Celebrants: Excessive number of civil celebrant appointments is totally destructive.

Saturday, 12 October 2019

Memo: To Public Servants and Associations

Meeting on October 28th, 2019. 

Re the Number of Celebrants and
the sustained deluging of the market.

Dear Public Servants and Associations,

I am still alarmed that no discussion seems to be allowed on the one and the most important problem which is so destructive of the celebrant program – that of excessive numbers.

I keep my ear to the ground and talk to celebrants and the general public all the time.  There are a few quite wonderful celebrants, who by dint of skilled advertising on the internet and good reputation, manage to gain enough ceremonies to earn a part time income. There are a few  celebrants who are so well off financially that they are able spend a great deal of money to hire internet skills.  

The majority of celebrants, however, struggle to gain one or two ceremonies a year and when they do, through lack of practice, they forget the skillset needed and the procedures required. The public suffers from their lack of ceremonial expertise.

I am impelled to repeat the points I have made before. There are so many bad effects of these excessive numbers. 

  • Celebrants who used to be involved have lost interest; the energy they used to give to celebrancy, now goes to other activities.
  • All the work done with Ongoing Professional Development is mostly wasted because it is not applied. And by the time it might be applied it is forgotten.
  • In some areas over-competition has become really intense. Degrading and false claims in advertising abound. As a result we have lost status and dignity in the community.
  • Celebrants who outbid each other in price for ceremonies, find ways to lower standards. They find it impossible to put their time in to plan and execute a ceremony really well. These celebrants find it is not financially worthwhile to observe the high standards we have developed over many years, if they are not paid reasonably. 
  • Celebrants are thus spread too thin to develop intellectual, political and media leadership. 
  • Some celebrants have developed demeaning “gimmicks” to “get business”.
  • In general, celebrants have lost esteem in the eyes of the general public. I don’t see them looked to now for a range of other personal ceremonies (namings, adolescence, dedication of houses, industry transitions etc.). I don’t see them looked to as skilled ceremonialists for public ceremonies such as Anzac Day, or university and school graduations, building openings and the like. 
    • The good governance reputation of the Attorney-General and the Department, i.e. you, the public service, have been diminished. (Your over-concentration on legal trivia means that you are not concentrating your energies on the essence of the program. The people who pay your salary are only interested in the quality of the ceremony – after the event it is the only thing they discuss.)

THE NUMBERS: This is how I see it.
Before 2003, 1600 celebrants adequately catered for the whole of Australia. 2000 maybe would have been OK.
2500 would have been excessive.
Your destructive predecessors, dear public servants, against all advice, at that time appointed 11,000 !!
A crude bureaucratic fee and compulsory repetition OPD has forced out some wonderful celebrants. Admittedly it has reduced the numbers to 8,500 – still 6,500 too many.
Now, the influx of new celebrants equals or surpasses the ones who are resigning or dying. So we are stuck at this very destructive figure of 8,500.

If you are not insisting that this issue be discussed at your coming meeting, you are not speaking truth to power, and you are wasting each other’s money and time. 

YOUR QUESTION: What would I do?

  • 1. Place a moratorium on all appointments for say 5 years or so. (It was done before.) 
  • Make it clear that any “recognised” qualification only entitles people to apply to be a celebrant. Celebrants  are then only appointed through an independent vetting, selecting and interviewing process, according to balanced need.

(I wish I would have been a public servant — what a wonderful opportunity you have to do something good for the country.)

Respectfully yours with the utmost goodwill, 

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).

Sometime Life Member of the Australian Federation of Civil Celebrants (1996). 

(Until they abolished Life Members !!)

Life Member – Celebrants and Celebrations Network

Foundation President of the Australian Association of Funeral Celebrants (1978).

Foundation Secretary of the Association of Civil Marriage Celebrants of

Australia (1975-1980).

Author, Ceremonies and Celebrations (4 editions) – a handbook for celebrants.

Murphy’s Law and the Pursuit of Happiness: A History of the Civil Celebrant Movement




Mal Abrahamsen

Fellow I.M.A. : Life Member A.I.S.P. Govt. Authorised Marriage Celebrant 🤵
9 MIDDLE ST HADFIELD (nr Glenroy) 3046 
Phone:  (03) 9323 5477  or  Mob 0414 317 340

Excellent, bravo. Good onya Dally. Thank you for the wonderful work you do. 

Yes I totally agree and concur etc. etc.

Yes I too advertise on the web but it seems the costs far outweigh the benefit (if any) 

I rarely receive an inquiry, 

There are many cut price operators e.g. all done in 15 minutes.
I have conducted well over 300 marriages, most are referrals from previous clients.

I agree wholeheartedly that there are too many celebrants. The professional and high standing of Celebrants is suffering via the cheap gougers. 

Cheap prices – Cheap service and sometimes non legal marriages due to the inexperience of the Celebrant. AND a beautiful wedding does not happen.

