About Dally Messenger

Principal of the International College of Celebrancy

A Celebrant’s Notebook: by Anna Heriot – Review

Anna Heriot

Anna Heriot

“Here is an author who deeply understands ritual and symbolism.

If you understand what celebrancy is about, the first of September 2003 is a day which makes you put you face in in your hands and weep. This was the day when a group of uneducated, insensitive, unintelligent and rather vicious public servants, endowed with new and extraordinary government sanctioned powers, set out, knowingly or unknowingly, to destroy the civil celebrant program.

A disillusioned Attorney-General, Daryl Williams, who left the political scene mid-term, must have signed off or approved the changes to the Marriage Act – changes which gave extraordinary new powers to these empire building pubic servants.

The first thing they did was to destroy our worldwide, and uniquely recognised title and identity as “civil celebrants”. Unbelievably, they jumbled us up with the “fringe” clergy (small churches, breakaway religious splinter groups, neo-ethnic religions and the like). 

But it gets worse, celebrancy became a world of overblown legalisms, concocted but baseless legal problems, many of which were  unworkable in practice and erroneous in law. 

But it gets worse still, these “reforms” (god, how I hate that word) stopped a wonderful community program in its tracks. Since that time from the Attorney-General’s department – or rarely from the associations or “training organisations”, I have never seen the words “music”, “poetry”, “story-telling”, “choreography”, “symbolism”, “literary quotations”, “visual arts”, “community bonding”, “relationship strengthening” ,”transmission of values”, “recognition of achievements”, “the power of ritual” – and on and on.

I have put my face in my hands many times since and anguish “Oh, for some understanding, some depth!”

And then along comes Anna Heriot’s book. Talk about fresh air. Not a word about Google, not a word about marketing, not a word about legalisms, not a word about the ever perfectible Notice of Intended Marriage. But here we have a book about people, about ceremony, about resolving issues and communicating and enriching humanity through ritual. 

Anna’s book is divided into three parts. The first part is an appreciation of the history of celebrancy and the main issues which were faced by the founding father. She tells the tale of Lionel Murphy and the issues of love and hate, religious domination of the institutions of society, religious conflict between Catholics, Protestants and to some extent, Jews. Issues of misogyny, social exclusion of divorced women, equality, and most of all, divorce and re-marriage. She lauds the Family Law Act  and civil celebrancy as the means by which persons regained self-respect  and justice through the law.

The second part of Anna’s book focusses on her understanding of secular ritual. She relates her own experiences to Arnold Van Gennep (“The Rites of Passage”) and quotes the philosopher Xunxi from the third century AD.

The meaning of ritual is deep indeed.
He who tries to enter it with the kind of perception that
distinguishes hard and white, same and different, will drown there.

The meaning of ritual is great indeed.
He who tries to enter it with the uncouth and inane
 theories of the system-makers will perish there.

The meaning of ritual is lofty indeed.
He who tries to enter with the violent and arrogant ways of
those who despise common customs and consider
 themselves to be above other men
will meet his 
downfall there.

In the practical sense she illustrates the necessary skills of profoundly attentive listening and animated creative writing of unique ceremonies.

The third part of the book is, in my opinion, the best. It is her stories of her own experiences with people for whom she has been challenged to create ceremonies which have the power and effectiveness to change lives for the better. She calls these stories “vignettes”. 

Here are some first sentences.

“They had started to think, in desperation, they would just have to elope …”

“The bride had married twice in her teens. Two “boofheads” her dad called them …”

“They met through music, and liked each other immediately…”

“This is the heading of the email she circulates, “No more miracles,  I am preparing to die ….”

“Her mother suicides in the city at the age of 53, when she is a teenager…”

“Her twin girls died at birth …”

You get the idea. The book is about the creative challenge of the sensitive compassionate celebrant in the real world. 

by Dally Messenger III

The Title of the book is “A Celebrant’s Notebook”, writer and publisher, Anna Heriot 2018 (edited by Emily Buster). RRP $29.95 ISBN9780-646-98048-5 Hardback. Available from —  annaheriot.com.au – or it could be soon available from the Celebrants Centre – 1300 446 786

Civil Celebrant Ceremonies Enrich the Culture and preserve genuine values


Dear Attorney General
I have just finished watching the Sydney, Canberra and Melbourne Dawn Anzac services on television.
The woman surgeon who spoke at the Canberra Dawn Service and the other woman surgeon who spoke at the Melbourne Dawn Service movingly articulated the ideals in which they believed – such a contrast to Australian life as we currently observe it.

These Dawn Anzac ceremonies were top illustrations of how ceremonies are meant to preserve our values. The civil celebrant program for which you have responsibility was not established by your predecessors for occasional use, but was instigated to permeate Australian life on all its occasions to express, inter alia, the values we acknowledge as good. Every family , every community is enriched and stabilised by ceremonies and rituals great and small. This need in our culture has become more acute as church attendances have declined dramatically. In short, Mr Porter, we civil celebrants were established to build and enhance a culture, wherein, at ever level of society, our best ideals were expressed, transmitted and reinforced.

