Beer and Other Sins: A wedding without a church at McLaren Vale

Long after the vows had been made and the rings exchanged, the sun had set and the spring air turned crisp. At the bottom of the olive grove, somewhere on the edge of McLaren Vale, the strings of fairy lights glowed and the music cut the silence.

Of the 100 or so people there, some had travelled from as far as Canada and Papua New Guinea to be at the ceremony. Everyone had been drinking steadily since two in the afternoon – this was a wedding after all – and now the band was really getting going.

The whole thing had been held as far away from a church as possible, but some traditions remained. The groom cleaned up nicely in a simple black suit with a black tie. The bride had worn a white wedding dress with a short train which she had taken to carrying in her hands after the ceremony to keep it out of the dirt. There was no hope of that once the music started. The couple’s first dance was to Daydreamer by Adele sung by a close personal friend. It was their moment, slow and pretty, but it was a few songs later, when the tarantella played, that the real party started.

The themes of the day had been adventure, travel and drink. What started as a slow and off-balance rhythm built into something wild and loose as the coarse voice of the Irish lead singer belted out lyrics. At the climax, at the moment where the music worked itself into a frenzy, the patch of dirt which had become a dance floor was a mass of moving bodies kicking up dust.

“It helps,” one of the wedding singers said as she watched, “to have a bunch of award-winning musicians in your bridal party.”

When the set was over, the band took a break and on came the playlist. All night long people came and went, looking for more beer, or more wine, dancing or disappearing into the olive grove where the tents and swags had been set up.

Strangers asked each other how they knew the married couple and everyone had a story. Maybe they went drinking with the groom one time, or they had gone travelling with the bride.

For the woman we will call Sarah, it was a bit of both. She wore a soft pink and white dress and stood on the edge of the crowd under the marquee, floating on a river of red wine. With one hand she held a plastic cup of water to her lips. In the crook of her other arm, she held a wine glass that constantly threatened to spill.

“I met them through my ex,” Sarah said of the bride. “When we broke up, me and her went to Vietnam together on a whim.”

Of course, her ex was there on the night. It’s impossible to spell Adelaide without a couple of exes after all, but if Sarah felt a little awkward about it she hid it well.

Sure, that relationship hadn’t exactly worked out, but then that’s life, she said – another subject she had more than a few opinions about now she was closing in on 30. It had taken her this long just to get a stable job and a home of her own way out on the city limits.

“It’s fucking expensive,” she said. “For ages my mother kept on asking me why I hadn’t bought a house yet when they had at a younger age. She couldn’t understand.”

It was easy for them, she went on to say. Housing was cheap when her parents were young. Work was well paid and regular. It’s nothing like that now. You can be 40 and still feel like a kid.

Just about everything seems to take longer, while the days themselves feel like they’re getting shorter. Sometimes a month passes by in what feels hours. Time, it seems, no longer has any meaning.

It was long past ten o’clock by then and the party showed no signs of slowing down. There was nothing left to do except drink and sing and be happy. The groom had lost his jacket, undone the top button of his shirt and rolled his sleeves up to his elbows. The bride danced with her bridesmaids.

Sarah scanned the scene and then asked those within earshot whether they wanted water. She walked over to the table which served as a bar and brought back four plastic glasses, passing them around.

“You’ll thank me in the morning.”

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