On July 19, 1973 Lois D’Arcy, now 75, of Cleveland became Australia’s first independent civil marriage celebrant.
Fifty years later, Lois was recognised for this milestone at the Australian Federation of Civil Celebrants annual convention in Canberra where she was the guest of honour.
Lois said before the advent of civil celebrants, people were married in a church, at a state registry office or a courthouse.
“There were people who were divorced and refused a church wedding,” she said.
“There were non-believers who thought a church wedding was hypercritical and there were those who didn’t follow convention.
“The advent of civil celebrants meant that people could get married anywhere on any day at any time.”
Lois said the move was mooted by Senator Lionel Murphy who asked her if she was interested in the role at a Labor Party convention.
“A few weeks later a large envelope arrived in the mail, telling me I was authorised as a civil celebrant,” she said.
“The story made state and national press. Five days later the second celebrant was authorised (Lynn Knorr of Melbourne) and suddenly people had alternative ways to marry, ways that were meaningful to them.”
The appointments meant that ceremonies could have music, poems and prose read and add personal vows to the legal format.
“People deserved a better alternative and to have a meaningful, proper celebration,” Lois said.
“In many ways the history of civil celebrants is a social history and speaks of the times as they were.”
From once having no alternatives, about 80 per cent of weddings are now performed by civil celebrants.
Lois said her first ceremony was held at a farmhouse at Coomera, when a young couple were married at the bride’s home.
Later that day, Lois performed a double wedding ceremony for two couples in Surfers Paradise.
Among the more unusual was an underwater wedding with Lois learning scuba diving to do the service.
“The bride had been a non-swimmer and her husband taught her to swim and then to dive,” she said.
“It had a special meaning for them. Instead of confetti there were bubbles from the tanks.”
Lois said since moving to the Redlands in 1991, favourite wedding sites had been the Lighthouse and Courthouse restaurants, garden settings and even a wedding on the beach at Coochiemudlo complete with a horse and gypsy caravan.
She has married some famous people and met some as guests at other weddings.
During her 50 years, Lois has also worked as a high school teacher and raised her own three children.
“I always saw this as a service to the public, helping people to have a dignified and sincere service where they really feel married in the presence family and friends,” she said.
“Most weddings are lovely in their own way.”
Lois has been married for 55 years.