When Mary Hackett got married, she didn’t walk down the aisle.
She also didn’t wear a wedding dress and didn’t have a professional photographer – she and her husband got away.
“We ran away because we didn’t want all the wedding fanfare, you know, all the fuss. And we just wanted it to be a private thing for us,” Hackett said.
The Melbourne jewelery professor was 27 when she married husband Nick. They had met while studying jewelery making in Tasmania more than three decades ago.
They had their ceremony at a friend’s house, wore what they had in their closet, and celebrated with “cheap champagne and pizza.”
“We didn’t tell our family about it until a month later,” she says.
“They were quite upset about it – happy that we were still together because we had been together for three years before that…but not happy that we hadn’t told them about the wedding.”
“Crazy” number of inquiries
Bek Burrows, a wedding planner and stylist based in Tasmania, says that historically running away was something you did if your marriage was frowned upon, everything has changed now.
“Now that’s kind of a very exciting thing to do,” Burrows told ABC RN’s Life Matters.
Due to the pandemic, health concerns, marriage restrictions and closed borders, her business has seen more couples swap large weddings for runaways and micro-weddings.
She says runaways usually consist of a couple with very close friends or family as witnesses, whereas a micro-wedding is a traditional wedding but on a smaller scale.
“Unlike elopements which are often just the celebrant with perhaps a photographer, a micro wedding will have a full team of vendors and will require coordination and structure – celebrant, photographer, videographer, musicians, catering, venue, hairdresser, makeup , flowers, lights – all the bells and whistles,” she adds.
“The pandemic has likely given couples permission to imagine their day the way they’d like to have it, releasing some of the pressure of the big wedding,” she says.
She says her company has had a ‘crazy’ number of inquiries about this recently.
“I think there was a day a few weeks ago [when] we had 16 requests to run away,” she adds.
Before the pandemic, most of her inquiries were for larger weddings with over 80 guests and only about a quarter for wedding or micro-wedding inquiries.
“Over the past 12 to 18 months, we’ve seen that percentage reverse and we’re now getting three times as many elopement and micro-marriage applications,” she adds.
The NSW Births, Deaths and Marriages Register has also noticed an increase in micro-marriages. The registry has held 83 micro-weddings in 2021 and has so far held 67 micro-weddings in 2022.
Given the number of micro-weddings held so far this year, a spokesperson said the registry expects to surpass the number of micro-weddings it has held in 2021.
The Victorian Marriage Registry launched its legal-only ceremony option in March 2020 and saw 38 bookings that year. This type of ceremony keeps things simple, requiring only one celebrant and two witnesses.
The registry also noticed an increase in bookings in 2021 and recorded 273 legal-only wedding ceremonies. At the beginning of April 2022, they had already confirmed 112 marriages.
“Best Decision Ever”
The definition of an elopement has broadened in recent times to anyone rushing to get married without a long guest list.
Life Matters listener Sam McKinnirey fled to Las Vegas, where there are no waiting times or residency requirements.
It was her second marriage, and she says she always joked that if she ever remarried, it would be in Vegas.
“The stepchildren were under 21, so we went with four friends,” she says.
“[We went] back home for a joyful garden party – best decision ever!”
The subject of runaways and micro-marriages has sparked many conversations among RN Life Matters listeners and online:
Cristina Elizabeth: We eloped after my husband’s family became problematic and controlling about our wedding plans. Just us and a handful of friends at the check-in desk. We had our wedding picture taken by the guy at the corner store when we stopped to buy a pack of Tim Tams for our ‘reception’. It was in 1996 and we are still very happy as a couple.
Sandra Norley: We got married after only knowing each other for four weeks, [and we’re] as we approach our 49th wedding anniversary later this year. We got married at [Sydney’s] Wayside Chapel with 35 guests, the reception was in our small apartment. Still one of the best weddings I’ve attended.
Megan Jo: We got married in our mid-thirties, so we were old enough to be confident in our choices. There was some disappointment for my parents because they wanted a bigger wedding, but they accepted that it wasn’t good for us. Weirdly, there were people who didn’t know my middle name or date of birth but had massive tantrums because they weren’t invited. All in all it was great. Thirty guests was perfect for us. We prioritized our values - no debt, supporting local businesses, prioritizing the comfort of our guests and not feeling overwhelmed.
Flying to Vegas is a quick option, but getting married in Australia takes a little longer, even for those on the run. Couples must file a Notice of Intended Marriage at least one month before the wedding.
For those looking for something faster, places like New Zealand and the Cook Islands have much shorter wait times.
Manage family dynamics
Wedding planner Bek Burrows says it’s not uncommon for the emotions of family or friends to cloud the occasion at a wedding or micro-wedding.
“We have an interesting mix of couples who reveal to their families that they’re running away to get married, a real runaway if you will, and others who will bring this up and just ask for understanding,” she says.
Regardless of when family and friends are notified, Burrows says it’s important to be honest and transparent.
“Sit down, chat. Explain that your wedding is about two people. And that on your wedding day, when you’d like everyone to be there, you choose to focus on the two of you,” she says.
“We did a wedding recently where family members had written letters for the couple. They knew about it, and those letters were read. It was a very simple service. ceremony. And it was really special.”
Rings of their own
More than 30 years have passed since Mary Hackett ran away with her husband. Earlier this year, she will attend her son’s wedding.
“He’s having a little wedding. And yes, he was thinking about eloping, and he would have done so with our blessing…but his girlfriend…wanted her parents to be there,” she said.
Hackett will play a central role in the ceremony – she makes their wedding rings.
“My husband made our wedding rings, and they were all the gold he had at the time,” she says.
“There was enough to make a very small ring that we hung on our ear sleepers. I lost mine because my sleeper broke. He gave me his and I lost that one too.”
“So for years we didn’t have an alliance. Then when I [was] studying [in Melbourne]I have made our wedding rings with bits of gold thread.”
Now, for the first time, they have their own rings.
RN in your inbox
Get more stories that go beyond the news cycle with our weekly newsletter.