Covid robbed us of many things: beers at the pub, birthday celebrations, hugs. But many Australians also had to postpone or cancel their weddings. With swift, strict lockdowns and nationwide social distancing rules, would-be brides and grooms quickly became glued to daily press conferences covering the ever-changing ways we were allowed to socialise (or not). For those with weddings planned – some years in the making – the emotional rollercoaster was a ride couples desperately wanted to get off. Ava Matthews was one half of such a couple.

Matthews, who is co-founder of fast-growing Australian sun care business Ultra Violette, was set to marry Adelphi Hotel general manager Dion Chandler – a Bumble swipe gone right – in her adopted hometown of Melbourne. They had their dream wedding ready to go. “Our original wedding was a 130-person extravaganza at Quat Quatta in [the Melbourne suburb of] Ripponlea on October 1,” Matthews says. “Then it became a 40-person lunch at Tedesca Osteria in Red Hill for October 20, and then a lunch in Melbourne city for November 13, and then two events – one in Melbourne and one in Sydney in late November, because we’re in Melbourne and our family is in Sydney.” Of course, closed borders and Melbourne’s ongoing Covid crisis meant none of the above went ahead. “And when Dan Andrews placed us in stage four lockdown … it really became a week-by-week thing,” Matthews says.

The couple was doubtful Covid would affect their wedding way back when the virus hit the news. “In February, Dion’s mum called to say we might have to cancel,” Matthews says. “I was like, ‘as if!’ – and then things progressed.”

With news of Melbourne opening back up on October 28, the couple was left with two weeks to plan the wedding that was: a fun, frivolous and decidedly more intimate shindig in the CBD.

The couple finally celebrated on Friday November 6 at Melbourne institution Grossi Florentino Al Fresco with 16 of their closest friends. For the formal proceedings, Matthews and Chandler held an even smaller ceremony prior to that at their local registry office – but even that wasn’t without its challenges.

“I enlisted one of my closest friends to contact the Grossi family, who helped pull Grossi Florentino restaurant over the line – they were so amazing,” explains Matthews. “But things were so day-by-day in Melbourne with lockdowns, I thought we might have to cancel again. Even a week prior to the date, the wedding registry website was still showing as closed, so I basically stalked them by every means possible – and organised a back-up celebrant just in case – until they contacted me to let me know they would be able to host the ceremony. I was pretty stressed the week out.”

So aside from the venue and date, what else changed? “Everything!” she says, laughing. Original guests, who were now unable to attend, beamed in via Zoom. And her parents were on sticks. “The Monday of the wedding my mum [acclaimed Australian stylist Nicole Bonython-Hines] thought it would be nice to have cut-outs of our parents’ heads on sticks,” Matthews says. Neither Matthews’s nor Chandler’s families could attend, all being based in Sydney. And many of the couple’s oldest friends – including the maid of honour and best man – couldn’t make it. To include their nearest and dearest in photos, the couple had full-body cutouts made for the ceremony. “It was probably more annoying for our friends down here to lug them around but oh well, mum was happy!”

There was also that little issue of Melbourne’s mandatory mask rule, which required masks during the signing of the registry and when people arrived at the venue. To make the protocol a bit more fun, one of Chandler’s groomsmen created custom “diva” masks for guests.

Even their wedding dance had a Covid twist. “We’d hired [Melbourne saxophonist] Ashley James to play during lunch, but then due to Covid restrictions changing he basically had to play our wedding song, Everywhere by Fleetwood Mac, and leave. He did provide the background for some great shots though, so it was okay in the end!”

Dancing hand-in-hand down the street from the Victorian Marriage Registry to Treasury Gardens for photos, Matthews said fellow Melburnians were happy to celebrate with the newlyweds. “Because it was the first weekend after lockdown, we had so many people on the street congratulate us and honk horns – everyone was so excited, including our friends, who really brought their best energy and good vibes on the day.”

Matthews wore Alex Perry (a nod to her mother who wore the designer to her own wedding some 20 years prior), and the groom head-to-toe Tom Ford. With a penchant for a boogie, Matthews’s jewelled Sophia Webster wedding shoes only lasted 30 minutes – the bride ditched them for a pair of Aquazzura flats halfway through photos.

So after everything, how did it feel to be a Covid bride? “I feel triumphant that we actually pulled it off!” she says. And the protracted, unpredictable experience made both bride and groom appreciate the wedding (and each other) even more. “I think it really highlighted that we just wanted to be married and all the other stuff was relatively superfluous.”

Chandler felt the same. “I loved it because it felt super intimate and I could actually spend time with people and have good chats,” he says. “I also felt more present on the day and could relax and not worry about having to do the rounds. I hate being the centre of attention so I was semi-relieved at not having to do the full aisle thing with a large crowd.

“Despite all the odds, it was so freaking fun,” Matthews says. “My friends threw me a surprise hens’ the Sunday prior and we had a super fun recovery on the Saturday where we could invite more people, because it was outdoors on the Adelphi rooftop. I feel like we also had the same amount of fun as we would have at the big OG wedding – for a shitload less money, so that’s a win!”

And the couple plans to hold a Sydney-based celebration with their families this month.

“I just truly feel so happy that I got to marry Dion, that’s really all that matters.”