Love locks: a new trend for hopeless romantics

By Ashley Hay 8 December 2010
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A public display of celebrations and tributes is fast growing on a picturesque oceanside bridge.

FOR MORE THAN TWO decades now they’ve been materialising around the world: tiny mementoes of important milestones that begin as private, individual sentiments but seem to spark immediate imitation.

They are ‘love locks’: padlocks engraved with names, dates or messages that mark a union, a birth, a death – even just a special day – and are then attached to a public structure, such as a fence, a gate or a bridge.

The custom has clouded beginnings: it can be traced back to ancient China although this latest incarnation sprang up in eastern European cities in the 1980s. Now a new collection is adding its weight to the Sea Cliff Bridge, on the Illawarra escarpment, 60 km south of Sydney, NSW.

Clipped to the railings of the bridge’s southern and northern approaches, the locks create a catalogue of memories. Some are blank, their messages secret; others have rough marks scratched with whatever was to hand. Some are chains of locks, celebrating numerous events: grandparents marking an anniversary, their children’s anniversaries, the births of grandchildren; lovers marking engagements, then weddings.

Outing the original ‘lockers’

There are large locks engraved with ornate decorations – hearts, gum leaves, the distinct shape of the continent. There are even locks celebrating the place itself: “Beautiful country. Wish I lived here.”

What makes these love locks a little different is that the owners of the first lock are known. John and Faye Ireland of Helensburgh, NSW, had seen such locks in Italy’s La Cinque Terre and the opening of the Sea Cliff Bridge in 2005 coincided with their 40th wedding anniversary.

“I just clipped one on as far along as I could get without being seen,” says John. “People were walking by  – I didn’t know if it was legal or not [and] if I might get in trouble.” He says that before long, they noticed “two, then three, then four”. Then a story came out about the locks in the local paper, and a relative outed the couple as the original ‘lockers’.

“It just kept going,” says John. “People in town all know it’s me – and the husbands want to kill me for it.” John and Faye go back once a month to see their own lock and how its companion crop is flourishing. “Even Elvis has left one,” John says with a laugh. “It says, ‘I’ll be back’.”

Source: Australian Geographic Jul – Sep 2010