Ten Years a Celebrant!

On this day ten years ago the Attorney General’s Department saw fit to approve my application to become an Authorised Marriage Celebrant. Ten years ago? Geesh! That time has flown!

Since the 27th of August 2009, I’ve hitched almost 600 couples, I’ve helped others renew their vows, I’ve named babies, I’ve seen marriage equality achieved (hallelujah!) and I’ve seen trends such as mason jars, L.O.V.E letters and sand ceremonies come and go. I’ve seen the rise and rise of Tinder hook-ups, Instagram hashtags (and couple name generator apps), floral arches and ceiling installations, festoon lighting, neon signage, unplugged ceremonies, first looks and non-traditional ceremony venues like bars, distilleries, cellar doors and art galleries. I’ve mentored dozens of celebrants and I’ve won a few awards along the way, but most importantly, I’ve forged trusting relationships with many wonderful couples and close friendships with many industry folk.

I have loved working with happy couples and meeting proud and emotional parents. I have loved making people laugh and watching them cry. I have loved solving problems, dressing up, visiting beautiful venues, and observing talented creatives work their magic. I’ve always appreciated having the best seat in the house.

And so, to anyone who has hired me, recommended me, reviewed me, followed my socials, photographed or filmed me, thank you. To those of you who have spent too much time with me in photo booths, chatting on Messenger threads or carving up dance floors at industry events, sorry (not sorry).

And to my wonderfully supportive husband, thanks for holding down the fort on weekends, for always offering to pack and unpack my equipment from the boot and for having wine, vegetarian pasta and a listening ear at the ready when I return home from ceremonies and insist on reliving every moment.

2029 here I come!

Sal x

ZOE + DAN - Style and Sophistication (...with a side of silliness)

By Sally Hughes, Melbourne Marriage Celebrant

What do you get when you combine two gorgeous, accomplished and utterly joyful people, a glamorous bride tribe, dapper and downright hilarious groomsmen, an elegant garden setting, a wise and oh-so-witty zia and some seriously A-grade vendors? One of the most elegant and exuberant ceremonies ever.

The impeccably dressed and contagiously happy Zoe and Dan were married in the Italian Garden at Coombe Yarra Valley. With superb styling by Tori Allen Events and music by the fabulous Logan Entertainment their sentimental, yet laughter-filled ceremony looked and sounded amazing. And it was once again so wonderful to team up with some of my very favourite creatives; photographer Katie Harmsworth and videographers Annette + Dani Films.

Zoe and Dan, thanks so much for the many, many laughs and for sharing these images of your utterly beautiful day.

(Laughing before we officially begin. Love that!)

(Still laughing….)

(Until Aunty Betty’s story brings Zoe to tears.)

(How’s that for perfect dress and wedding party placement? I’m ALWAYS on top of this!)

(Thanks for laughing at every. single. joke. Dan!)

Love Note…

Sally is simply the best! She created the most warm and engaging atmosphere during our ceremony which was the highlight of our day. She thinks of everything and manages all aspects of the ceremony from start to finish masterfully, not to mention what a joy she is to work with in the lead up to the big day. Thank you Sally!

Zoe + Dan

Celebrant: Sally Hughes

Venue: Coombe Yarra Valley

Photographer: Katie Harmsworth

Videographer: Annette + Dani Films

Stylist: Tori Allen Events 

Zoe’s Dress: Cappellazzo Couture

Bridesmaid Dresses: Bec + Bridge

Suits: Hugo Boss

Hair: House of Hoxton and Kirby Richards

Make Up: Danielle Gardiner

Musicians: Logan Entertainment

Rings: Rod Valenz

Cake: Pastel and Bloom

KATE + STEVEN - Banking on Love

By Sally Hughes, Melbourne Celebrant

Great ceremonies are dependent on two factors; an easy-going and good humoured couple who are willing to share great stories, funny and romantic (preferably both) and a celebrant who knows how to retell them in a way that will make a group of people sit up, listen, laugh and sigh. Add to that a stellar supplier line up and a group of guests who have just enjoyed a welcome drink (it’s a game changer!) and you really can’t go wrong.

Kate and Steven’s ceremony ticked both boxes. Two laid back, yet organised people, funny, fun, sentimental and intelligent - they’re a celebrant’s dream really. And importantly, Kate and Steven placed their trust in me to read the crowd on the day and play to them in a way that met their “relaxed, interactive, sentimental and a little cheeky” brief.

