Tuesday, January 27, 2015

A wedding ... a community ...

Our 'engagement' photo. Setting the dress code.
With no expense, except for my time (3 months later - I've had enough - I'm pressing 'publish'), this post is about my / our wonderful wonderful wedding. You may merely wish to flick through the photos, purloined primarily from Facebook. Or zip straight to the end for the friend's video of the wedding vows song. 

Alternatively you may elect to read a completely biased and political account of my thinking about marriage and getting married, and its relationship to community. If the latter is your affliction, well then, by all means, flail yourself!

The anti-wedding rant

Ray – (the interminably joking now father-in-law): How much are you going to pay me for my daughter?

Me – (the skeptical, intellectualising, socially conscious soon-to-be-son-in-law): Four cows.

My mother still has her Glory Box, full of glorious stuff in her bedroom. It contains the wealth she brought to her marriage. I can't remember what is in it now, perhaps christening gowns and the like. Certainly not the jewels and wealth that would accompany Arabic or Bedouin daughters.

But for the wedding of Mark and Jane there was to be no father-giving-the-bride-away; 
  • no walking down the aisle; 
  • no $30,000 bridal photography package (they DO exist, or so my newly acquired cousin-by-several-marriages assures me);
  •  no 1-2 hour awkward wait for the bridal party to return from their beautiful location photo shoot; 
  • no “I do's”; 
  • no stiff collared matching suits, or tulle or taffeta-laden dresses of dubious design and colour; 
  • no awkward sitting around allocated tables with people you don't need or want to know.
Ours was to be a bush dance and picnic, and a ceremony (with some speechs and the obligatory bits), appropriately butchered, sauted, and filled with suitable context and pathos. It needed to make the relevant people cry, including ourselves.


Enough rant.... for all of what has just been written is merely an opening to a verbal and visual description of our wedding, particularly in the absence of an official wedding photographer (who, anyway, would've provided an over-idyllised picture of our romantic joining).

The Engagement

An engagement photo? Announced 2 months after the question was posed.
I posed 'the question'. I didn't 'pop' it.

Me: I'm wondering whether it might be a nice thing for us to have a party where we get married? What do you think?

Her: Oh yeah...maybe...

Me: Huh? Um ... is that a yes or a no?

Her: Well, it's a half arsed acceptance of a half-arsed marriage proposal.

After we sorted that out, we became excited and more post-acceptance and post-winter-swim lovey and gushy.

But there was to be no long winded 'engagement' for us. Ruby, my 20 year old daughter, had just scheduled to leave Australia to study in Spain for a year. Departure – 3 December. Time, weddings and adult euro-bound daughters wait for no-one.
Chris and Annie's hilarious "can't be there" apology.

Nominally marketed to relos and friends as a bush dance, we seemed to do nearly everything ass-about-face. The plan ...
  1. Eat
  2. Ceremony
  3. Open mic.
  4. Dance.
In retropsect it is easy now to see that an overt (yet not) river of community ran right through our thinking. Objections and advice from 'elders' were met with an eventually well trod retort....

OMG! C'mon!!! We are 50 ish!!!! Give us a break! 
You don't get it, this is a community event. It will work.

Venue - ✓

The choice of venue was our first success.
Jane tries out the Woodville Hall with Queenie supervising
In 1983 I voted in a small country hall near Maitland, whilst on a country pushbike ride with a bunch of fellow leftie bushwalking uni students. I imagine we would've been fairly pleased that Hawkey got voted in. 

More recently, ukulele has lead me back to this locale for a regular Monday night Ukestra at Paterson. And we used the hall once for a funny video

The Woodville School of Arts Community Hall sits on a knoll in the floodplain of the Paterson River. In its backyard is a shed which contains the Woodville community's official Flood Boat, last used in 1974. Around it is land (lots of land under starry skies above), a wee school, and a crumbling cottage. Sublime. A youthful Queen presides over all, as does the ghost of Woodville's most famous son, Les Darcy, world boxing champion circa 1932.
Eminently photogenic old building with young geezas in front. Courtesy of Instagram.

Food -

The second useful decision was the food. Everyone bring a plate to share. Simple. The American Indians called it potlatch, which became anglified to potluck. This decision drew the most doubting fire from the expectant mother-in-law.

Oh we'll get a caterer in for our party of relatives”.

No you won't – this will work.

Music -

And then music of course. A bush dance. Some ukulele. A little bit of open mic.

These three things – venue, food, music - were easy decisions.