Unfortunately, your predecessors have let us and the country down badly. September 1st 2003 was a sad day for celebrants. On that day our whole purpose was changed from creating the best ceremonies for the Australian public to a preoccupation with a mass of legal trivia.

In brief, the market was super-flooded with so many badly educated celebrants that original ideals were lost, understanding of the role became almost non-existent, and pre-occupation with ceremonies for the whole spectrum of human life was replaced with celebrant organisations seeking members, celebrant “trainers” without ethics, and individuals grovelling to a public servant, who over-asserted her authority, and who demanded strict adherence to her destructive ideas.
It is important to run a good country – good governance as we call it. It is important to develop a culture which supports decency, values, and principles. Civil ceremonies are one of the main means we have to influence society for the better.

Until that tragic day in 2003, Australia led the western world on civil ceremonies. Civil celebrants were abolished on this day and jumbled up with an unwilling clergy — a situation in law you have the power to rectify.

Lest this letter get too long to read, and just incase you are interested in this program, I have two recommendations for starters.

Recommendations for starters–

1. That in the next meeting of your representatives with celebrants the topic of excessive numbers should not be passed over until action is planned to begin solving the problem. My recommendation is a full or part moratorium on appointments – and a waiting list. As a partial moratorium, say, one appointment for every four who leave the list. (This has been done before.)

2. Then once something concrete has been decided about no.1 above – the meeting should discuss purpose. Similarly the meeting should not be allowed to continue until they have progressed towards expanding and encouraging the range and quality of the ceremonies which our society so badly needs.

3. My impression of your current staff is that they are decent people without the malice we have experienced in the past. But you as Attorney- General should not tolerate in the marriage celebrant section staff any public servant who does not understand and support the purpose of the civil celebrant program and who sincerely wishes, according to the highest ideals of the public service, to progress it.

Mr Porter, there is nothing better you could be doing for Australia, for its lasting good, than using your influence to enrich the culture of this country. The civil celebrant program began this way, and continued this way for a long time. I defy you to name anything in your portfolio of responsibilities, which is more important than the spiritual life of the nation itself.
With sincere good wishes for success in your portfolio. Yours sincerely

Dally Messenger III STB, LCP, BEd, DipLib, ALAA

Currently: Principal of the International College of Celebrancy
Sometime Lecturer – Victoria University – Graduate Diploma in Arts (Celebrancy) Sometime Lecturer – Monash University – Graduate Diploma in Arts (Celebrancy) Foundation President and Administrator of the Australian Federation of Civil Celebrants (1994-1999).
Life Member – Celebrants and Celebrations Network
Sometime Life Member of the Australian Federation of Civil Celebrants (1996).
(Until they abolished Life Members !!)
Foundation President of the Australian Association of Funeral Celebrants
Foundation Secretary of the Association of Civil Marriage Celebrants of
Australia (1975-1980).
Author, Ceremonies and Celebrations (4 editions) – a handbook for celebrants.
Author, Murphy’s Law and the Pursuit of Happiness: A History of the Civil Celebrant Movement

PS. In case I am maligned. I consider legalities are important, and I have always advocated exactness in the recording of marriages, and practised it with exactness in my own celebrancy. But it is not the main game – ceremonies are!

Dally Messenger

This is the reply I received via our representative at the Meeting with the Attorney General’s representatives

As Yvonne Werner will testify, I raised your recent letter to the AG with the MCLS staff at the associations meeting here in Canberra yesterday. They said they had read it. Nonetheless I raised the point of oversupply & moratorium in front of all. They simply said that the law says that if a qualified fit & proper person applies the Registrar has to appoint. ‘A moratorium or a delay (4 to 1) in appointments will not happen.’  I tried. Hope you are well. Charles 😎👍🏼

My Note: In the past The Marriage Act and the Regulations, especially those which oppressed celebrants, were changed in the blink of an eye.

OPD 2017 -Friday May 27, Docklands Library

http://www.icccelebrantopd.com.au – 1300 446 786 (Yvonne) 

dallymessenger@mac.com   – 0411 717 303 (Dally

http://www.icccelebrantopd.com.au – 1300 446 786 (Yvonne) 

dallymessenger@mac.com –  Dally  – 0411 717 303

Civil Celebrant or Commonwealth Registered Celebrant?

Section 39 of The Marriage Act in Australia should be changed back so as to clearly distinguish clergy from Civil Celebrants. The destructive change in 2003 should be seen for what it is – an attempt to destroy the civil celebrant program and a wonderful uniquely Australian social innovation.

Students of the International College met at Circular Quay in Sydney

Students of the International College met at Circular Quay in Sydney

How very distressing to see these wounds opened up. But maybe opening this wound up it can be healed!