And boy, the crowd was on fire! They responded to every little joke, quip (scripted or otherwise) and romantic declaration without restraint. But don’t take my word for it. Let Katie Harmsworth’s fabulous photos of their Stones of the Yarra Valley celebration demonstrate my point.

(Tip - if your budget and logistics allow, always serve a welcome drink. It’s a ceremony game changer!)

Kate & Steve by Katie Harmsworth 26.jpg

Love Note…

“Sally, it was truly the most amazing day and I think our favourite thing was the ceremony!! You absolutely nailed our brief of being humorous yet sentimental and so many of our friends and family raved about it afterwards. Thank you again for making it so special!!”

Kate + Steven

Celebrant: Sally Hughes

Venue: Stones of the Yarra Valley

Photographer: Katie Harmsworth

Videographer: One Heart Studios

Katie’s Dress: Suzanne Harward 

Katie’s Denim Jacket: One Day Bridal

Bridesmaids Dresses: Shona Joy

Suits: Oscar Hunt

Florist: Sugar Bee Flowers

Hair: Tara Steel

Make Up: Merton Muaremi

Ceremony Pianist: Liam Dixon

Reception Musicians: Baker Boys Band

Cars: Supplied by Kate’s dad

Rings: Simon West Fine Jewellery

Neon Sign: Neon Collective

TRENDING - Surprise Weddings

By Sally Hughes, Melbourne Celebrant

“We're newly engaged and considering a surprise wedding.  Can you tell me if there's anything we should consider from a planning perspective and if there’s anything we need to know from a legal standpoint?”

Given that I receive enquiries like this several times a year, I feel that the subject of surprise weddings well and truly warrants a blog post.

Surprise weddings are fabulous! There's nothing quite like the roar that erupts immediately after guests learn that they've been unwittingly invited to a wedding. The thrilling cacophony of squeals, applause, laughter and odd cry of “I knew it! I knew it!!”, never fails to make me smile. The atmosphere is always electric.

The Pros and Cons of Surprise Weddings

If you’re considering a celebration that doesn’t conform to the norm, allow me to take you through the pros and cons of surprise weddings.


  • The vibe is fantastic. When guests realise that the’ve been invited to a wedding they tend to get really loud and really excited very quickly. They’re usually a few drinks in by that stage, so by the time the ceremony begins they’re ready and willing to involve themselves and actively participate. I love this.

  • Savings (well, in theory anyway!). You can still end up spending large on catering, clothing, styling and so on, however surprise weddings tend to be a little more casual than traditional (i.e. disclosed) bells-and-whistles ones. The opportunity to combine your engagement party with your wedding is a definite cost saver too.

  • Less stress. Given that you won’t be fielding questions from well-intentioned loved ones about your reception menu, choice of band, wedding party and colour palette, there’s no expectation to conform to expectations held by others. You have so much more freedom to do it your way.


  • You can’t discuss your plans with anyone other than suppliers. This means no water cooler conversations with work colleagues about finding your dream dress, and no counting down to the big day on your Facebook page!

  • Parents, siblings and besties may be offended if they aren’t privy to the plan. And fair enough. When you think about it, your parents have probably thought about your wedding day for longer than you have. Though they can certainly be involved in your celebration, you may have deprived them of their opportunity to contribute to the planning process, including preparing a heartfelt speech. For that reason you might want to give some serious thought to letting the VIPs know. ONLY the VIPs!

  • You’ll probably miss out on a hen’s/buck’s/huck’s night.

  • Guests may arrive after your ceremony has taken place or they might even miss your wedding altogether. The latter particularly applies to overseas or interstate guests. Often logistical and financial constraints cause long-distance loved ones to skip your so-called engagement party in favour of your future wedding - the wedding they might miss.

So, if you feel a surprise wedding is the way to go, here are a few tips to ensure the surprise element plays out perfectly.

  • Unless you're absolutely certain that your work colleagues won't see your work emails, use a personal email address for correspondence with suppliers. (Nothing ruins the surprise like an email from sally@celebrantsallyhughes.com.au)

  • Don't note the name of your celebrant, photographer or dress designer in your work diary/calendar.  Again, work colleagues may recognise a wedding supplier, as was the case with a surprise ceremony I was hired to conduct. One of my former brides arrived at the so-called “engagement party” certain that it was a wedding after having seen my name in her boss’ diary.