And the weather – late November in a rapidly warming climate – that was always going to be in the lap of the …

We neglected to plan for photographer, hire cars, reception seating, wedding dress, bridesmaids, groomsmen, hens night, bucks night (no. wait. there is photographic evidence).

Before you jump to some awful conclusion, these two gorgeous women are my daughters. And I am trying to look like an ugly buck

Ah....yes... the Ceremony. It had to brew.

Planning the Ceremony -

The design of the wedding was partially shaped around trying to avoid all of the contents of this blog's opening ramble, to have little fuss, and to do the legal minimum, whilst still giving people what they want - emotion. We also had to constrain certain members of the family who don't read the internet and perhaps never will.

Car journeys are wonderful things. On the way to Forbes in September, somewhere around joining the Golden Highway, we felt we started to get a grip on what our ceremony would look like.

No damn speeches was Jane's edict. Some form of ritual or gravity was my desire. No reception speeches. Minimal expense.

The final piece of the jigsaw was that it was OUR wedding. Wedding ceremonies always seem to be controlled by others and are events where the two key people are only allowed to speak after the ordained wedding controller has spoken. It seems to me that that lack of control is a perplexing vestige of the usual callow, unconfident youths doing the marrying, and the ritualistic control of our forefathers (in the form of parents, priests, celebrants, photographers, bridezillas, wedding planners). These shape the disempowered nature of weddings where marriage is 'done' to them, not achieved by them.

At this one we would be in control.  The celebrant was an old acquaintance, Lozzie Macey, and we saw her primary roles as telling us how we could have the power, and to inform us of the legal minimum which we were obliged to deliver.  As you will see in the video, her role was minimal. Just perfect. And legal.

The thing with ceremonies is that they have a certain amount of gravity, whilst reception speeches have a lot of disrespect, and often gushing nothings. How could we avoid speeches, yet somehow give people the context and ceremony that they also desire?

Incorporate the speeches into the ceremony, that's how. Over a period of weeks it grew on us. We would ask people to not speak about us, but to speak about themselves, for the people who are important in our lives would then naturally reflect the people who we are.

I am what I am because of who we all are …

or so a pithily packaged African philosophy says.


And so Jane and I are the result of our parents, our siblings, our friends, our children, and finally, the people in our daily and weekly lives. We are the product, as individuals, but also as the couple. If we could do it right, and shape people's speeches in an appropriate way, then we could provide a ceremony that was appropriately dignified and reflective of the who we are in amongst the who we all are.

We are a product of our communities within which we have grown. 

As a nice night-before segue into the wedding day, my family gathered around as the completely unqualified (yet hairdresser-gene-endowed) daughter #2 gave me a haircut.  Meanwhile down the hill, Jane reacquaints herself with her rarely present sister and their ancient nuclear family dynamic.

The Day -

The weather on the day was enough to make one believe in a big bearded white man in the sky directing all things pertinent to keeping Mark and Jane safe. From ten days out it predicted that the weather would be hot, with a nice dip in temperature on the Saturday. It became tantalising to think that perhaps we had chosen the wrong venue. Why would we go 45 minutes and 10-15deg of heat further inland when our coastal home environment invariably offers us far more equable temperatures?

But the sky-beard-man directed perfectly – book-ending Friday with 39deg and Sunday with 42deg. But Saturday? 32Deg predicted, and thus the evening was perfect. (Note: the Sunday was the hottest November day for Paterson (the nearby weather station) EVER! And the hottest day for the year - we were so lucky).

Friends and able-bodied relatives gathered early to put up decorations, to prig and primp hair and the bridal face, to prepare final special salads. Some arrived early to garner a prize camping spot. The throngs arrived from 5pm, a couple of mini-buses, plates of a fantastic variety of foods, with an uncalled emphasis upon vegetarian gourmet foods (in honour of the groom) all plonked upon the hall's trestle tables.

Something is flaring this photo. The Cape Chestnuts perhaps?
The Cape Chestnuts laden with their late spring bloom framed and shaded the picnic / ceremonial area, and kept extending with shade, chairs and people as the sun set over Albion Farm (one of the oldest farms in the Hunter Valley – settled 1812). Miraculously the main meal offerings were left on the indoor trestles whilst people settled in for pre-drinkies. Fairies miraculously appeared, drifting the canapes around the naturally occurring circles of relatives and friends, grouped by blood, politics or musical persuasions. No-one asked anyone to wait on others, no-one was directed to create any sort of horse's douvers, the food and their accompanying fairies just appeared.

And when it seemed mains would be appropriate, I yelled out from the verandah –

Might be good to eat now! We'll probably get married in an hour or so!

