James and Damian
The lush surrounds of Melbourne’s Abbotsford Convent played host to James and Damian’s December wedding, where the pair said their I do’s under the fully blooming Jacaranda trees.
How and when did you meet? We met in 2001 at a bar in Melbourne. We’d both just emerged from break-ups, and our friends had dragged us out and left us at a table while they danced. Damian leant over James to reach a beer, and accidentally stubbed his cigarette into James’ arm – that triggered a torrent of profuse apologising and led to a wonderful conversation. We didn’t stay at the bar for long, and our relationship took off pretty instantly after that first meeting.
Tell us a little about the earlier days of your relationship… We’re lucky to have really supportive family and friends, which cleared some of the bigger hurdles out of the way. We did have a few issues being open about our relationship in workplaces, but our biggest hurdle was the one all same-sex couples faced until December 2018, until marriage equality laws were finally changed. It was a long road to equality in Australia, and it was an endless source of disappointment and frustration to us – as it was to all same-sex attracted people – that Australia was so far behind the rest of the world.
We got very involved in campaigning for marriage equality (Damian’s Grandma even wrote a letter in support of marriage equality, which was read out in Federal Parliament), so it was a joyous day when the survey results were announced, and the law was changed.
What does Marriage mean to you? We've been pretty devotedly in love with each other since we met in 2001, so marriage for us wasn’t ever going to be something that changed what we felt for each other, or that we needed to validate our affections.
We’d considered getting married in London when we lived there – but, to us, marriage was really a celebration of our love and commitment, and we wanted to do that home in Melbourne, standing with our friends and families. And when we finally made it, and stood in front of them all and talked about our love for each other, it was a really profound and emotional experience, and something we won’t ever forget.
Who proposed and how? Damian proposed to James when we were still living in London, on Primrose Hill on a summer evening, looking over the city skyline. He’d grabbed a bottle of bubbles from a local supermarket, and a couple of cheap rings from a local street market – hardly the most lavish of engagements. But there was never really any doubt James would say yes – and it was a beautiful night.
When did you get married? We were married on a weekend in mid December. We thought that date would be a safe bet for weather. But in the days before our wedding, one of those once-yearly apocalyptic storm systems hit the city. We’d made some back-up plans to use a small room at Convent, but thankfully – just one hour before our ceremony started – the flooding rains stopped, the sky cleared, and a hot summer sun broke out. We’re cast-iron atheists, but that did almost turn us!
James & Damian’s story continues below ↓
What was the main influence behind your wedding day? We are really close to our families and our friends, and so our touchstone in all wedding planning was to find an open and warm space, to fill it with music and laughter and joy, and to convey to all our friends and families the warmth and the love we feel for them, and for each other.
For that reason, we tried to do things in a less formal way. We planned the event ourselves, and made a lot of the wedding props ourselves - invites, stationary, jars of honey from James’ beehives (which we gave guests with labels we designed and printed), bunting strung from the rafters which our Mums made for us by hand, photos of us with our friends projected onto a wall. Damian performed a song on his accordion, with his family on percussion and dancing. And we put on a drag performance (Give Him A Great Big Kiss) after dinner, which had people laughing and dancing – even Damian’s Grandma.
The space at Abbotsford Convent was also a key part of our day. James is a landscape architect and loves outdoor spaces, so we picked the Abbotsford Convent for its lush gardens, and we picked the ceremony location for its huge Jacaranda trees, which was in full bloom. James’ Dad drove us in his old vintage car, an Armstrong Siddeley. And the cloistered corridors and courtyards of the Convent felt very English to us too, and reminded us of some of our favourite places from when we lived over there.
What was the most important thing to you surrounding your wedding? If we had doubts in planning the event, we always remembered that our reason for doing this was to celebrate our love with the people who mattered most to us – and that really did always help us to make the right choices, rather than allowing expectations of formality and tradition to lead us.
Where did you find the bulk of your inspiration? James built a Pinterest board and we tagged photos throughout the year while we were planning the event – venue details, clothes, flowers, furniture, gifts for the guests, even the text font. And we aimed for colours, and for settings and design and clothes and furnishings, that felt basic and simple, and conveyed something about our relationship.
How did you choose your suppliers? We obviously wanted to work with suppliers who were comfortable with same-sex marriages, and who would approach the day without too much pomp and formality. Venue, celebrant, photographer and florist were key. We spent a long time trawling internet resources – including Mr Theodore – for ideas, and we were lucky beyond our wishes with the suppliers we found.
Any standout suppliers? Hayley from the Abbotsford Convent Bursaria team was our event manager and was beyond amazing – patient and supportive, even in the tense and manic days before the wedding; and always accommodating, even for the more unusual requests for our drag show. And the food was also amazing – that was a real stand-out for our guests.
Jackson Grant, our photographer, was charming and super talented. He arranged all family and pre-wedding shoots brilliantly (despite our extreme camera-shy tendencies), and he delivered us the most extraordinary set of photos, and managed to get wonderful shots of all of our guests, completely unobtrusively.
We were extremely lucky to find Nicola, who runs a celebrant business under the name Mrs Jones. She was friendly and kind and funny and thoughtful, and delivered the most extraordinary reading at our ceremony, which had us in awe, and most of our guests in tears.
And Kalena Hynes, our friend and florist, delivered the most stunning array of flower arrangements across the venue and throughout the day, and managed the entire installation and pack-up single-handedly. Kalena is just embarking on her wedding florist career, and it’ll be a brilliant career.
Did you find it difficult to translate more common traditions into a ‘same-sex’ wedding? Being married as a same-sex couple, after such a long campaign and fight for equality, allowed us to feel less weighed down by expectations and traditions. We did make some choices that people told us were less traditional - we didn't exchange rings or have a wedding cake; we had friends and family by our sides throughout the day but no formal groomsmen or bridesmaids, we tried to cut-down on speeches and to pack the night with music, dance and laughter where we could, and we staged a drag show. Those were all personal preferences though – we didn’t feel that being a same-sex couple made it difficult to follow traditions; we just felt more liberated to pick the ones we liked, and replace the ones we didn’t.
What was the most difficult thing about planning your wedding? We decided to do the wedding planning ourselves – not something we’d recommend for the faint-hearted – and that was way more involved than we’d expected, and resulted in a few tense days. We did have a “wish-we’d-never-decided-to-do-this” day, at the height of the stress, but that passed quickly – and we’ve heard that other couples planning weddings have the same crisis of faith, a few weeks out from the day.
Where did you spend your honeymoon? We’re planning our honeymoon for July. We’re plotting a hiking trip in northern U.S. and Canadian national parks, followed by a stint back in London. And we managed to get a whole month off from work for it (another benefit of being able to marry! asking for a month of leave for anything other than a honeymoon wouldn’t have been anywhere as easy!). It is going to be awesome.
Any advice for other couples planning their day and finding it difficult to navigate the journey? Enlist your friends and families where you can – we had an enormous amount of support from ours, and it made all the difference. Don’t feel held back by expectations and traditions. And when you finally make it there – take time out to stand quietly with each other, and to look at everyone around you and feel the joy and the love – the day will pass so quickly, but that memory won’t fade. We’re still buzzing from it.