Tougher licensing is required to avoid the constant erosion of the profile of good Professional Celebrants.  I have attended many OPDs where I have heard some ridiculous questions from attendees that are authorised Celebrants , but obviously have no idea and shouldn’t be seeking to conduct Weddings  until they pass an examination of some substance.  Being a member of a recognised Celebrant association should be compulsory, always a good idea for those that take their services seriously, keeping up to date and want to give their best. Have I been checked… ?

Yes over 11 years ago  I conducted 25 weddings as a trainee, supervised by one of the best Celebrants in Melbourne before I obtained my ‘licence’ to do so.

It is about time that the AG’s department started to take notice of the damage they are creating.

Mal Abrahamsen. Melbourne.

Denise L. Clair

Continue the quest, Dally! You will continue to make a difference.


Brian McInerney – Pioneer Funeral Celebrant

Brian McInerney

Brian McInerney: Pioneer Funeral Celebrant

Brian McInerney died on December 22nd, 2014

This heart was woven of human joys and cares,
Washed marvellously with sorrow,
swift to mirth.

The years had given him  kindness.
Dawn was his,
And sunset,
and the colours of the earth.

He had seen movement,
and heard music;
known Slumber and waking;
gone proudly friended;
Felt the quick stir of wonder;
sat alone;

Touched flowers and furs and cheeks.
All this is ended.
(slightly adapted from Rupert Brooke)

Brian McInerney was a man who could read, write and speak. He was a man of many parts but here I just want to talk about him as a funeral celebrant.

I first met him in 1972 when he was executive producer of English language radio programs for the ABC’s Radio Australia.The pressure of the job was affecting his health, so he resigned from the ABC in 1975.

The recently created marriage celebrant program established by the Attorney General Lionel Murphy had been enthusiastically received by the general public.

Marriages are very happy occasions and the original celebrants enjoyed their task immensely – but inevitably there came the time when clients of celebrants required non-church funerals. The marriage celebrant community, consonant with the culture of the times, vehemently rejected the idea of officiating at secular funerals. So we could fill the need, Murphy (then a Justice of the High Court) urged me and others to go out into the “highways and byways” and find non-marriage celebrants to respond to the need.

Mr “Golden Voice” from the ABC, as Brian Mcinerney was known, became one of the first funeral celebrants. He stepped into this totally new field as if he had done it all his life. He was such a natural. Brian was probably the most well read, best self-educated person I have ever met. Family members told me that he had read the complete works of Dickens before he turned fifteen years of age. In the days before Google and the internet, Brian was the “go to” person if you had a line or quote from a poem and you needed to know the source.

Today’s readers will find it difficult to comprehend that there was no such thing as a non-church funeral in the mid 70s. McInerney was a pioneer who established the new freedom and who set the new standard. For the first time in Western cultural history ordinary people were farewelled in a funeral ceremony which was framed by appropriate and carefully selected poetry, prose, music, symbolism, myths, and stories. The life of the person was recorded, their achievements recognised, and their character and personality described in a eulogy which set their special place in family and community history.

Brian, more than any of us, gained the reputation of writing eulogies for ordinary people which bordered on the masterful. The connections to history,  the allusions to literature, were skilfully inserted with animation and colour.

A new and exciting phenomenon, celebrants were, at this time, widely reported in the media. Brian Mcinerney was often featured. One famous account relates the funeral of the father of the family who evoked the story of the Knight in Chaucer’s “Canterbury Tales”. Brian centred his eulogy around the story of the Knight and in doing so uplifted the spirits of everyone who attended the funeral. What he didn’t know was that one of the man’s children had arrived from the USA on the morning of ceremony. This young woman was a lecturer in 14th Century English Literature at Harvard University. Expecting a “nothing” funeral, she had the thrill of hearing her father eulogised in terms of the Knight.

Up to 1995 or so funeral celebrants throughout Melbourne were often called on to create funerals for the soldiers who had survived World War II. At our meetings and seminars, Brian would inspire his fellow celebrants with the poetry of Rupert Brooke, Siegfried Sassoon and Wilfred Owen. When Brian began to recite –

“Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,
Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge …”

we knew, in the vividness of our imagination, we were going to be transported to the horror of war. Thus inspired by Brian, we composed funerals for those old soldiers which did them proud.

The end of the eighties /early nineties was a time of high inflation in Australia. Brian and his wife Tina had three young children and were feeling the pinch financially. He needed to increase his income and so asked the funeral directors with whom he worked to give him a rise in fees. He had come to believe that the people he knew in the funeral industry were his personal friends and collaborators. They would understand his position and recognise his contribution. But at this request the smiles went off their faces. He learned later from one of them that they had rung around and decided to “put him in his place”. All funeral work suddenly ceased.

Brian was deeply hurt and disillusioned. To survive he had to capitulate. I don’t think he ever recovered his faith in human nature after that. To maintain his income with what had become a pittance of a fee, he had to take on more funerals and lower his standards – a decision which always cuts deep into the heart of the true professional. His health slowly deteriorated and he gradually withdrew from funeral celebrancy. But in his first twenty years of work he had set a benchmark standard for secular people in western society. The thousands of written records which survive his pen will be the joy of family genealogists and historians for centuries to come.

