We’re a family business.
Hello hello, my name is Marie-Claire – wife, mother of two little girls and floral + event designer at Bundaleer. Pour yourself a hot cuppa and read along if you’re interested in how this all began for our little family.
You could really say that the wedding industry chose me. I’m a third-generation, hospitality + wedding industry operative. My grandparents ran a country hotel near the Hamptons – Rockhampton that is… in a tropical, coastal town called Yeppoon. Where is that? you might ask… It’s next to your knife and fork… or in North Queensland as geography would have it.
I belong to the founding family of Bundaleer Rainforest Gardens. Bundaleer use to be a small-town, picnic ground where families could go to enjoy the great outdoors. $2 would grant you entry to the park and you could cool off in the pool area, sit under a shady tree and read a book, fire up the BBQ and have yourself an ice-cream from the kiosk; it’s been a special place to go for generations. Ask you parents if they’ve ever been out to Bundaleer for a swim as a child. Chances are they or someone they know has. What a wonderful memory for that guest who attends the wedding all those years later. My parents purchased the property in the mid 90’s and reimagined the picnic grounds into a place where outdoor weddings could flourish.
I was just a girl when we moved into the brick bungalow on site and my parents worked tirelessly to turn Bundaleer into the iconic wedding venue that it is today. I would help my dad plant garden beds and ride alongside him on the tractor as he delivered supplies. I would play receptionist for my mother when the phone would ring and a reservation had to be made. After school, if she was showing a couple around the venue, I would help put together the media-kits and would walk these down to the local post box and mail them out to the clients such as yourselves who would phone to book their wedding after having received the package in the mail. Internet hadn’t reached our small-town community yet, so snail-mail was the only way to receive such information; tangible and personalised as they were.
About this time, my grandparents sold their hotel in Yeppoon and moved to Brisbane. My grandfather would help out in the grounds – mowing the many acres at Bundaleer and my Granny would help in the kiosk – restocking the shelves and organising supplies, she taught my brother and I how to use a till and sell the goods in the kiosk. My older brother learned how to maintain the land and he was given animals to raise on the, then farmland (now a picturesque meadow, prominent in the many beautiful photos we share on Instagram).
I was in primary school when I saw my first Bundaleer Bride; a beautiful brunette woman in a white, billowy dress, accompanied by sentimental music as she made her way down the floating stairs and onto the rainforest floor beside the flowing waterfall and meandering creek bed. A truly, stop-you-in-your-tracks moment where the rainforest surrounding us seemed to almost shine with pride, shedding light on the moment two people are committing to love each other forever. I watched from a far that day as the father of the bride walked her down the aisle and into the arms of her spouse. I felt pretty special being able to witness such pure emotion and I’ve spent the last 20 or so years witnessing just that.
Growing up my weekends were spent exploring the beauty of Bundaleer on horseback with my brother and riding our bikes about the street with the neighbourhood kids. When help was needed, I would assist in the kitchen and roll meatballs, prepare the fresh herbs for roasting or whip the fresh cream. When old enough to drive, my mother would send me to the flower markets with a list of fresh flowers to come home with. She taught me how to arrange the flowers fit for a wedding table and I would often join the hospitality team as they set out the reception tables just to watch how things were done. I’ve seen many wedding trends come and go and I’ve had a hand in almost all of them. It’s always been my favourite part, to style the big day.
It was about that time, that my mother and father semi-retired and our family outgrew the bungalow on site, my grandparents retired all together and the family handed the daily running of Bundaleer over to the wonderful and talented team of specialists serving you there today. I had begun officially working at Bundaleer as part of the hospitality team; gaining experience with room layouts & food service, working the bar & being a kitchen hand, following the details of a run sheet from beginning to end… One beautiful wedding after the next… I soaked it all up. I’ve been the designated bridal-party waitress; following couples around the property with a silver platter of champagne and canapés in hand, waiting to serve in between iconic poses captured in the outback paddock. I’ve also been the designated toilet-hand; mopping the toilet block floor at the end of a wedding night as my male co-workers would begin to shut off the lights on the property, leaving the venue in near-complete darkness and I would call out to them and ensure them I wasn’t finished restocking the toilet paper yet… to leave me some light to make it back to the office. Vital experience I would tell myself as I scrubbed the toilet bowls. Humbling yet vital.