From the beginning we were “civil marriage celebrants” or “civil celebrants”. In 1977. When the dispute about what we should do emerged, the founding Attorney-General, Lionel Murphy, weighed in to publicly state (he was then a Judge of the High Court) that civil celebrants were to officiate at all the ceremonies the non-church world needed, in those days marriages, funeral and namings. We were to be seen as enriching the culture in every way we can.

In perhaps the most catastrophic day in the history of Civil Celebrancy, Sept 1 2003, a group of ignorant and/or malicious public servants in the Attorney-General’s Department ravaged the Civil Celebrant program by jumbling up civil celebrants with the fringe clergy. This was  a surprise change never envisaged, a change the clergy did not want, and we civil celebrants did not want.

We were stripped of our proud title of “Civil Celebrants” and cast into the dishonest and limited world of legal trivia and fear administration, which ignored 30 years of cultural and legal precedent. This recalcitrant act partly destroyed the vision of Lionel Murphy.

Since this catastrophic day I have been sick in the stomach regarding what passes for training in celebrancy.  We now have the ignorant setting syllabi for the new and untrained.

With due modesty may I ask members of this forum to read my book “Murphy’s Law and the Pursuit of Happiness: a History of the Civil Celebrant Movement”. It is well reviewed as “readable”. The history of celebrancy should be essential in every course of training. You can get the book from Yvonne on 1300 446 786. You can get it as an ebook on iBooks or at Amazon/Kindle at https://www.amazon.com/Murphys-Law-Pursuit-Happiness-Celebrant-ebook/dp/B00GSYEDFK?ie=UTF8&keywords=Murphy%27s%20Law%20and%20the%20Pursuit%20of%20Happiness&qid=1384990080&ref_=sr_1_1&sr=8-1

If participants have some accurate information, we can then have the facts which will lead to discussions, which will lead to progress in the form of information — and inspiration to be better celebrants.

Finally, may I ask all celebrants to campaign strongly with the Attorney-General to restore our proud title of “Civil Celebrants” and restore our original purpose of being top class ceremony providers, and to rescue us from the morass of legal trivia which now passes for celebrancy.

Dally Messenger

Celebrants Meeting with Public Service April14, 2016

Charles FoleyUnofficial report of Attorney-General’s Department – Celebrant Associations Meeting 

Thursday 14 April 2016 9 AM to 2 PM

Courtesy of Charles Foley – Humanist Network Representative

  1. Welcome and introductions

The chair welcomed attendees to the meeting between the Attorney-General’s Department and representatives from various celebrant associations.

Attendees:  There has been an internal re-organisation of the MLCS’ division and location.

Some of the staff of MLCS whose names I can remember from Attorney-General’s Dept

Greg , First Assistant Secretary.  Chair of meeting until about 1 PM so some agenda items were taken out of order.

Kelly Williams, Assistant Secretary,
Kim Williams, Principal Legal Officer,

Rohan Verco, Assistant Director, Marriage Law and Celebrants Section

Janine McFarlane, A/g Senior Legal Officer, Marriage Law and Celebrants Section

Rachel Trow, Project Officer, Marriage Law and Celebrants Section

Georgie Leahey-Butler, Project Officer, Marriage Law and Celebrants Section

  1. Action Items from last meeting

They handed out a list of 11 items that included removing the requirement that the Declaration of No Impediment be on reverse of Official Certificate of Marriage.  This will be added to list of potential future legislative amendments. There were various comments regarding the ongoing forms review.  Two items were completed by Attorney-General s email on 4/12/15.

  1. Cost recovery and regulator performance update

There was $35,000 left over from last year’s budget. It was projected that the $240 annual fee will stay the same on 1 July 2016 for 2016/17.  Updated procedures regarding payment were presented.  The Portal payment preference was discussed — with 30 days to pay the fee.  Celebrants should check the portal in early July.  The invoice becomes a receipt on the portal. Civil Celebrants are now at a steady number steady of 8,700. (926 Celebrants resigned.  A statistics sheet was handed out.)

  1. Annual Registration process for 2016-17

Exemption procedures were discussed.  The Notice of deregistration has been extended to 21 days.  The Annual fee will be pro rata for new celebrants. Last year 200 were deregistered and 6 went to Administrative Appeals Tribunal .  All the de-registrations were upheld by the Administrative Appeals Tribunal.
The four panel members (i.e. current providers) arrangement expires on 31 Dec 2016. 94% of celebrants completed OPD.  There were 303 disciplinary measures.  13 were de-registered for not completing OPD for several years.  Some were suspended for 3 months — their explanations were eventually accepted.  128 were cautioned. (some new celebrants in their first year got wrong advice or misunderstood the requirements …).
Future OPD.
Would the 5 hours continue? Should there be more options for the compulsory part?  Should we stay with same providers?  This will be considered in a discussion paper in May/June.  Marriage Law and Celebrants Section (MLCS) is looking at removing Marriage Regulation 37M(6) (OPD and Cert IV completed before 1/7/10).

