By Luke Voogt
Dog Rocks at Batesford was not quite the breathtaking Scottish Highlands where Chris and Chloe Hodges first imagined tying the knot.
But with a global pandemic making international travel almost impossible, “it was as close as we were going to get”, Chris told the Independent.
The Armstrong Creek couple had planned to elope since Chris proposed to Chloe on their fifth anniversary, she explained.
“Spending thousands and thousands of dollars on a day definitely wasn’t important to us,” she said.
They chose the picturesque rock formation, 12 kilometres west of Geelong, for its similarity to the Gaelic high country, she said.
The new Mr and Mrs Hodges married on October 27, Chris’s 27th birthday, and his parents’ and grandparents’ 36th and 64th wedding anniversaries respectively.
Four of their closest friends joined them, along with Chloe’s dad Mark, who missed her younger brother’s wedding in Queensland earlier this year due to travel restrictions.
“My dad got to walk me in because he’s had a rough year missing my brother’s wedding,” Chloe said.
The couple’s dogs Nala and Poppy also joined the nuptials, enjoying a day of running around paddocks and snacking on treats.
“It was kind of like organising a picnic with friends, with some formalities at the start,” Chris said.
The newlyweds live-streamed the ceremony for about 30 relatives and friends, and sent surprise hampers to both their mums watching online.
“[Chris’s mum has] been saying we should go off and elope for ages now,” Chloe said.
“It was a really lovely way to share it with people.”
Chloe, a 28-year-old criminology PhD candidate and Chris, an accountant, met six years ago while volunteering for Rotaract.
Chloe was president of the Deakin University chapter when Chris walked in.
“I was mainly just excited that a decent-looking guy had joined the club,” Chloe laughed.
“I remember thinking that she was a bit out of my league,” Chris said.
Five years later, on October 13, 2019, Chloe suspected Chris was up to something on their dating anniversary.
“I was kind of on edge all day,” she said.
But by evening, after a nice walk together and a pub lunch, Chloe had “kind of given up” when finally Chris popped the question.
“I made a book which was sort of our story over the past few years that had the proposal at the end,” he explained.
While the couple had always planned to elope, they had to cancel plans for a 100-person-plus engagement party in May.
“There’s no stuffing around [with COVID-19],” Chloe said.
“If it seemed like it was unsafe – even if restrictions allowed it – we weren’t going to go ahead with it.”
Celebrant Jessie Walsdorf, who married Chris and Chloe, said her business had “tripled” during COVID-19.
While some celebrants had not had a wedding since March due to restrictions, elopement businesses were popping up around Geelong, she said.
Jessie set up her business last year, under the name Jessie Belle, for couples who preferred a small and personal wedding, she said.
Before the pandemic clients would come to her for various reasons, like wanting to put the money towards a house instead of big family event, Jessie said.
“But it’s taken off this year because it’s really the only option. It’s also a great excuse for people feeling pressure to have the big wedding.”