over the last 12 to 18 months, we’ve seen that percentage reversed and are now receiving three times the enquiries for elopement and micro weddings,” she adds.
The NSW Registry of Births, Deaths and Marriages has also noticed a rise in micro weddings. The registry conducted 83 micro weddings in 2021 and has so far conducted 67 micro weddings in 2022.
Given the number of micro weddings conducted so far this year, a spokesperson says the registry expects to exceed the number of micro weddings it conducted in 2021.
The Victorian Marriage Registry launched their legal-only ceremony option in March 2020 and recorded 38 bookings that year. This type of ceremony keeps things simple, requiring just a celebrant and two witnesses.
The registry also noticed a jump in bookings in 2021, and recorded 273 legal-only marriage ceremonies. As of early April 2022, they have already confirmed 112 marriages.
‘Best decision ever’
The definition of an elopement has broadened out in recent times to anyone rushing to get married without a large guest list.
Life Matters listener Sam McKinnirey eloped to Las Vegas, where there’s no waiting period times or residency requirements.
It was her second wedding, and she says she’d always joked that if she ever got married again, it would be in Vegas.
“Step kids were under 21 so we went with four friends,” she says.
“[We went] back home for a happily ever after party in the backyard – best decision ever!”
The topic of elopement and micro weddings prompted numerous conversations among RN Life Matters listeners and online:
Cristina Elizabeth: We eloped after my husband’s family became problematic and controlling with regard to our wedding plans. Just us and a handful of friends at the registry office. We had our wedding photo taken by the guy at the corner shop when we stopped in to buy a packet of Tim Tams for our ‘reception’. That was in 1996 and we are still very happily married.
Sandra Norley: We married after knowing each other for only four weeks, [and we’re] coming up to our 49th wedding anniversary later this year. We were married at [Sydney’s] Wayside Chapel with 35 guests, reception was in our little flat. Still one of the best weddings I’ve been to.
Megan Jo: We were married in our mid-30’s, so we were old enough to have confidence in our choices. There was some disappointment for my parents because they wanted a larger wedding, but they accepted that wasn’t right for us. Bizarrely, there were people who wouldn’t know my middle name or my birthday but threw massive tantrums because they weren’t invited. All in all, it was brilliant. Thirty guests was perfect for us. We prioritised our values — no debt, support local businesses, prioritise our guests’ comfort and not feel overwhelmed.
Flying off to Vegas is a quick option but getting married in Australia takes a bit more time, even for those eloping. Couples need to lodge a notice of intended marriage form at least one month ahead of the wedding.
For those looking for something faster, places such as New Zealand and the Cook Islands have much shorter waiting times.
Managing family dynamics
Wedding planner Bek Burrows says it’s not uncommon for the emotions of family or friends to cloud the occasion at an elopement or a micro wedding.
“We’ve got an interesting mix of couples who disclose to their families that they are running away to get married, a true elopement if you like, and others that will broach that subject and just ask for understanding,” she says.
Regardless of when family and friends are told, Burrows says it’s important to be honest and transparent.
“Sit down, have the conversation. Explain that your marriage is about two people. And that your wedding day, whilst you would love to have everyone there, you are choosing to make it about the two of you,” she says.
“We did an elopement recently where family members had written letters for the couple. They did know about it, and those letters were read out. It was a very simple service. But the letters formed the major part of the ceremony. And it was really special.”
Rings of their own
More than 30 years have passed since Mary Hackett eloped with her husband. Earlier this year she will attend her son’s wedding.
“He is having a small wedding. And yes, he was thinking of eloping, and he would have done that with our blessing … but his partner … wanted her parents there,” she says.
Hackett will play a pivotal part in the ceremony – she’s making their wedding rings.
“My husband made our wedding rings, and they were of all the gold he had at the time,” she says.
“There was enough to make a little tiny ring that we hung off our sleepers on our ear. I lost mine because my sleeper broke. He gave me his and I lost that one as well.”
“So for years we didn’t have a wedding ring. Then when I [was] studying [in Melbourne], I made our wedding rings out of bits of gold wire.”
Now for the first time, they have rings of their own.
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