  1. Communications – Newsletters/Fact sheets

There are 3 new fact sheets on the website (handed out) and in late April/early May a new Newsletter will be issued.

  1. Certificate IV changes

The New Vocational Education and Training (VET) Certificate IV in Celebrancy will be tougher. It will cost an estimated $4000. The four current marriage units will be folded into 3 units. The RTOs were shocked at this! It will mean that the competencies will be onerous and very much harder; there will be way too much to do. It will require far more assessment days.  They stated that this may be an “unreasonable barrier” to entry into Marriage Celebrancy.   It should be at Diploma level.

MLCS says the de-registered who have the current Certificate IV can still re-register under certain conditions.  MLCS staff say this is not in their hands, as they have no control over the VET process.  Mention was made by one participant regarding lack of input and hence the unsatisfactory outcome.  I raised point that if it is so difficult that many or most will not  get into celebrancy for the foreseeable future because of the cost, and the high hurdles. The regulator (MLCS) will have a numbers and cost recovery problem. Certificate IV is a legislative requirement of entry for Civil Celebrants. (I noted that the National Party has as a platform policy that all recognised religious celebrants be required to have a Certificate IV in Celebrancy to solemnise marriages.)

  1. Forms Review

MLCS went to all BD&Ms discussing inconsistencies.  Associations will be consulted about these inconsistencies in July/August.  The Bureau of Statistics has asked MLCS to discuss what information is actually needed on the forms.  Ms Kelly Williams is working on the Form Review.  The Attorney-General told a Senate Estimates session that amendments to the Marriage Act will be eventually available.

  1. Celebrant Portal update 

Celebrants are advised to regularly look at the portal and not just when paying once a year.   There was a slide show on the portal changes. “We are always trying to improve communication”.  ”Information in the Newsletter there to be read”.  “When invoices on portal are paid, then it will be automatically replaced by a receipt.”

  1. Marriage Regulations review

Regulations with “sunset” life expire on 17 April 2017.  New or updated regulations require consultation with associations as stakeholders, and will be asked for comments.

  1. Conflict of Interest (CoI) 

MLCS is working on a paper with 4 options:

  • Maintain current policy;
  • Have a narrow range of items that can be sold:
  • Have a wide range of items:
  • Scrap all requirements entirely.

All will be based on Case Law, AAT decisions (as advisory, as they do not set a precedence).  Problems may only come with a “high standard of misbehaviour” due to the Code of Practice calling for high standard of professionalism, so the discussion paper needs to balance/juggle many concepts — to be accountable and defendable in any Administrative Appeals Tribunal case/appeal.

  1. Workforce Development (CoCA to lead)

Yvonne Werner, representing CoCA, took us through history of numbers and the current statistical reality.  She painted a picture of declining expertise resulting in an increase of questions to Associations, BD&Ms and the MLCS.  She pointed out that there had been an 82% drop in expertise, lower expectations, loss of legal knowledge, and much lower incomes for all Civil Celebrants.  Her conclusion as that most celebrants are “volunteers” for the department after all the costs of doing this work are factored in.

MLCS countered with statistics from a sample of civil celebrants who had an average term of staying for 8 years, and had an average age of 42.

  1. Update on Complaints/AAT cases/Prosecutions

There had been 30 complaints, mostly from celebrants about other celebrants, and mostly about conflict of interest.  One notorious prosecution was held in the Brisbane Magistrates Court regarding an ex-celebrant husband/wife team on an immigration “Contrived Marriage” case.  There were 5 applications to the AAT with 4 resolved by celebrants withdrawing after discussions (Conciliation? Mediation?). One applied out of time (3 month limit) so the Administrative Appeals Tribunal refused to hear it and it was dissolved.  There are no criminal proceedings against Celebrants at present.

Charles Foley

Humanist Celebrant Network Representative to Attorney General’s Department.

OPD at Docklands Library May 27, 2016

Ongoing Professional Development

Dally Messenger and Yvonne Werner

– Docklands Library* (The Dock)
Friday May 27, 2016 – – 9.30am-12.30pm
Poetry – the Power of Words in the Marriage Ceremony & 1.30pm-3.30pm Compulsory Legal Topic

Dear Friend


Then seek not sweet, the “if” and “why”
I love you now until I die
For I must love, because I live,
And Life in me is what you give.”

The main purpose of ceremony is serious communication. We want to do this in a powerful way. The main way we communicate is with words. “Poetry”, according to Matthew Arnold, “is the best words in the best order” . So why would we ever use mediocre words in any order?

ICC Diplomas

Are you interested in deepening
your knowledge of celebrancy?

We are the best on the planet!

It costs you nothing to try us out.

