Rustic autumn wedding for 50 guests for under $10,000

Emu Bottom Homestead

I never craved a fancy wedding. A couple of witnesses in an attractive setting sounded perfect. Mike wanted to share the day with a larger group of family and friends so we raised the question of a wedding many times over the last 5 years, and always veered away from the cost and stress of actually organising one.

Then we decided to move to Western Australia so, if we wanted to share the day with our Melbourne friends, we had to get something underway. When I tripped over Emu Bottom Homestead on a wedding site things suddenly got serious. Emu Bottom is the perfect Junk Map venue! I fell in love immediately.

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The original homestead was built at Sunbury in 1836 but the hand-built slab hut and woolshed were moved from other properties in the 1970s. That means both buildings are RECYCLED, REPURPOSED and RELOVED. And they are spectacular for an offbeat wedding, especially in unpredictable mid-year Melbourne weather.

Of course, a sit down/indoor function dented the modest budget considerably, but if our guests were happy we didn’t mind cutting costs everywhere else. That’s part of what the Junk Map is about – thinking creatively to reduce waste and rethink conventions.

Here’s the breakdown.

Invitations

We sourced laser-friendly recycled paper, card and envelopes from a specialty paper shop, then designed simple invitations to output on our home printer. I printed three invitations on each A4 sheet, backed them with card, and tied the invitation and wedding directions together with ribbon.

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Decorations

I lived on Pinterest for months leading up to the wedding and I have to credit other brides for many of the low cost ideas we used. Initially I wanted to use autumn leaves as my main decoration but they didn’t last long enough on the trees for our wedding date. This is what we worked with instead:
– During early autumn I collected and dried lots of autumn leaves, squashed under heavy phone books, to make strings of colour. I also used the smaller leaves as place cards with names written in gold or silver pen.
– As a backup option, whenever I found gum trees in our local parks I collected fallen branches of leaves and gumnuts (great after a storm) and stashed them in the garage. These ended up becoming our table decorations.
– We bought pumpkins from farmers markets and a big basket from an op shop. Would have been good to do several of these in hindsight.
– A scrap piece of timber was sawn into rustic table numbers.
– And to add a splash of colour to the tables I found inexpensive upholstery fabric at Spotlight.

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Wedding outfits

This is usually a big part of a wedding budget but neither of us was keen on spending a fortune on outfits we would never wear again. Secondhand bridal, non-traditional dresses or op shop finds are all cheaper options. Mine was non-traditional and passed down from a friend. It only needed a minor alteration and new accessories. I also found an op-shop bargain totally by accident which would have been perfect in warmer weather with some tailoring.

Mike wore a suit he already had and splurged on a new shirt. For our flower girls we bought pretty everyday dresses/tights/skivvies that they will wear again.

For many brides this part of a wedding is non-negotiable and expensive, but if you keep an open mind it’s surprising what other options can make you feel just as beautiful and special.

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Flowers

Obviously if the budget stretches to professional floral arrangements that’s great, but you can make something simple yourself. It only has to look good for a few hours, and in cooler weather flowers last easily without too much fuss. Autumn and winter don’t have the gorgeous variety of flowers you find in spring but there are still plenty to choose from. Consider stranger options like ornamental kale which is not expensive and comes in some stunning variations.

I was brave and let our local florist choose a selection at the market the day before our wedding. When I dropped in to choose something the kale caught my eye immediately, and it was simple enough for an amateur to turn into a bouquet. It took a few nervous attempts to get a tight arrangement and I tied the bunch tightly with string to hold everything in place. Then I wrapped coloured wool around the stems for a neat finish. Not a floral masterpiece by any stretch but I was happy with the effect.

Rings

Another budget zapper. We decided not to buy new rings for now and skipped the ring-giving part of the ceremony.

Music

We used CDs for the ceremony and hired an iPod sound system for the reception. We had a couple of friends lined up to sing as well but unfortunately both caught the flu. One spent all night huddled in front of the woolshed fire with the chills.

Photography

Another big expense for many people. We just wanted a simple record of the day so we lined up several guests to take photos at specific times. Graham Parsons, a professional photographer and good friend, shot the ceremony, and Mike’s sisters covered the speeches and wedding dance. Hopefully that meant no-one felt pressured to take pics all night and we got images of key sections.

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The venue – Emu Bottom Homestead

This was 70% of our budget and worth every cent. All the buildings at Emu Bottom are lovingly preserved fragments of Australian history, from the original stone homestead to the rustic slab outbuildings. I totally loved the place. The homestead has a gracious, traditional reception room but I couldn’t go past the character and rough charm of the woolshed. Lit up at night with fairy lights and candles it’s a truly romantic, child-friendly, unconventional venue that guests will always remember.

When you book the woolshed you also have access to the slab hut which is the perfect size for an intimate wedding ceremony. We had drinks and canapés there afterwards (little snack boxes were provided for the children which was a thoughtful touch), then wandered 20m down to the woolshed reception.

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Dinner in the woolshed is a carvery menu with lamb cooked on the spit over the fire and a buffet of meats, salads and vegetables. Plenty of guests commented on the great food, there was enough for second helpings, and the desserts were fantastic.

The catering and event management at Emu Bottom is provided by Table Matters and everything ran very smoothly. For a simple, no fuss wedding the venue was totally perfect. Big thanks to Liz and Deanne for coordinating a very happy night.

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So there you have it. I’d lived in Melbourne for 13 years and never heard of Emu Bottom, and had no idea how to start planning a wedding. This is what evolved and I hope it helps others plan a simple, memorable day.