(Brian is survived by his wife Tina, his daughter from his first marriage, Jane, his stepdaughter Amy, his son Michael and daughter Sophie. A commemoration ceremony will be held for him on February 8.)

Brian McInerney recites the World War 1 Wilfred Owen Poem – Dulce et Decorum est.
Dulce et Decorum est. Explanation of the text

Dulce et Decorum est – the Poem

The Lionel Murphy Civil Celebrant – A Fit and Proper Person – Suzanne Ingleton


Is the founder of the Civil Celebrant Program. Most celebrants – especially the excessive numbers since the tragic downgrading of 2003 – have never heard of him – or his ideals of professionalism and quality.MLATPOH_

What should happen – Lionel Murphy and his work should be known and honoured. Those who drink the water, should remember those who dug the well. His achievements should be the subject of a three hour OPD (at least).

No unaccountable officer or even an accountable officer should have the power to destroy people’s lives by making such a decision about a person, or branding a person in such a way.
In the Age of the Internet this tag of not “fit and proper” on a person’s reputation is like a criminal record. Used in a cavalier way by a public servant, I have seen it almost destroy one person’s life. The decision about this celebrant is still on the internet!

What should happen – Applications to become a celebrant should simply be accepted or rejected without such branding. Reasons should be given for such a rejection and an appeal process, which an ordinary person can afford, should be part of the process. Better still, as has often been proposed, a balanced committee should decide how many celebrants are needed to provide a balance in a natural geographical area. Would be celebrants should apply, be shortlisted in the usual manner by an independent person, and the best applicants should be chosen.

Abuse of power by the public service in the Attorney-General’s Department

Take the police – as I write this there are 61 police officers with charges against them in Victoria. In other words, people who have legal powers, as individuals, should be accountable. The police have the OPI – Office of Police Integrity – to check on the abuse of power – the public service has no one to check on them. (The ombudsman and the AAP have in a very restricted number of cases. The ombudsman only intervenes if it is in the previous 12 months, and the AAP is very expensive (legal representation). It is no use complaining to the Minister because the letter usually goes straight through to the public servant one is complaining about !
So where can the celebrant or citizen turn for redress when such power is abused? To declare a person, not “fit and proper” should not be allowed except under the signature of the Minister and then in only very serious circumstances.

Suzanne Ingleton – a case of abuse by the Attorney-General’s Department

In the case of Suzanne Ingleton – a person declared not “fit and proper” by the Registrar of Marriages – the Administrative Appeals Tribunal upbraided the Registrar for

– signing a false affidavit

– interpreting the law wrongly

– acting “ultra vires”

– disrespect for the tribunal

– making a groundless decision etc

–   -no action was ever taken ! Ms Ingleton is still on the internet as being accused.

A Valid Marriage -Yes or No?

Was this older civil Marriage celebrant ignorant of the Marriage Act?

I’ve just witnessed (on video) a recent country wedding conducted by a civil celebrant. What astounded me was that the celebrant:
a. did not state they were legally authorised to conduct the marriage
b. the Monitum was not spoken
c. neither party to the marriage said the compulsory legal vow

This celebrant was authorised more than 20 years ago, according to the AGD register of civil celebrants so they’ve been around long enough to know better, or are there different rules for the “elders” amongst our ranks. I’m very curious to hear others’ opinions.
(signed by friend)

My reply regarding valid marriages

I suppose I’d be classed as an elder.
You may not have known that we “older” celebrants were given a book of legal interpretations from 1995. It was a book which had been valid since 1973. We also had access to GOOD advice – The public servants in charge of the downgrading of celebrancy in 2003 defied the precedents of 30 years of interpretation. Hence they made a lot of mistakes and invented lot of stuff which you may think is “correct”- 

Since the downgrading we have had four revisions –
Explanatory notes 1,
Explanatory Notes 2,
When Words are not enough. 3.

And now the latest
“Guidelines for celebrants” 4
which, the first time I opened it, I saw a serious error (checked by my lawyer friends). (Note that the Department have now nearly come back to square one i.e 1973 – 1995).

For example, the interpretation for vows for thirty years was “as long as the words of the vows conveyed to those present that the couple were taking each other in marriage”.

For example, on the business of names – when you boil it down anyone can be any name they seriously choose to be. God knows how much unnecessary pain the recent erroneous interpretations have caused people.

I wrote this article for the AFCC magazine – some really ignorant people made disparaging remarks about it – but check it out – it is important – and it is correct.
Finally, may I say that I hereby cast a pox on anyone who says I am not exact with the law or that I do not advocate it in my training courses. We are all bound by the same GENUINE rules of interpretation; we are not bound by the changing legal whims of public servants who have never been celebrants.
A lot more could be said –
etc etc
PS. Certain people in the celebrant political world, for the basest of motives, have been trying for some years, to drive a wedge between “old” and “new” celebrants -(the AFCC recently tried to get rid of Life Members!!) please don’t fall for it – we are all in this wonderful opportunity together.