Mick, Nikki, myself, Steve, Jane and Aaron. Practising a song they didn't know.
We practiced our wedding vow song out the back, with friends from Bendigo and Bulahdelah, and all was well.

The sun was setting low and someone wanted a couple of photos, so we gathered together a few people in a disorganised fashion and asked if there were any photographers around? Jane's cousin-in-law obliged. Phew.

At 7ish it started to look more like sunset, so we started the proceedings.

The Jackson Clan
The picniccers seemed to be intransigently ensconced in their circles, and the small formal gathering of empty chairs in an alter-like semi-circle seemed increasingly redundant, so we turned the speakers to the crowd and began.

The Context Talks

We had asked 13 people to speak.
  • President of the Woodville Hall School of Arts – Liz Sterel, doing an acknowledgement of country and a welcome to Woodville for all of us interlopers. 
  • Our parents (Ray, Elizabeth, Jackie, and my brother Bob, stepping in for my 23 year deceased father).
  • Our sisters – Jodi (Daintree, FNQ) and Learne (London, UK). 
  • Kyrie and Ruby (my daughters, both in Melbourne) 
  • Our nominal best friends – Arnaud (Melbourne) and Lisa (Adelaide) 
  • Two reflections from our current ukulele communities – Bronwyn (adult) and Meabh (child).
The Jelbarts and an interloper in a vest.
We asked for no more than two minutes each, but once the ball started rolling, it became somewhat interminable. Some people squirmed in their picnic chairs at inordinately long speeches. Everyone got applause. But the feel afterwards was “I loved the diversity of people who spoke, and the different contexts they gave”.

Ray Jelbart. Everyone loves me!
Everyone was appropriately respectful. Only at one stage did it seem like it may descend into marriage reception speech-farce. I introduced my to-be-father-in-law – It is with great trepidation that I introduce Ray Jelbart. And he did not disappoint. My worst fears were realised when he opened his mouth and said “I've been told I can't tell jokes and I can't be racist, so this is going to be pretty short”. In some way this stark opening proved that Jane had fallen a long way from the tree of origin.  But he did ok, and ended (as you would if you could) like a rockstar.

Warning - Tangential thought

The moment reminded me of my Dad's speech at another wedding of mine 27 years ago, where he observed and praised the fact that people of two very different persuasions and cultural backgrounds were coming together. 'What a great country', he said, 'where such a union can occur'. I didn't understand. The bride was not African or something culturally shocking like that. It only occurred to me much later (or maybe someone enlightened me) – the bride was Catholic, and I was from Protestant stock.

Back to it

Both Dad and Ray were harking back to an Australia of old that I am not a part of (except through history). Indeed, this is the context that we sought. 
There but for the grace of God go I.

Arnaud perplexed some people who thought he was long winded with an unAustralian accent (he is from Northcote, a suburb of Melbourne. Many Greens are resident there). Others thought that his speech was the best. I was perplexed for a minute until I realised that he was very cleverly taking the piss out of the whole idea of 'not talking about the bride or groom, but talking about himself'. He perfectly and ironically kept saying very stilted and careful words like “I – love – the – environment – and – have – a – strong – and – enduring – commitment – to – social – justice”. And then re-emphasising that he must talk about himself and not the bride nor the groom.

He, and the others, perfectly achieved what we set out to do. By explaining themselves, so they explained us. And Arnaud very cleverly toyed with that whole notion.

There was a part of this plan that didn't go to plan. The one to two minute request was a complete fail. From the outset this got extended and extended. Very few stuck to the edict, or maybe we didn't communicate it well. So what started outside in the setting sun, ended up with vows in the dark, lit by a strategically placed floodlight. It worked well really.

The Vows

I suspect that all you need to make a wedding important are two things … context and vows.

Lozzie the Celebrant gave us the relevant legal guff, and that we only had to do three things.
  1. She had to say “I'm a celebrant” ordained by Tony Abbott
  2. She had to say “this is serious guys”, and that marriage is between a man and a woman. Jane interjected on this one saying that she hoped one day that same sex marriage could be possible. Take that Tony! 
  3. We had to say the specific words. In the presence of you all here etc.
Not legally necessary was “I do”, “love til death do you part”, “wife”, “husband”, kissing, “you may kiss the bride” (yeah, right, like I was the one who now had 'the right' to kiss, not the bride having 'the right', but me, the new husband who now owns the sheila).

