Real Wedding – Sam & Shani, Ballarat VIC
Shani and Sam’s wedding day ethos was to create an event that felt like a huge warm hug – an inclusive, loving and fun space for all their fave people. Sam’s input was that there was no end time to the party, speeches done and dusted by sunset, and killer music throughout. The result? A dream day, stunning in both look and feel, and memories to last a lifetime.
The lush bushland backdrop of a friend’s property set the scene, enhanced with rustic wooden textures and accented with a sweet scattering of vintage and contemporary details. Against this effortlessly epic wedstival styling, the newlyweds were laid-back chic exemplified. Shani was a stunner in a sweet Shona Joy sheath with vintage accessories and a floor-length veil, while Sam rocked a linen look. Our personal faves are the images by Dream Cave of these two sweethearts strolling the streets of Ballarat, champagne bottle in hand.
Shani and Sam chose to involve their friends and family in every detail of the day, including a last-minute marquee rearrange by everyone, in full glam, when the rain hit. This made for a fabulous feeling that everyone created together, a celebration of love and community that kicked on into the early hours. For more of these truly magical moments, scroll on.
We met in October of 2017 at the Dog Park. It was a typical Ballarat spring day – sunny one minute and rainy the next – and whilst trying to catch my unruly border collies and get them in the car, Sam ran past and said, “good luck with that,” with his tiny little Jack Russell. And the rest was history. Not really; after months of rushing to the dog park to try and see him again, it wasn’t until I was going overseas to the Middle East that he finally asked me on a date. Anyway, six months later, in February 2018, we finally went on a date.
Shani’s version is that whilst Sam and I didn’t know each other, I knew who he was, and after finally getting in the car and out of the rain, I called my best friend and said I am going to marry Sam Clifton. The truth is, I was all in – right from the very start.
Sam’s version (that I only heard for the first time at our wedding) was that six months into our relationship when his beautiful Pa got sick, and he saw me love and care for him that he knew this was it, forever.
The truth is, I was obsessed with getting engaged. For someone who doesn’t like tradition and rebels against social expectations, once I met Sammy, I was totally hooked. I pestered him for the two years prior, which included ruining many holidays, crying the entire hike down a mountain walking two metres in front of him as I was convinced he’d propose, and even a drunk encounter in which I recall I said, “I’m too good for you, you should want to marry me! Not the other way around”. Not my finest moments, but indicative of how much I truly wanted this.
Instead, he caught me off guard on a weekend away in Bright after Christmas. We were sitting on the side of the creek with a bottle of wine and our dogs, and he put on No One’s Gonna Love You by Band of Horses and proposed. It was the best moment of my life. Just us, exactly how Sam had always planned and envisioned it.
Planning the wedding was pretty typical of us – casual, fun and pretty stress-free. Whilst I planned most of the details, I tried to plan the day around what Sam wanted because I knew the day would be my dream regardless, so I tried to make sure it was also his. From the outset, Sam had three rules: a party with no end time, great music and speeches over by 6pm – so that’s what we did.
After we got engaged, we only had a month before heading around Australia, so we knew we wanted to lock the big details in early and not worry about anything whilst we were away. So, five days after the engagement, we had the location, photographer, and marquee locked and loaded. We knew from the outset the day was about everyone we loved, so we made sure everything we did was as much for them as it was for us.
We leaned on those who had done this before; we asked around but had boundaries at the same time. I used a Pinterest board and love scrapbooking, so I played around with that a little and drew inspiration from Hello May and Ivory Tribe. Our photographers’ Instagram was our biggest source of inspo because it gave us a real perspective of what our day could look like.
We got married at our dear friend’s property which is what we would describe as a wild, mud brick wilderness hidden in Ballarat’s CBD. When they offered it to us, it was a no-brainer as they hold annual bonfires that feel like a huge warm hug. So, that was our inspiration from the get-go. We didn’t have a theme, we just kept saying big, fun, and with all the people we love, so we designed spaces for everyone and tried to make sure it was an inclusive, loving and fun space for our friends and family.
For inspiration, we looked at real weddings. We didn’t ever plan on being in a magazine, so we only wanted to see things that were real and felt like us. Our photographer’s Instagram was almost all I needed – real people getting married in their own way.
We ended up with the only rainy day in a span of about five months which made the day absolutely perfect. Whilst I wouldn’t wish it on a wedding, to me, it made the day all the more special. I remember looking out the window when I was getting my makeup done, and I could see three of my best friends, all of my bridesmaids in full glam, my brothers and Sam’s uncle setting up additional marquees, resetting furniture and truly saving our day. I don’t know if anything could be more representative of our lives, and it will forever live in my mind as the most loving and caring part of the day.
The sun came out just in time, but as I got to the end of the aisle, the heavens opened up for about 30 seconds and then it cleared. The ceremony was full of love, handwritten vows, our two dogs running amok and lots of laughter. Our celebrant was utterly perfect and even printed the vows for our grandparents to follow along.
