Our Story

Last updated 7th of Jan 2021
Please do not share these pages on social media
This is intended as a private wedding site but has not been secured for ease of access

Christopher Andrew Bennetts & Vanessa Borja Racho

invite you to celebrate their wedding to be held at

2 pm on the 16th of January 2021 at

Mernda Adventure Park

.

*

IMPORTANT ANNOUNCEMENT
FOR THOSE THAT CAN’T BE HERE
There will be a live ZOOM broadcast of the wedding. To watch all you need is to fill out the form below with ZOOM as the subject and we will send you a guide on how to attend our Virtual Wedding. This is a FREE service – no cost to watch. Up to 100 can watch.

We are providing this background story to explain our decision to get married at such short notice and provide a glimpse into our Journey together to where we are today.

I moved to the Philippines in early 2006 and first met Vanessa on the 16th of January 2007 in Cebu City where I was living and working at the time.

We next moved to Angeles city where we stayed for a couple of years before Vanessa convinced me to live in her province, and that is where we resided for the latter half of the ten years I lived in the Philippines.

Around five years ago we were living in this cottage on a small island in the south of the Philippines. The shack to the side is the “dirty kitchen” which is basically an outdoor BBQ area with a roof to protect against the constant rain during the rainy season. It is also a much cooler place to dine (think sea breeze) than inside the house. We had air-conditioning in our bedroom only. The house was surrounded by coconut trees, 90 to be exact (I actually counted them one day).

BUT the main attraction was not the cute little pink cottage, it was the front yard and beyond.
The above picture was taken early in the morning, when it was too hot to sleep inside we would all sleep out on the balcony under the stars…

The little pink cottage by the sea is actually very close to Cloud Nine which is the Surfing capital of the Philippines. Think of it as equivalent to Bali but much much less developed.

Something you probably would not know about Vanessa is she is a native of this Island and like many born on the island, a surfer girl. She hates city life and loves to be near nature, and in particular, she loves the sea.

For a number of reasons I will not go into my business went pair shaped and I persevered much longer than I should have in order to continue to live in that little pink cottage. I eventually realised that I needed to return to Australia in order to provide for Vanessa and the children. I also realised that they did not have any entitlement to return to Australia with me.

We had always been a family and now I was forced by circumstances to leave them alone and travel to another country. They did have a family support structure but I still felt very apprehensive about leaving. I was scheduled to return to Australian in just a few weeks and I decided to make a commitment to Vanessa and the children before I left.

The opportunity came on the 14th of February 2016 when a romantic family island hopping trip had been organised by a small group of expats with partners (related to Vanessa).

What nobody knew was that I planned to propose to Vanessa while on one of the more beautiful islands. Unfortunately, the weather was not kind to us on that day and after waiting a couple of hours on the beach we were advised that the boat trip was canceled. It was still raining and I decided that I would propose to her on that less than perfect beach with a typhoon approaching.

Taken shortly after Vanessa accepted my marriage proposal

We immediately started the process of applying for a fiance visa and arranged for the children to get their Australian citizenship by descent. It was a huge job of collecting all the required paperwork not to mention putting together the $7000 visa lodgment fee.

On the 14th of February 2017 (one year to the day since I proposed), Vanessa was granted a tourist visa for Australia and has lived here since with the exception of a few mandatory return visits to the Philippines. We have been waiting for her permanent visa to be granted ever since.

In early March this year, Vanessa was required to return to the Philippines where she would need to remain until her permanent visa was granted because after two years Vanessa had exhausted her tourist visa options.

The Corona Virus was in the news with reported cases in the Philippines but we were not that concerned about it until President Trump announced a 30-day suspension of flights from Europe, it was only then we decided the situation was getting very serious and we decided to cancel the flight.

As it turned out, the decision to cancel the flight was the right one, otherwise, we might still be apart now!

We immediately arranged a special bridging visa designed for people in her situation. We were first granted a three-month bridging visa and then granted another three-month bridging visa. On both occasions, the immigration agents that we dealt with were both pleasant and helpful.

Our third bridging visa application was different. The immigration agent came out all guns firing saying that she was not going to grant the visa because we had made no effort to return to the Philippines. We had previously been told that we needed to wait for travel restrictions on both ends to be lifted.

In Melbourne, the curfew had only just been lifted and the travel restrictions relaxed from a 5 km radius to a 25 km radius. In Manila, they were still in full lockdown with severe travel restrictions. None of this matted to the migration agent who then rattled off half a dozen flights we supposedly could have booked for Vanessa in November.

The threat not to grant the Visa meant that Vanessa would then become illegal which would jeopardize the granting of her permanent Visa. The agent then said that she was going to terminate the call. I begged her not to do so (and I mean I pleaded with her). I guess that satisfied her little power trip as she then set conditions for a visa grant. We needed to book a flight for Vanessa to return to the Philippines ASAP and notify the departed no later than the 30th of December. We booked a flight that very day and the very first available flight we could get was for the 3rd of February 2021.

We had originally planned to get married after the visa was granted as stipulated in the Visa conditions. We were advised that getting married before the visa grant will not help to speed up the process and could actually slow it down by adding additional documentation and processing requirements.

When we applied for the fiance visa we were required to provide a letter from a marriage celebrant with a proposed date and location for the wedding. We originally planned to get married in 2018 but this was rejected by immigration and we needed to get a new letter. The immigration department approved this letter dated 24 October 2017 from the marriage celebrant with a proposed marriage date of 16 January 2019.

Our marriage has now been delayed for two years beyond our intended date and faced with the prospect of Vanessa returning to the Philippines with an unknown return date subject to the whim of an unknown public servant somewhere at some time in the future, we decided we will not wait any longer to make a commitment to each other and provide our children with the stability of what we consider a traditional family structure.

We have now been together for almost 13 years (the 16th of January 2021 will mark our 13th anniversary and is why we chose that date) and decided that if the government is going to forcibly break up our family for an undetermined period of time while we wait for Immigration to work through a huge backlog of applications with average grant times taking between two to three years as reported on the Governments own Home Affairs website:

https://immi.homeaffairs.gov.au/visas/getting-a-visa/visa-processing-times/global-visa-processing-times#

and as reported by the ABC News:

https://www.abc.net.au/news/2020-08-10/visa-backlog-keeping-couples-apart-as-department-of-home-affairs/12539312

https://www.abc.net.au/news/2020-08-14/partner-visa-process-criticised-by-former-immigration-official/12553190

Vanessa had always wanted a traditional white wedding in a church. We have been passively looking for the “right” church. Our honeymoon was to be one week driving around Tasmania. None of us have been there and it was one place we wanted to visit before we eventually migrate north to a warmer climate.

But, as with my plan for a romantic proposal on the perfect tropical beach at sunset, this wedding and honeymoon were not to be. Despite this, we are still going to make this a wonderful wedding. It’s the family and good friends coming together to celebrate our union that will make it a wonderful event for all.

There has been an important development.

On the 20th of December, the Airline contacted us to advise that her new booking was canceled due to the cancellation of the flight. We now have the option of rebooking another flight, putting the funds in a travel wallet, or getting a full refund.

We are reluctant to rebook at this time as we are again disturbed by reports of a new mutation of COVID 19 that is apparently 70% more contagious but less lethal. What concerns us the most is the prospect of a long forced separation due to new travel bans and increasing economic and political instability around the world.

As I see it, we immediately complied with their demand to book the first available flight and did so in good faith. That the Airline cancelled the flight was out of our control and we will request another bridging visa to allow enough time to determine if this mutation will result in new travel bans that could potentially break up our family for an extended period.