When Stephanie and Chris Forde became engaged, there was no question where they would hold the wedding – at Stephanie's parents' property in Tambo Upper, in East Gippsland, Victoria.
And as the couple live in the UK and Chris' family had never been to Australia, what better time than summer?
The date was set for January 4, 2020.
Then everything changed. Travelling to Tambo Upper to celebrate New Year's Eve, Stephanie and Chris were stopped by blockades. Stephanie's parents had already evacuated their animals and were preparing to leave themselves.
"Then on New Year's Day we saw the dire weather warning for our wedding day," recalls Stephanie.
"It was 40 degrees and high winds. There was no way it would be safe for our guests, and if we all got stuck, it would be catastrophic."
That's when the kindness of the community took over.
First, Jonathan and Judy Wood offered up their waterfront property in nearby Paynesville.
When the flower farm they were using burnt down, House of Blooms at Dahlsens in Bairnsdale offered a free bouquet and buttonhole.
The day before the nuptials their wedding planner, Adele Charlwood, and partner Lucas built a bar from scratch after the one they'd ordered couldn't get through roadblocks.
And that was despite Adele's own property being on an ember warning.
Their caterer called in a panic.
"She said, 'I have to stay and defend my property. I've made all your food but you're going to have to get it and warm it up yourselves,'" says Stephanie.
Locals and friends stepped in to help.
Finally, the local Rotary Club set up a marquee and tables.
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"And the wedding was the best day of our lives," Stephanie says.
"It wasn't just our 20 guests at that wedding; it felt like the whole community was involved. And Chris' family have been blown away by the Australian spirit – how people who may not know each other just band together to overcome a terrible situation."
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Prizes To LoveDec 25, 2020