  • Don't tell anyone! (Have I stressed this point enough?) I know how tough this can be, however trusting people to keep such a big secret is a risk!  If anyone queries whether your engagement party or child’s first birthday bash is likely to double as your wedding, don't feel bad about telling a white lie.  It makes the surprise so much better! Keep in mind that if everyone’s in the same boat, guests are less likely to be offended. Issues usually occur when 20-odd people are in on the secret and the remaining 50 realise they weren’t deemed as trustworthy as the others.

  • Consider how the surprise will be delivered.  Will your celebrant pose as a singer in the Baker Boys Band (yes, I've done that!), or as the venue's emcee (that too) and make the announcement?  Will your fiance and yourself welcome guests and announce the ceremony yourselves? Will guests arrive to a huge “Welcome to our Wedding” sign? You’re only limited by your imagination.

  • Consider whether or not your celebrant should remain well hidden before the big announcement. When I know that my former couples will be attending, I think it’s best that I stay in the back room until show time. Otherwise, they’ll figure it out rather quickly.

  • Give some thought to what happens immediately after the big reveal. Will your ceremony begin immediately or will you need five minutes to change your outfits and put a few chairs in place? Will you announce the names of your official witnesses and wedding crew and invite them to come up and stand with you? You’ve gotta have a plan!

From a Legal Standpoint

For an Australian marriage ceremony to be deemed legally valid, the surprise element can only extend to official witnesses and guests. In other words, the ceremony cannot come as a surprise to the marrying couple. A ‘Notice of Intended Marriage’ (NOIM) must be lodged with a celebrant at least one calendar month prior to the “surprise” marriage ceremony (unless a shortening of time is approved by the relevant authority) and the celebrant must be satisfied that both parties understand the nature of the relationship they intend to enter into and that they are doing so voluntarily and without coercion. The celebrant must also have sufficient time to establish the identity of each party to the marriage.

And for the record… it is legally possible to surprise one of the consenting parties to the marriage with the date, time and location of the marriage, as long as intention to marry has been lodged within the required one calendar month timeframe. For example, a bride and groom could lodge the NOIM with their celebrant but agree to leave all the event planning (date, time, venue and so on) to the groom. The bride would therefore be surprised in that way. It’s not commonly done, but it is legally permissible.

If you’ve any questions or stories to share, feel free to comment below.

Sally Hughes, Melbourne Marriage Celebrant

Looking for a little inspiration? Take a look at Nicole + Saul’s surprise wedding.

MADELEINE + DANIEL - Morning Micro

By Sally Hughes, Melbourne Marriage Celebrant

Madeleine and Daniel flew from Brunei to Australia to be married in the morning sunshine at Zonzo Estate in Victoria’s Yarra Valley. They spent time among the vines with their photographer Suzie Potter of London Ivy Collective and then married before a small group of family members and friends.  After their micro ceremony (and a quick costume change) the newlyweds made their way indoors to The Stables, a stunning light-filled space, to enjoy a celebratory lunch. 

Madeleine and Daniel’s low-key celebration was a wonderfully unhurried and intimate one. Further proof that micro weddings can be just as beautiful, meaningful and enjoyable as the large-scale variety.

Celebrant: Sally Hughes for Signed and Sealed

Photography: Suzie Potter of London Ivy Collective

Ceremony Venue: Zonzo Estate

Flowers: Sugar Bee Flowers

Madeleine’s Dress: White Runway

Daniel’s Suit: Zara Man

TRENDING - Rose Petal Recessionals

By Sally Hughes, Melbourne Marriage Celebrant

Rose petals are making a comeback, folks! And it’s thanks to pictures like these that couples are opting to bring back the tradition.

The tradition of showering newlyweds with small objects dates back centuries. It’s widely believed that rice and grains, precursors to petals, were thrown as a way of symbolising rain; a sign of prosperity, fertility and good fortune (i’ll be sure to mention that to couples when downpours are imminent!). Coloured paper confetti then became all the rage until dresses became stained and venue operators became tired of cleaning it up. Petals came next, but like all trends, their popularity declined somewhat. Again, venue operators played a role here because, like paper confetti, coloured petals stain carpets and tiles too. However I have noticed that some venue operators will now allow white or freeze dried petals.

