Newly-wed Emily Hargreaves still remembers how surreal it felt walking towards the love of her life.
They were on the breathtaking mountains of North East Tasmania, with the ethereal sounds of ocean waves and the music of Rainbow Kitten Surprise’s First Class twinkling in the wind.
The fairytale moment was witnessed only by a celebrant, a photographer and her sister.
“She was the only family member that knew,” says Emily.
In 2020, COVID-19 crashed down big wedding plans with caps on gatherings and travel bans.
The latest 2021 Census reveals a 30 percent drop in marriages that year compared to 2019, which is the biggest annual decrease ever recorded by the Australian Bureau of Statistics.
In Western Australia, marriages dropped by 19 percent with just 9,406 recorded in 2020, according to the WA Department of Justice which maintains the state Registry of Births, Deaths and Marriages.
Numbers began recovering in 2021 and have remained strong through 2022 with 5,415 marriages recorded between January 1 to June 30, including 267 Registry weddings.
Why couples choose to elope
Although restrictions on gatherings are long gone, wedding planners in the scenic South West region of Western Australia are seeing an increasing number of requests from couples wanting to elope.
Margaret River wedding manager Carly Melderis organizes ceremonies for couples from all over the world.
“I do elopements all the time and they’re just so special,” says Carly.
“Covid has certainly played a factor so a lot of people couldn’t travel here for their wedding so they decided to just get married anyway and just have the two of them or perhaps a few close friends or family with them.”
Little over a month into the new financial year and Carly has had 12 new bookings for elopement weddings.
“I have more and more inquiries coming through every few days for elopements,” she says.
It’s been a similar experience for Bunbury wedding planner Jodii Pedersen who’s trying to wrap up her business.
“I’m not advertising or putting it out there so that’s definitely an indication that people are still looking for it,” she says.
Want to elope? A bride’s advice
For Emily and her partner, the idea to elope was an epiphany that came while budgeting and guest list cutting for a more traditional wedding.
“We just wanted to have a big party and make the actual day all about us,” she says.
If you’re planning to elope, Emily says there are three key things to get right: do what feels right for both of you, find a way to celebrate with your loved ones later and watch who you tell before the big day.
“If you’re going to do it in secret, don’t tell a soul,” she says.
“Think about who you are as a couple.
“If family is important, include them.”
Their elopement wedding cost about $35,000 including luxury accommodation and a 10-day holiday in Tasmania.
Emily and her wife told their parents a day after the ceremony.
“It’s always that thing: do I ask for permission or for forgiveness?” Emily says
“We planned an engagement party for after we got back a few weeks later and we announced at the engagement party that we actually went off and got married.
“It was really nice to have that night to celebrate with all of our loved ones.”
Is eloping selfish?
When planning a wedding, all the nitty gritty details like who makes the guest list can cause a lot of stress.
The bigger the event, the more decisions there are, and Carly says it can sweep some couples up into a bit of a circus.
“They spend a year, every night, researching, planning these big weddings and sometimes on the day, it can be very overwhelming,” she says.
“They’re so worried about pleasing everyone.
“They feel like there is a lot of expectation on them to make sure everything is perfect for all of their guests.”
Despite this, for some parents, the idea of eloping seems selfish.
On ABC South West Breakfast radio, some listeners have said they’d be grief-stricken to find out their children have run off and gotten married without telling them.
Raquel: “It could be hurtful. I’d be devoted if one of my children did that.”
Kerry: “I would be very upset if my children ran away.”
On the flip side, a lot of listeners do love the idea of eloping:
Chris: “It’s not selfish, it just misses the point. The wedding is proclaiming your commitment to each other in front of loved ones, the reception is celebrating your first meal together. Everything else is just part of the machine. Eloping avoids commercialism but misses the community.”
Ryan: “My wife and I did it and we have no regrets, we had a good party with all friends and family on return. Highly recommend.”
Noel: “Happy for my sons to elope as long as they don’t send me the bill.”
For parents or loved ones of couples who’ve eloped, Carly suggests acceptance.
“As a parent, I would just respect that if it was my own children, that was their decision,” she says.
“If someone chooses to have an elopement and didn’t invite you, don’t take it personally,” she says.
“It’s just that they were in that situation at the time. Did it the way they wanted to do it.”
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