As Bundaleer continued to grow into the iconic wedding destination that it is today, I spent some time living in Los Angeles. My interest in film and theatre really landed with set-design, so I travelled abroad with the New York Film Academy for an intensive program. I learned a lot from the Americans, especially working on sets in Hollywood and in Burbank (the home of Universal Studios and Warner Brothers Studios to name a few). These guys really knew how to put a prop-department together and boy did I spend hours inside of these places, selecting décor items fit for each occasion on sets for live shows and film productions. I graduated with my Associate of Fine Arts in Film & TV as a half-closeted wedding stylist. I had a moment of clarity soon after and decided that Hollywood would have to wait, I was headed home to pursue a career in a neighbouring field – event styling.
Upon my return to Australia, I launched Marie-Claire Designs (MCD). A moonlight business to Bundaleer; a place that specialises in the creative side to weddings; a styling emporium of sorts. The popularity of outdoor weddings had grown dramatically in Australia while I was away. It was the perfect time to bring my business to life – I’d seen the great demand for styling outdoor locations with fresh flowers and arches and noticed that wedding receptions were also having a moment. More couples than ever were enlisting the help of designers to create something beautiful for them so MCD was born and Bundaleer couples were really happy about it.
Our best-sellers stood out right away and orders started coming in for rustic and simple elements and for elegant and timeless items; chandeliers hanging from the Jacaranda tree, flowers in rustic jars hanging so sweetly on the sides of the ceremony aisle chairs, arches with swirls of white draping. Bundaleer was a buzz with flowers and arches and all things décor… and I was officially a wedding stylist and small business owner.
I began to really work on my craft as a stylist; graduating from floral workshops taught by florists who had designed for Her Majesty the Queen. I featured on the local news in an interview about the excitement of same-sex marriage in Brisbane and what it meant for the wonderful industry that is so close to my heart. I’ve attended calligraphy workshops with talented local artists and I’ve almost mastered the names of every flower at the markets. Almost. It turns out Kangaroo -Paw is different to Lambs-Ear and Bunny Tail must be pre-ordered. I learned a lot in a short period and it was the best training I’d ever had.
Something else was a buzz during this season of my life – I had met my now husband Keenan and sparks were flying. We were engaged about 5 months after meeting each other and before long, you guessed it… There we stood, on that same deck beside the waterfall that i’d seen my first ever bride stand all those years ago. We were surrounded by our loved ones as my mother and father walked me down the aisle to the tune of a live string quartet, the aisle I’d seen so many couples walk down before me; standing beside the garden beds I’d helped my father create and tend too as a little girl – marrying the absolute love of my life in the only place imaginable to make such a time-honoured commitment to each other; among the trees at Bundaleer.
In recent years my husband and I have welcomed two baby girls into our growing family and it’s not uncommon for me to bring my daughters (Riley, 3 and Helena, 1) to the rainforest where they can help out and watch mummy do her thing. In fact, pack-down day is a favourite of ours – it’s a relaxed work day and most often a weekend day so our kiddos usually join us at Bundaleer and we spend time together as we work to pack down the wedding setup. These are some of our favourite family moments.
As our family grew, our MCD family did too and we now have Clare and Amy on our team. Clare as a stylist whose passion for the wedding industry extends into all aspects of event planning and design who is studying just that at University and styling assistant Amy who’s experience in the wedding industry began when she started working at Bundaleer during high-school. In fact, Amy was our dedicated bridal-party waitress the day of our wedding and made sure the event ran smoothly for our head table (oh, and the 120 guests of ours). Together with my husband Keenan helping us out on the weekends (he’s a busy, civil engineer when he’s not half way up a tree helping us hang draping) we are a team.
Weddings are a part of our life. As a family, we’ve witnessed so many enchanted and intimate moments at Bundaleer and our hope is that we can continue to be a part of the incredible legacy of Bundaleer, even as the humble styling department. Built on the foundations of a-love-of-marriage and a passion for floral design; from one Bundaleer married couple to you almost-Newlyweds, we welcome you as clients and as future wedded alumni. Let’s get this journey of yours started.