Anyhow, enough of the history lesson. Petals have made a comeback! When thrown well, they look great in photos and they inject a little fun into the recessional. EVERY couple laughs while their friends take aim - and these photos prove my point.

A few tips for rose petal recessionals:

1. Have your Celebrant instruct guests to throw petals above you, not at you. While it is rather funny watching a couple cop a face full of blooms, it won’t be the most pleasurable experience for them. And the photography and footage will suffer.

2. Ditch petal cones. Guests don’t want to balance a cone of petals on their laps during the ceremony. And those in the standing section should be hands-free so they can applaud your extremely witty and hilarious Celebrant and wipe their tears during a sentimental exchange of vows. A bowl or basket of petals is all you’ll need.

3. Distribute petals during the signing of the certificates. No one wants to hold a handful of petals for more than a few minutes. As per point 2, guests should be hands-free during the ceremony, so just ask a friend to walk up and down the aisle to distribute during the signing.

4. If petals aren’t your thing, consider glitter cannons, sparklers (provided fire bans aren’t in place), pom poms, leaves or bubbles.

AMY + PHIL / Gerard Assi Photography / The Riverstone Estate / Edward & I

AMY + PHIL / Gerard Assi Photography / The Riverstone Estate / Edward & I

ZOE + DAN / Katie Harmsworth Photography / Coombe Yarra Valley / Tori Allen Events

ZOE + DAN / Katie Harmsworth Photography / Coombe Yarra Valley / Tori Allen Events

AMANDA + MATT / Lost In Love Photography / Zonzo Estate / Sugar Bee Flowers

AMANDA + MATT / Lost In Love Photography / Zonzo Estate / Sugar Bee Flowers

FIONA + PAUL / Stewart Leishman Photography / Immerse / Debbie O’Neill Flowers

FIONA + PAUL / Stewart Leishman Photography / Immerse / Debbie O’Neill Flowers

TAYLA + TODD / Sigrid Petersen / Coombe Yarra Valley / Sugar Bee Flowers

TAYLA + TODD / Sigrid Petersen / Coombe Yarra Valley / Sugar Bee Flowers

AMI + MATT / Michael Briggs Photography / Zonzo Estate, Yarra Glen / Sugar Bee Flowers

AMI + MATT / Michael Briggs Photography / Zonzo Estate, Yarra Glen / Sugar Bee Flowers

AMELIA + WILL / Blossom Daisy Creative / The George Ballroom / Floretta By Grace

AMELIA + WILL / Blossom Daisy Creative / The George Ballroom / Floretta By Grace

ANNALIECE + ALEKS / Michael Lean Photography / Dayne Robinson

ANNALIECE + ALEKS / Michael Lean Photography / Dayne Robinson

CAROLYNE + MARTY / Robert Hock Photography / Coombe Yarra Valley / Sugar Bee Flowers

CAROLYNE + MARTY / Robert Hock Photography / Coombe Yarra Valley / Sugar Bee Flowers

EMILY + CAM / Warren Photography / Stones of the Yarra Valley / Red Earth Flowers

EMILY + CAM / Warren Photography / Stones of the Yarra Valley / Red Earth Flowers

JEN + JARMON / Shot From The Heart / Lyrebird Falls / Sassafras Flower Design

JEN + JARMON / Shot From The Heart / Lyrebird Falls / Sassafras Flower Design

MELISSA + JED / Aria Photography / Zonzo Estate / Silver Suede Flowers

MELISSA + JED / Aria Photography / Zonzo Estate / Silver Suede Flowers

BETH + JUSTIN / Dijana Risteska Photography / Zonzo Estate / Sugar Bee Flowers

BETH + JUSTIN / Dijana Risteska Photography / Zonzo Estate / Sugar Bee Flowers

LIV + NATHAN / Beck Rocchi Photography / Coombe Yarra Valley / Sugar Bee Flowers

LIV + NATHAN / Beck Rocchi Photography / Coombe Yarra Valley / Sugar Bee Flowers

KATE + STEVE / Katie Harmsworth Photography / Stones of the Yarra Valley / Sugar Bee Flowers