(Look for the Star on the Home page (http//:iccdiplomas.com))

The Full National OPD Schedule (http://www.icccelebrantopd.com.au)
Place: **Docklands Library- 107 Victoria Harbour Promenade, Docklands
Car: Parking in Woolworths off Bourke St, just past Merchant St (buy stuff for parking discount).
Trams: 48 and 11 take you to the door. (Last stop on the line.)
Train: to Southern Cross Station, then catch the free tram (11 or 48) down Collins St to the Docklands Library.
Library Coffee Shop available for breaks.
Lunch is supplied — at Vintam’s Bakery, 109  /111 Merchant St, Docklands.
By phone to Yvonne Werner at 1300 446 786 — Email us
Our websites – Portal – www.celebrancy.com

OPD 2016 – Friday May 27, 2016 -9.30am-3.30pm


This revised information comes to you once only
Ongoing Professional Development
International College of Celebrancy
Dally Messenger and Yvonne Werner – Docklands Library*
Friday May 27, 2016 -9.30am-12.30pm, 1.30-3.30pm
Poetry- the Power of Words
& Compulsory Legal
Dear [first name,fallback=Friend]
Then seek not sweet, the “if” and “why”
I love you now until I die
For I must love, because I live,
And Life in me is what you give.”
The main purpose of ceremony is serious communication. We want to do this in a powerful way. The main way we communicate is with words. “Poetry”, according to Matthew Arnold, “is the best words in the best order” . So why would we ever use mediocre words in any order?
ICC DIPLOMAS (http://iccdiplomas.com)
Are you interested in deepening
your knowledge of celebrancy?
We are the best on the planet!
It costs you nothing to try us out.
(Look for the Star on the Home page (http//iccdiplomas.com))
The Full National OPD Schedule (http://www.icccelebrantopd.com.au)
*Docklands Library- 107 Victoria Harbour Promenade, Docklands
Car: Parking in Woolworths off Bourke St, just past Merchant St (buy stuff for parking discount).
Trams: 48 and 11 take you to the door. (Last stop on the line.)
Train: to Southern Cross Station, then catch the free tram (11 or 48),
down Collins St to the Library.
Coffee shop within the Library itself — for breaks!
We supply lunch at Vintam’s Bakery, 109/111 Merchant St, Docklands.
By phone to Yvonne Werner at 1300 446 786 — Email us (mailto:dallymessenger@mac.com, opdregister@icccelebrantopd.com.au)
Our websites – Portal – (http://www.celebrancy.com)celebrancy.com (http://celebrancy.com)
© [2015] International College of Celebrancy (http://www.celebrancy.com)
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Civil Celebrant Program under Threat

This article of mine was published in the Australian Humanist – Summer 2015. Since Phillip Ruddock made his statement on QandAClive Palmer has come up with a plan that sounds very much the same. Here is the full text of my article.


The unique Australian Civil Celebrant Program was and is a great social and political initiative. For over forty years it has enabled secular humanists to free themselves from religious connections. Unfortunately, in the last ten years this program has been partially destroyed, and certainly greatly diminished by hostile (religious?) public servants and politicians.

The very existence of the civil celebrant is now is under serious threat. It is close to possible annihilation. If the enemies of secularism do succeed in finishing it off, it will go without bang or whimper – ceasing to exist while still under the radar.

This possible death sentence was casually dropped in the ABCs “Q and A” program some weeks ago. In answer to a question, the panellist, Phillip Ruddock QC, MP stated, as an aside, that if gay marriage was approved by the Australian parliament “perhaps we should adopt the French model for all marriages.” The remark went unnoticed.

The “French model” basically means that there is a central office, like the 1973 Sydney Registry Office, wherein a couple records their marriage in a computer or a book, and goes away with a receipt.(1)

Mr Ruddock did point out that if anyone, perchance, wished to have a ceremony thereafter, they could proceed with their receipt to “a church or similar venue” and have one.

Mr Ruddock seemed to have some authority from the federal Liberal cabinet (then under Tony Abbott) to advise on the Marriage Act. So I wrote to Mr Ruddock. I sought to dissuade him from this path.(2) Space does not allow me to repeat the full letter here but in summary I pointed out:-

  1. That secular people (Humanists) have emotional, psychological, social, and artistic needs and feelings just as everyone else does. Therefore, we need ceremony just as much as our religious forbears did or our religious contemporaries do.
  1. That the civil celebrant program had almost embedded itself in the Australian secular psyche but, just as it was having substantial success, in 2003 it was cut off at the knees.
  2. Since 2003 the civil celebrant program has been seriously weakened by:-
  • the appointment of 9000 unnecessary celebrants (3)
  • the encouragement of dodgy “trainers”, who knew nothing and taught even less (4)

(c) The legal transference of appointment and administrative power from the federal Attorney-General to a public servant. (5)

(d) the diversion of the program from ceremony quality to an intensive preoccupation with legal trivia – most of which was erroneous, unimportant, and dishonest.