My dress, my tiny, $200 off-the-rack beauty. About three years ago, I was walking to work and walked past Shona Joy, and there she was, sitting in the window. I had tried on a Calvin Klein dress in Hong Kong a while back as a poor student and always regretted not buying her, so when I saw my wedding dress that was almost the same in white, I just knew I had to buy it. I gave Sam a quick call and asked if I could buy a wedding dress?! Of course, he was in. It sat in our cupboard for the next three years until she got her time to shine. I’ve now dyed it black, so I can keep wearing it and loving it just as much as I did the very first day.
Sam was even more simple. The brief was casual linens that matched the bush landscape we were getting married in. He picked them online, and that was it. No fuss, but lots of love all the same.
Walking down the aisle for me was something I’ll never forget. My cousin Taylah played Songbird by Fleetwood Mac, I had my wonder Dad on my right, and I’ve just never felt happier. I don’t know if there is anything that will ever top walking down the aisle and having everyone we love there and seeing Sam waiting for me. Of course, the dogs were greeted before him.
Sam’s favourite part of the night was having his dad make a speech after recent health issues and having him be such a big part of our day. Or watching the dance floor erupt as his two cousins, Rob and Steve, rapped every word of Dr Dre at about 2am, which is a Clifton family tradition. I also surprised Sam the night before our wedding with a meet and greet with his favourite band, Bad Dreams, and I actually think this was a bigger highlight than our wedding!
Meaning of marriage.
I am not really sure I can put it into words. For me, it’s more of a feeling of complete calm knowing that someone has chosen to love you so entirely. Having Sam love me the way he does is what I imagine to be the meaning of life; to be so accepted and celebrated is the most powerful thing in the world. Marriage didn’t change that per se, but it was a beautifully conscious decision to keep doing this for as long as we can.
Sung and played by my cousin Taylah:
Aisle song (bridesmaids): Warm Whispers by Missy Higgins
Aisle song (bride): Songbird by Fleetwood Mac
Signing: Have you ever seen the rain by Credence Clearwater Revival
Recessional: Love you for a long time by Maggie Rogers
Sung by my bridesmaid Enya and played by Taylah
First dance: No One’s Gonna Love You by Band of Horses
Funny stories or near disasters.
Our wedding was the perfect storm, literally. Everything that could have gone wrong absolutely did. My makeup artist had a covid scare the night before, which meant that at 11pm the night before, I was reaching out to find other people. My flowers froze overnight, so the bouquets were almost ruined, it railed from pillar to post, and at 12pm nothing was ready – but all of this just added to the day. We were so supported and loved, and everyone pulled together to make our day as wonderful as it was. I wouldn’t change a thing, truly.
Probably how easily everything fell into place. We knew we wanted to have the people we loved included where we could, so we had our friends do everything from the flowers to hair and makeup. Because everyone involved were all the people we love, and they were all attending the wedding, it felt like we were creating this together. For me planning the wedding was the perfect reminder of why Sam and I were getting married and sharing our lives together.
Words of wisdom.
Spreadsheets are your friend – learn to love excel.
Everything has been done before so ask for help – ask others for their run sheets, tips and tricks and ideas.
Remember, no one else knows what you had planned or what you were thinking in your own head, and to be honest, no one else cares – so when things don’t work out or change, and they absolutely will – try to let it go. It’s your day; life is supposed to be this good, so let it be.
Also, sometimes wedding planning sucks. Sometimes your day isn’t the best day of your life. That’s okay too. It’s one day, and you’ve got a lifetime of wonderful moments and times, but I truly hope this is one of those days, as it was for us.
Sam and Shani’s laid-back approach to their wedding is definitely a winner – but for most of us, there are likely to be moments of overwhelm, frustration and stress mixed in with the excitement. To help you out, here’s some of our tried and trusted wedding day hacks and tips, so you can focus on having an absolute blast.
SAM & SHANI’S VENDORS
Ceremony & reception venue: The Eldridge Foley Homestead, which they refer to as ‘mud pie’, and is our dear friends’ house.
Celebrant: Kellie Dunn
Photography & videography: Dream Cave
Styling: My friends saved my day and styled it after the rain hit; huge shout out to Sage Akouri and Sharni Carroll
Florist: My two friends did the flowers, Fiona and Jane.
Hair: Hayley, New Age Hair Ballarat
Makeup: Jenna Gnato
The dress: Shona Joy
Veil: I wore my sister-in-law’s veil, which felt so incredibly special to share in the same piece as we married two brothers.
Shoes: Windsor Smith
Wedding rings: GM Jewellery (handmade boutique jewellery in Ballarat – Shani’s bridesmaid Georgia)
Engagement ring: Windfall Jewellery
Vintage ring: my something borrowed was from my dear friend Tania Bardsley who has the most beautiful collection of antique jewellery as her great grandfather was a jeweller. It was such an honour to wear her ring and earrings.
Bridesmaid’s dresses: Leave Her Wilder
Bar: Havana Caravan Bar
Favours: drink holders with the same design my sister drew for the invites and signs
Cake: Gelato cart – Il Piccolo Gelato
Stationery / Signage: Abbey Lane Designs with a hand-drawn photo from my sister
Entertainment: My cousin Taylah, Geoffrey Williams, Luce Timms DJ
Décor: Twilight glamping, glitter and dust and everything from our friend Jane Wiltshire
Honeymoon: A road trip around Tassie with our dogs Obi and Finn