KATE + STEVE / Katie Harmsworth Photography / Stones of the Yarra Valley / Sugar Bee Flowers

ANIKA + ANDY / Fifteen Photography / Yering Station / Sugar Bee Flowers

ANIKA + ANDY / Fifteen Photography / Yering Station / Sugar Bee Flowers

EMILY + HAYDEN / PiXray Photography / Quat Quatta / Victoria Whitelaw Flowers

EMILY + HAYDEN / PiXray Photography / Quat Quatta / Victoria Whitelaw Flowers

CHLOE + ED - Truly Madly Deeply

By Sally Hughes, Melbourne Marriage Celebrant

Chloe and Ed were married on the Harbour Room rooftop at the Royal Melbourne Yacht Squadron during one of the most relaxed and interactive ceremonies I’ve ever had the pleasure of presenting. The laughter, the unscripted banter, the spontaneous applause… the sheer willingness of everyone to get involved, made for such a great ceremony.

As the genetically blessed pair stood together that warm and sunny St Kilda afternoon, I spoke of the strong bond they have with their family, of the many close friendships they’ve forged (involving quite a few people as I did - and gee they played along well…) and of the relationship that resulted from a shared cab ride one rainy evening in South Melbourne.

The ceremony concluded with an almighty roar, cocktail hour commenced and Chloe and Ed ventured downstairs with their wedding crew to see their precious Staffies, Opie and Bo, and hang out with their very chilled and very talented photographer, Daniel Milligan.

Photo by guest

Photo by guest

“I’ll be your dream, I’ll be your wish, I’ll be your fantasy.

I’ll be your hope, I’ll be your love, be everything that you need…”

The Savage Garden classic was the song of choice for Chloe’s processional. Several guests and I may have sung along…

Love Note

“Sally was absolutely incredible!!! From the first meeting until the big day Sally took so much stress out of the whole ceremony process for us by guiding us through everything. Her level of professionalism is outstanding and she was a friendly, enthusiastic and fun person to have as part of our important process. Our guests completely raved about her following the ceremony where everyone gave her a round of applause at the mention of her name later on during the reception. Sally was an absolute godsend and we could not be more thankful for having found her.”

Chloe + Ed

Celebrant: Sally Hughes

Photographer (excluding photo 2): Daniel Milligan

Venue: Harbour Room at the Royal Melbourne Yacht Squadron (Managed by Food & Desire)

Ceremony Musicians: James Howlett and Bron, AKA 'Le Bron James’

Reception DJ: Ian Henton

Florals: Melbourne Event Florals & Flowers In Hand St Kilda

Wedding Dress: Jane Hill

Suits: My Tuxedo tailored by Looksmart Alterations

Bridesmaid Dresses: Nookie

Hair: Rhiannon at Ayana Hair Design

Hairpiece: The Luxe Bride Co

Make up: Rachael Amy

Rings: Parker Diamonds

Cars: Always Classic Cars

CAROLYNE + MARTIN - Say 'I Do' at Coombe

By Sally Hughes, Melbourne Marriage Celebrant

I absolutely love Yarra Valley weddings. I love cueing up a TED Talk and driving along long and windy roads, passing rows upon rows of grapevines, paddocks of cows and hay bales and arriving at beautiful venues. When Carolyne and Martin’s enquiry arrived in my inbox, the old “Oooo, I hope I’m available for this one” thought most definitely entered my mind.

And that’s because Carolyne and Martin were married at Coombe Yarra Valley - one of my favourite Yarra Valley venues. Bordered by a ten metre high cypress hedge, the estate boasts magnificent oak trees, lush green lawns, stunning architecture old and new, delicious food and wine and, importantly, superb service. It’s no wonder this venue, opera singer Dame Nellie Melba’s former residence, has established itself as one of Victoria’s premier wedding venues. It’s a dream venue for couples and Celebrants alike.

Add to this location a couple as funny, kind and easy going as Carolyne and Martin and a fabulous afternoon is assured.

The moment 100-odd guests made their way from the cellar door to the ceremony space - many with a drink in hand (I love the way they do things at Coombe), I knew Carolyne and Martin’s ceremony would be an interactive one. Without doubt. They were laughing, they were loud and they were keen to play along with my pre ceremony warm up. I absolutely love couples who invite people like this to their ceremony.