(e) The loss of our honoured title as Civil Marriage Celebrant. In 2003 we became jumbled up with the clergy of small churches, given the same title as them (Commonwealth Authorised Marriage Celebrants), and, after protest, were given the sub title “those who choose to do civil ceremonies”.

In short I told Mr Ruddock that I was aware that many people would not look on a celebrant as a sufficiently desirable ceremony provider, once a couple were told they were legally married. Celebrants then need not be authorised. A few couples would probably do what some secular couples do now when they want formal dignity in their ceremony — go to the church!

Attorney-General and High Court Justice Lionel Murphy -(First Humanist of the Year), who founded the Civil Celebrant program believed that a secular person in our society was equal in dignity to a religious person. That equal dignity and substance in ceremonies was the yardstick which would clarify this in the mind of every citizen.

He believed that our culture was so rich in music, literature, stories, symbolism and all the components of ceremony that we could develop an idealistic value filled, identity confirming secular/humanist culture which would enrich the life of every Australian.


  • Readers should note carefully that the French Model is not like the United States or New Zealand model. In those jurisdictions you are given a “licence” to have ceremony – but you are not married until you have that ceremony.
  • Anyone who wishes to read my full letter to Mr Ruddock can find it here – https://iccdiplomas.com/2015/07/12/the-french-model-mr-ruddock/
  • 11,000 altogether when 2000 celebrants would be more than enough for the country.
  • Now well documented by the Age and the ABC e.g. (Victorian Government Launches Crackdown on ‘dodgy’ Training Providers, ABC News Melbourne, 29-6-2015 and so many other reports) .
  • Section 39 of the Marriage Act 1961 used to be a simple provision, empowering the Attorney-General to appoint celebrants. Now this Section is overloaded with paragraph after paragraph regarding the “Powers of the Registrar”. These provisions should never have found their way into the Marriage Act. At most they should have been internal protocols of the Department.

Dally Messenger III was appointed a celebrant in 1974. He is the Principal of the International College of Celebrancy, and is the author of the book, Murphy’s Law and the Pursuit of Happiness: A History of the Civil Celebrant Movement




Celebrants: The Wedding Vows as a Compact


Hi, My name is Dally Messenger
I ‘ve been a Civil Marriage Celebrant for 40 years.
This is about writing your own vows for your marriage. ceremony.Vows as compact.

This is possible now since the Australian Attorney General Lionel Murphy founded Civil Celebrants in 1973 – to bring dignity into the lives of non-church people through ceremonies of meaning and substance. In those days the only alternative to a church ceremony was a very anemic and humiliating “so-called” ceremony in a registry office.

So Murphy, in a revolutionary way, established the right of people to create their own marriage ceremony, which included the composition of that most important part of that ceremony – the vows. Instead of vows coming from somewhere else – God, the Church, the Government, — Murphy’s dream was that they would come from the experienced heart – from you.

But how do you do this?
The best approach I can suggest to you is a way  to carefully make a compact. That is, after all, what marriage is – compact. (Don’t like the word – contract). My conviction on this insight came from a woman commentator on the BBC. She criticised the vows in the Church of England wedding ceremony because it was not a compact.
The ceremony should be the roadmap for the marriage.Often it was not a sincere agreement.

It is important that you give this compact — the words mean “a coming together to make peace”– expressed in your vows to each other – very serious thought.

Now what a well trained celebrant (or relationship educator in some cases) – will suggest to you, and help you put into good words, is this compact.

How do you go about this?
First, for an hour or so, each of you should go your separate ways!
You should sit down in a corner somewhere with a writing pad or clipboard, or at a desk ,or at the keyboard, and think carefully – then compile a shopping list of what you want the other person to promise you – your wish list of promises.

You might, for example, want you partner to:-

be gentle with criticism –
avoid sulkiness
refuse to stonewall –
not to let anything fester
listen sensitively
listen without trying to solve the problem
be totally loyal and faithful
Promise to give you space.
encourage fun and
to maintain a sense of humour.

Bettina Arndt interviewed 100 couples. 80 % were not happy because one party or the other denied the partner physical intimacy. This is such a distressing finding.
So you may wish to promise the other to do you best – that is what all vows are anyway – it is about attitude really – emotional, spiritual, and physical intimacy.

Then you must come together and – forgive the word – marry your lists!

Sometimes this a tad confronting. If you cannot achieve this then you really should think twice about getting married.

The compact is a road map to a happy life. No agreed roadmap should contain  unresolved conflicts. Seek reputable marriage preparation counselling.

Relationships are difficult – But they promise the greatest happiness life can give. Here is one example from my celebrant experience (or close to it!)

