SEE PICS: Bundy backpackers tie the knot in backyard wedding
IT TAKES a village to plan a wedding so when two backpackers decided to get married here in Bundaberg, a whole community put their hands up to help celebrate their special day.
When Stephanie and her now husband Abel George first crossed paths in 2012, it was love at first sight. Stephanie was at school and Abel was working at a nearby construction site.
She was drawn to his handsome looks and he to her beautiful smile which he said melted his heart from the moment he first saw her.
But despite the instant attraction, Stephanie's father was not convinced and it took Abel months of hard work to win him over.
"Abel pursued me time and time again for many months, until finally he asked my father if he could take me on a date," Stephanie said.
"I love Abel because he is a loving, thoughtful man who encourages, protects and understands me and he loves my daughter like his own."
And although Abel is fluent in French but not in English, Stephanie is gradually teaching him, with Abel noting how well his new wife looks after him.
The happy couple, from Vanuatu, are currently working in Bundaberg as seasonal workers, making it Stephanie's third season in Australia and Abel's second.
But when the pandemic meant they were unable to travel home for their wedding, the community rallied behind the couple, offering everything from the venue, food and even a honeymoon suite.
Bundaberg locals Geoff and Jane Smith became partial carers for Vanuatu backpackers when they were running a local Salvation Army business and have acted as their Australian parents ever since.
"Our role is to basically make sure they're living in good conditions, being treated fairly and eating well and we take them to all their appointments too," Ms Smith said.
"I'm mum and Geoff is dad to most of them and we're the people they come to if they need to speak to someone … we are just all family and our home is their home.
"I was born in Australia but my grandparents were from Vanuatu and came to Australia on a ship as slaves working in the fields and the conditions were terrible, which is why I'm so passionate about what we do and want to make sure they are all looked after."
Together, Mr and Ms Smith gathered the troops, allocating wedding planning duties to backpackers and family friends from Bundaberg, in preparation for the region's very first island seasonal worker wedding.
Locals Maree Lavaring decorated her beautiful garden for the ceremony and created a honeymoon retreat for the couple in her granny flat, while Audrey-May Thomson made sticky-date puddings for dessert.
Some of the male backpackers made a bright purple and pink wedding cake and Mr Smith made two large hot dishes for guests to share after the ceremony.
A Bundaberg celebrant and photographer also came on board, offering their services to make the day extra special.
Surrounded by friends and their adopted Bundaberg family, the couple shared vows before exchanging rings and spent the afternoon dancing together and despite the forecast of rain all day, the skies stayed relatively sunny and dry with only a few clouds in sight.
"I am a bit sad because mum, dad and my two little daughters were not here on the wedding day but Abel and I are very happy otherwise and our families back home are very excited about it too," Stephanie said.
"We're so thankful to have my Australian dad Geoff and mum Jane here and because of them I can finally hold the love of my life."