Carolyne and Martin were married on Melba’s former tennis court under blue skies. Carolyne and her bestie arrived in a black mustang ten minutes prior to our scheduled start, allowing us ample time to talk through their entrances, admire Carolyne’s stunning Maggie Sottero wedding dress and soak in the pre ceremony excitement away from the gaze of guests.

Lark Music provided the sound track to the processional, nailing John Legend’s Stay With You, and four year old Mila almost stole the show, walking some 50 metres on her own (her pre ceremony run-through with her mother and I while dozens of supportive guests cheered her on must have helped). Carolyne’s bestie Alyssa followed, looking gorgeous in maroon. Her bouquet in hues of pink, red and burgundy was one of many stunning Sugar Bee Flowers arrangements on display that day.

But then it was all eyes on Carolyne as she took her brother’s arm and walked toward Martin.

(Side note: Isn’t it lovely to see a distinct absence of cameras and phones in the processional images below?)

And so began a ceremony that included an emotional processional, a light-hearted reteling of an eight year-long relationship story, a few highly romantic moments and fair smattering of guest interaction. OK, a LOT of guest interaction! I couldn’t have asked for a better outcome for this gorgeous pair. It really was a ceremony that had it all.

Love Note

“Sally, thank you for everything that you did for our wedding. You went above and beyond our expectations and made it a seamless journey for both of us! All of our close family and friends have expressed how fabulous, easy-going and kind you were on the day and how fantastic the ceremony itself was! People have said to us multiple times how lovely and kind you are, so thank you from us and everyone else.”

Carolyne + Martin

Celebrant: Sally Hughes

Photographer: Robert Hock

Venue: Coombe Yarra Valley

Videographer: Iconic Pictures

Flowers: Sugar Bee Flowers

Music: Lark Music

Wedding Dress: Maggie Sottero

Suits: InStitchu

What's a Micro Wedding?

By Sally Hughes, Melbourne Marriage Celebrant

‘I’m sorry, but what do you mean by micro wedding? Is that a new thing?”

Put simply, yes! (well the term is, anyway). And you’re not the only person to wonder what on earth they’re all about.

The micro movement has been around for a few years, however only in the past twelve months have I noticed a significant growth in its popularity. So what’s it all about? Essentially, a micro wedding is a wedding that has all the big ticket items of a regular wedding, but on a smaller scale. So, yes, there’s a ceremony and a reception that follows, there’s a fancy wedding dress and/or suit, rings, flowers, music, photography and videography. The main difference is that the guest list is significantly smaller than what we’ve come to expect from a regular-sized wedding (think 20 not 120).

And the motivation? There are a few, however I believe the major motivator is to reduce costs. With only 20 odd guests to feed and hydrate, only 20 ceremony chairs to hire (or not) and a photographer whose presence is only required for a few hours, there’s usually a significant saving to be made (and perhaps a home deposit left untouched).

Another reason to go micro is to provide an arguably better experience for all involved. The overall spend might be the same as a large scale wedding, however the experience might be more, shall we say, discerning. With fewer guests, a couple could book out a private estate for a weekend, hire a celebrity chef, special entertainment, and/or provide accommodation for all. Alternatively, they might book a private dining room at a fine dining restaurant like Vue de monde (take a look at Brian and Nicholas’ micro below).

And then there’s the vibe of it all. When you can eyeball every single guest at your ceremony, when you can hear every giggle, every sniffle and every comment that is made, the experience is quite different. I find that micro ceremonies are a little shorter than those I present at large scale weddings, but they’re just as meaningful, just as interactive (perhaps even more so) and just as enjoyable. Couples feel every bit the Bride and/or Groom, regardless of the number of people gathered around them.

So, if you feel inclined to jump aboard the micro wedding train, get in touch! I can point you in the direction of some great venues and talented industry folk who love a small scale celebration as much as I.

Oh, and a quick tip! If you host your micro between Monday and Thursday, minimum spends are lower and venue availability will be far greater.

Love Note…

“Sally was brilliant! From our first meeting she made us feel comfortable despite the nerves. She guided us from start to finish, and the ceremony was perfect. It really felt like Sally understood who we are and what we wanted. It was a pleasure to have her as our celebrant.”

Brian + Nicholas