I, John,
thank you, Mary, for trusting me,
and claiming me as your closest friend.
As far as I am able
I promise to treat you respectfully,
and speak to you respectfully, at all times.
I will be gentle and positive
with any criticism I consider I have to express
I will try never to cut you off,
or stonewall you in difficult moments.
I will speak frankly, but softly,
rather than let any resentment fester.
I ask you to listen to me when I need to talk,
and I promise to listen to you
when you need me as your listening friend.
I promise to be loyal and faithful to you
I promise to give you your space, when you need it
and I ask the same of you.
I will happily sustain the fun, and humour
we have experienced in our relationship.
I promise to do my best, every day,
to encourage a marriage
 characterised by
emotional, spiritual,
and physical intimacy.
Therefore, I John, call upon the persons here present,
to witness, that I take you Mary, to be my lawful wife.


© D.Messenger – permission given to brides and grooms to use, adapt in whole or in part in a marriage ceremony, without acknowledgment.
This extract is part of the International College of Celebrancy Wedding Diploma. No permission is given to republish without my permission on the internet or in any publication and certainly not without acknowledgement. Permission will be readily given for bona fide use (I have given several celebrants permission to send/give to clients .

The French Model: Mr Ruddock

Tuesday, 30 June 2015

The Hon Philip Ruddock, Parliament House, CANBERRA. ACT 2600

Dear Mr Ruddock,

Re same-sex and heterosexual marriage
The French Model

Since the dawn of history, marriage has transformed strangers into relatives, binding families and societies together.

No union is more profound than marriage, for it embodies the highest ideals of love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice, and family.   In forming a marital union, two people become something greater than once they were.
Marriage is a keystone of our social order.

Justice Anthony Kennedy


Phillip Ruddock

I am writing to seek to persuade you to desist from considering the “French Model” as blueprint for the administration of civil marriage in Australia. I would seek to persuade you to go completely the other way. The “French Model” would be a terrible step backwards.

You may be astounded to know that I consider you to be the best Attorney-General we have had in recent years. I say this despite the fact that in “olden times” you attacked me in the Parliament (MP Lashes “Pagan Rites”, Tony O’Leary, Melbourne Sun, 18-8-1978). RuddockAttacksCMCs

But when  you became Attorney-General my colleagues and I observed how you carried out your desk work conscientiously – detailed attention to your responsibilities, from which we all benefitted. We also noted with appreciation how you attempted to give civil celebrants some support and encouragement. I recall your attempt to give us some recognition with a certificate signed by yourself as Attorney-General, a plan which was completely and utterly sabotaged by the then relevant officers of the public service.

What I most appreciated was when you supported me in teaching ceremony topics in the original years of Ongoing Professional Development (OPD). You read my letter, you agreed with the contents and you acted on it. We both did a good thing there. Those original OPD topics set a great tone and direction in the celebrant program before that same ignorant group of public servants (non-celebrants, of course) sabotaged that too. So in the slipstream of those events, the informed celebrants of that era have good feelings towards you.

It was you personally, who early in 2007, pointed out that it was OK for same sex couples to be recorded in a Register but “not to have a ceremony”. (Ceremony not for Gays, says Ruddock, Kenneth Nguyen, The Age, Feb 8-2007) You strongly implied that it is ceremony that confers dignity – and you did not think that same-sex couples were entitled to such dignity at that stage of history.8-AgeRuddockCer2

Mr Ruddock, you do see what the “French Model” does. Same sex or straight couples in marriage are all reduced to non-ceremony status. Instead of uplifting all persons to a level of dignity and status, such as is conferred by a ceremony, all parties are reduced to “just record it in a book” status.

It is all right to say, in an off-hand way such as you did on the ABC’s Q and A that “they can go to a church later and have a ceremony. if they want to” but how many will do that now that church allegiance has declined so dramatically?

And where do secular people go “if they want to”? To civil celebrants? When they are already legally married?

Let me tell you what has happened under your successors – the Attorney-Generals who have followed you.

Take numbers of celebrants. Whereas 1600 were enough for Australia up to 2003, and 2000 would have been more than enough, and 2500 would have been excessive, your successors appointed 11,000 !!! (They have got the numbers down a bit by charging money but the scene is still so very diluted it is harmful.)

The results of this monstrous maladministration were predictable: good celebrants resigned in disgust, the excessive competition led to price-cutting wars, standards were forced down, cheap and demeaning advertising abounded, gimmickry flourished, kitsch obliterated taste, doggerel drowned classic poetry — status and dignity were lost.

Many Registered Training Organisations are the disgrace of Australian Education (Victorian Government launches crackdown on ‘dodgy’ training providers, ABC News Melbourne, 29-6-2015 and so many other reports) , Those RTOs jumped on to the exploitation bandwagon by adding celebrancy to their list, and taking their lead from the same wretched public servants to whom I referred,  only taught “legal trivia” – much of it, not only unimportant, but erroneous. One non-celebrant taught hundreds of other non-celebrants how to be celebrants for over six years! Your successors, despite many warnings from concerned celebrants and citizens, ignored this exploitation for over a decade.

