It was over one of the brightly coloured tents that have controversially been pitched in Sydney's Martin Place for months where homeless pair Kellyanne Luke and Matthew Mawson first locked eyes.

She was sweeping Autumn leaves off the pavement in the public thoroughfare to keep the squat tidy. He was newly settling into the homeless community, known as 'tent city', which both would continue to call home for the next two months.

"Matthew was watching me sweep leaves up there, on the top of Martin Place and laughing at me," Luke, 43, told of the pair's first meeting on May 18. "He took me under his wing and pretty much looked after me from there and that's how we connected. We were pretty much in the same situation emotionally."

Mawson, 42, said romance was the last thing on his mind when he found himself destitute and living on the street earlier this year. "I wasn't looking for any sort of relationship or anything," he said. "I hadn't been in a relationship for 10 years and what can I say? I just saw her and I knew straight away."


Talk between the pair about life and love quickly turned to marriage. "The first three days we were together he sort of said to me jokingly, 'Would you marry me if I asked you?' I said, 'Yeah, are you asking me?' And he said, 'No, I'm just checking'," Luke said. "Then three days later, under the Harbour Bridge, he asked me to marry him."

'Tent city in Sydney's Martin Place. Photo / AAP
'Tent city in Sydney's Martin Place. Photo / AAP

Mawson had earlier requested permission to propose from Luke's father. He was given the green light so presented her with a cubic zirconia ring as he popped the question under Australia's most iconic bridge. Luke said 'yes'.

The couple plans to have a medieval-inspired wedding within the year. "It will kind of be a pagan, Wiccan wedding like Robin Hood, in a little temple by the sea," Luke said.

Another tent city resident, known by other occupants as "mum", will be the couple's matron of honour.

Luke and Mawson have recently been housed by the state government in Little Bay. They regularly return to tent city to support the community they now call 'family".

Luke, who is a mother of six, said she became homeless because of a combination of a family breakdown and mental health issues. "Most of us come here because of mental health or broken families, relationships, family breakdowns," she said. "We only come here in the first place because we don't have anywhere to go.

"It's not because we want to be here."

It's a common story among the dozens of people who have occupied the camp since it was erected about six months ago. But as its occupants are this week forced out under new legislation passed by the NSW government on Wednesday it's clear not all of them will get their "happily ever after".


Tent city occupants started dismantling the camp earlier today as police officers watched on. Representatives from the housing department and support services were also on hand. One man cried as he told that he didn't know where he was going to go. "We are scared because we don't know what will happen to us," he said.

The camp has given its occupants a support network and a sense of security that living on the streets alone can never bring, according to Luke.

"It's safety in numbers," she said. "This is the only place where the homeless feel safe as a little community. Now they're moving everyone on and where do they go?

"Many people are going to be more vulnerable than ever. They don't know what to do, where to go, they have no address other than here."

Luke said vulnerable men and women were at greater risk of physical, sexual and verbal attacks outside of the tent city community. "Women are already very vulnerable to rape and men standing over them, people taking their money, bashings," she said. "The men feel vulnerable too, helpless, like they can't look after themselves because people seem to pick on the homeless, they look down their noses at them."

The solution to the problem is permanent housing for all homeless people and more acceptance from the wider community, according to Luke. "The people in this community are all like everybody else," she said. "They all run red blood, there are people who are very articulate here and very smart.

"We all come from different races and cultures and we just want to be able to live like normal people and not be judged."

New Zealand man Lanz Priestley, left, known as the Mayor of Tent City, Martin Place, speaks to a policeman before residents start to pack their belongings. Photo / AAP
New Zealand man Lanz Priestley, left, known as the Mayor of Tent City, Martin Place, speaks to a policeman before residents start to pack their belongings. Photo / AAP