Town criers all about history and tradition

July 4th, 2024Town criers all about history and tradition

It’s the sense of tradition, history and occasion that Creswick’s Philip Greenbank most loves about his role as town crier.

It’s the sense of tradition, history and occasion that Creswick’s Philip Greenbank most loves about his role as town crier.

As official town crier for Hepburn Shire since 2015, Philip belongs to the rather exclusive group of individuals in Australia and worldwide who continue to preserve a tradition dating back to at least 1066 and the Norman conquest of England with William the Conqueror.

However, Biblical references suggest the time-honoured role of town crier as official public information bearer and announcement-maker goes back even further.

“Town criers used to give you the news and information,” says Philip who first became a town crier in 2014.

He says he became a town crier “by accident” after he was invited to attend a town crier competition.

After trying on the role himself he soon discovered an aptitude for it, swiftly taking out second place in the very first town crier competition in which he participated.

Today he is president of the Australasian Guild of Town Criers and among just five town criers in Victoria, 15 or so in Australia, and about 400 worldwide – about 20 percent of whom are women.

As official town criers they get to fulfil time-honoured declarative duties at important public, ceremonial and civic events – like the declaration of new mayors and deputy mayors, special anniversary and official occasions.

Adding a sense of pomp, pageantry and special occasion is very much a part of their public function today. In a private engagement context they may also provide formal services such as emceeing at weddings and other private celebrations.

Philip says that when he serves as town crier at community events, however, he does so in an entirely voluntary capacity, with sometimes a bit of recompense for travel costs where warranted, although town criers may receive payment for private engagements.

When The Local caught up with him for a chat last week, Philip was looking forward to serving in his official town crier capacity for a Victoria Day Council engagement on July 1, reading the historic Proclamation at a special anniversary event in Melbourne to mark the historic separation of the Colony of Port Phillip from NSW, thus forming the Colony of Victoria (precursor to the state of Victoria).

“You get to go places and meet people,” he reflected ahead of the significant public engagement taking place at the Melbourne Town Hall.

The experienced town crier also served in his official capacity at another special event that many Creswick locals witnessed recently.

On Thursday 6th June 2024, a worldwide event took place to commemorate the 80th anniversary of D-Day known as D-Day 80.

Organised by England’s Pageant master Bruno Peeks, the day began with over 370 Town Criers from around the world reading the “D-Day 80 Proclamation”.

In Creswick, Philip did the honours, reading the Proclamation at the cenotaph before an appreciative crowd. School children read the D-Day Heroes poem, and bell ringers took part in the “World in Ringing out for Peace”.

Looking ahead, Philip will fulfil traditional ceremonial town crier duties in proclaiming the duly elected mayor and deputy mayor for Hepburn Shire Council following the upcoming local government elections later this year.

He says that hundreds of years before social media, printing presses and traditional media services, town criers served a vital role in informing the often illiterate town folk and community of important official announcements and sometimes even issuing important community warnings.

These days taking part in town crier competitions is also a much-enjoyed aspect of the role with town criers  judged on factors including volume, clarity, diction, inflection, accuracy, confidence and bearing.

The role is clearly not for shy retiring types, and Philip says many who shoulder it are motivated by the sense of public theatricality it enables, though his own motivation is more a strong appreciation for keeping tradition alive.

“I love the tradition and the history behind it,” he says.

“People come up to me and say ‘I love your costume’. But it’s not a costume. It’s town crier livery’,” says the dedicated town crier whose official town crier kit once saw him mistaken for the Mayor of Melbourne by visiting tourists who requested selfies with him as he strolled down Collins Street following a public engagement.

“You also get kids saying ‘look mum there’s a pirate!’,” he says.

“And no, it’s not a hat,” Philip corrects. “It’s a tricorn… because it’s got three corners. The three most important parts of the uniform are the tricorn, the bell and the scroll, and the coat is custom-made in the style of an 18th century coachman’s coat.”

Just for the record, Philip says the notion that town criers get about declaring “Hear Ye! Hear ye!” whenever they’re about to make an announcement, is much misplaced.

“There is a common misconception that town criers’ first proclamation is ‘Hear Ye. Hear ye’. But that is an absolute no-no,” he says.

“We use the original French ‘Oyez’ (pronounced Oh yay) and we always start a proclamation by saying Oyez three times. ‘Hear ye’ comes from Hollywood.

Anyone who thinks becoming a town crier might just be for them can find out more by contacting Philip at 89agtc@gmail.com

Words & Image: Eve Lamb

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