The celebrancy topics you and I agreed on – music, poetry, prose, symbolism, choreography, story telling, personal stories, and myth did not even get a look in. The personal, social and cultural value of ceremony did not get past their purposely glassed over eyes. Creative ceremonial writing, competent ceremonial public speaking, use of PA systems, mentoring of new celebrants by competent and successful celebrants in the field, became of no consequence. In short, your successors, by their ignorance and limited vision, have all but destroyed us.

And then we come to values. The cheap shot at civil celebrants is that we lack “Christian” values. Actually we don’t. Secular and religious persons in Australia share most good values. Be that as it may, ceremonies are one of the main ways which express, transmit and reinforce values. As an aware celebrant (I hope) I am very conscious of this great advantage to our society. Personally created ceremonies, such as civil celebrants were established to provide, do this very well.  But take us to the “French model” and the culture will lose one of the main ways values are preserved, strengthened and carried forward.

And now we come to the arts. And I notice that the current Attorney-General is a lover of poetry and is also Minister for the Arts. One would think …..

Be that as it may, ceremonies are the bridge between the arts and the people. For example, for many ordinary people ceremonies are the only occasion that they hear the poets. In the ceremonies at which I have officiated  I have either heard or read the poetry of William Shakespeare, Bryce Courtenay, Percy Bysshe Shelley, Kahlil Gibran, Rabindranath Tagore, Banjo Paterson, Pam Ayres, Christina Rossetti, Robert Burns, Christopher Brennan, Jean Bollen, Rupert Brooke, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Christopher Marlowe, e.e. cummings. Michael Leunig, Thomas Davidson, John Donne, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Kate Fisher, M.D.Hughes, D.H. Lawrence, Gloria Matthew, Rod McKuen, John Milton, J.H.Newman, Oodgeroo Noonuccal, Liana Preston, James Whitcomb Reilly, Jamie Samms, Canon Henry Scott-Holland , Sir Phillip Sidney, Robert Louis Stevenson, Dylan Thomas, Mark Twain and Leonard Cohen.

Most of these poems are “value packed” and are classic. They are understandable at the first reading, and when heard for the first time. I have had up to nine readers of poetry in a ceremony, trained and practised in a rehearsal, who, on the day of the wedding, held the guests spellbound.

In a civil ceremony we also often connect with with our society’s composers and musicians, and directly and indirectly with whole range of other artists – hairdressers, dressmakers, photographers and many more. Strip ceremony out of the culture in the “French model” and you lose all this.

The classic basic text used in many university settings which explores ceremony in depth is the famous research of the anthropologist, Arnold Van Gennep. He wrote the book translated as The Rites of Passage.  Inter alia, van Gennep observed that participants in prepared ceremonies of substance were changed in themselves. They thought about themselves differently, others thought about them differently (so evident in a marriage ceremony). There are similar wonderful insights into the worth of secular/civil ceremony in the works of Joseph Campbell, Ronald Grimes, David Oldfield (USA!), Margaret Mead, Alain de Botton, Robert Fulford, Mircia Eliade and Louise Mahdi. These inspiring writers could be part of every celebrant training program.

It gets worse – the lost possibilities! In the current mess, and given the rate of youth suicide, the adolescent ceremony which Australia most needs, and which I broached with you and your successors, receives no mention – not even on the radar.

Whereas competent celebrants could give much more dignity to individual citizenship ceremonies, as we then proposed, the issue is dead. You recall from your time as Minister for Immigration how citizenship is not attained until the person takes the pledge in a ceremony. Celebrants could make an enriching contribution here. A good cultural scene could be further improved with the stroke of an enlightened pen.

In the funeral field, most Funeral Directors, by effectively controlling the fees paid to celebrants, force down standards. The Funeral Directors keep the fees low, thus forcing many celebrants with high ideals out of the vocation. Celebrants are the most exploited people in the funeral industry. The ACCC is seen to support Funeral Directors in their collusion (legal or illegal) to control celebrant fees. They, being big business, have their lobbyists, employed to progress their money making ambitions. We have no champion.

Before the tsunami of numbers, and the exploitation by the so-called “educators” we were on the verge of substantial success with all this. Living as we do in a mainly a secular society, we had (and still have) the opportunity of enriching lives with an acceptable and elevated secular culture. We could have done so much more for this country with just a little leadership, support and encouragement. We have had the opposite.

And may I beg you finally – whatever you may think of my views and opinions – please may I not be characterised as writing to you out of self interest.. I am 77 years of age. I am 80% retired. I am not “after business”. I believe I am like you. I am out to better my world and my country.

For a long while Australia led the world in civil celebrancy. It still could – with your influential help.

With best personal wishes,

Dally Messenger III

Source of Information: The French Model and Ruddock