And so we sought some sort of music to say or frame the vows. 3 weeks before the ceremony we discovered a song – this was the last piece of the jigsaw. The one that was the emotional clincher that gave us, and would give those gathered, the important sense of emotion and gravity desired by all.

I'd heard You can't fail me now somewhere randomly on the radio. The song's 'feel' was right, but I did have to try very hard to listen for lyrics that could be interpreted in a positive marriagey sort of way. I played it to Jane (off youtube) one morning in bed – we both ended in tears. This was the song.
The final real piece of the jigsaw was where to do the vows – the legal bit. Again, it was an inspired thought  - why not put the vows in the middle of the song? After a loud guitar solo from an old friend?
Yep. That's the spot.
So when it came to 'the moment', it all seemed to work perfectly. Steve did his solo, then Jane n I downed tools (guitar and banjo). The rest of our friends / band kept the song pulsing, whilst we touched appropriately or held hands (I can't remember now), teared up a bit, said our vows, took the applause, then roared into the uplifting bridge of the song. It was beautiful. I knew it was working as I watched my sister sitting on the ground, cradling my adult daughter, both with tears rolling down their faces. Mission achieved. That was an expensive emotional moment for my Londoner sister, so I'm glad she seemed to get her money's worth.
Jane's cousin-by-marriage (Glen Ryan) is an awesome photographer
Mother made the wedding vest as a patchwork of some of Dad's ties. The police made the pose. Bob Beale took the photo. No-one did the hair.

A scientific analysis of the monetary value of wedding presents

Our expenses were pretty limited. Music from Kent Daniel, hall hire, celebrant, a dress. All up, it probably cost us not much more than $1000: given this article, it bodes well for our future relationship. The hall hire cost was defrayed by another edict from the marrying couple - NO PRESENTS! Instead of a creaking wedding present table, we had a 'Milo Tin' - a jar into which we asked guests to deposit a donation to the hall. So in a way we can now offer a very scientific analysis of the monetary value that a bride and groom (age 50ish) can secure in wedding presents from a party of about 160 guests - $825.50. Nice one Centurion! The Woodville Community Hall thanks you.

Music and Dancing

For maybe an hour a bunch of different people did offer presents of a different kind - their music. Tamarillo (Jane's choir) first up, which then lead into an order from Jane for me to sit down and listen. There was to be a special offering. I was delighted and completely moved by the sight of my hitherto not so musical daughters getting up and performing a song with Tamarillo supporting them.  Ruby provided her big sister with ukulele accompaniment on a song that Kyrie sang. I had not heard Kyrie sing in about ten years. It was beautiful and very moving - the singing, the sneaky planning, and a sisterly/bridal conspiracy that reflected a new stage in the relationship between the three. It was inspiring and beautiful.
Danika and Meabh with a vestless bass player.
I got up with a few Jukestra kids (Olli, Liam, Meabh, Danika) to perform one of their songs and a big voiced Lucy belted out a rendition of Fly Me to the Moon.  We pranced on the Dance Floor, with the 80 year old Mum being danced by an audacious pom who felt it his duty to accompany her.
A few Jukestrans - namely Danika and Meabh - slugged it out to the last on the dance floor. 11/12 year old stalwarts, they then insisted on performing one last time - at midnight....  I accompanied them on bass.

It occurred to me in following days. If this were a century ago, such a local celebration would have been de rigeur. I would have a dozen brothers or sisters who all lived within 20 miles of the hall, and they would all return by horse and buggy to create regular celebrations of the kind that we experienced. 

In the world of Facebook likes, this was the most popular wedding photo. She's so gorgeous. I love her so.

The end ... which is a beginning

There was a significant element of doubt in why we would get married. We have been together for 6+ years. When we first told our really good friends that we were going to get married, they said 'but you already are'. This video evidence is what they were referring to ... 
That was fun, and important, but once we started telling people that we wuz gunna wed - properly - all tearful and excited hell broke loose among the multitude of women in our lives.   

The men? Well that's a different story. Suffice to say that one good male friend responded to the news with - 'ahhhh, ya goose'!  But generally, people's commitment to celebration and acknowledgement, even from London, was immense. We were flabbergasted, that this ancient marriage ritual was so important to so many people in our lives. And it was their emphasis that added weight to the undertaking that we were about to embark upon. And on the day, it was their presence that made the commitment so important.

The Vows - The Movie - Thanks to Kate Fagan for her iPhone Evidence.

That's not all of it, but it's a lot of it. Something for our own posterity. A wedding blog. I hope we can use it to prompt memories in the virtual future, where wedding photo albums are redundant (unfortunately or otherwise).