See history in the making at the Redland Showgrounds.
It’s 2016 — do you know who your town crier is?
You’ve surely seen town criers in period films. They’re the people (usually men, but sometimes women) dressed in elaborate clothes, ringing a handbell and shouting “Oyez, Oyez, Oyez!”, which translates to “Hear ye, hear ye, hear ye!”, before making public announcements.
It’s a tradition that dates all the way back to the 18th century, to a time when most people couldn’t read or write, but still needed to be aware of local proclamations, bylaws and events.
In one German town, criers were even employed to remind locals not to urinate or defecate in the river the day before the water was to be drawn for brewing beer. A worthy announcement, if we’ve ever heard one.
Some criers even risked their lives by delivering bad news (like tax increases) to angry crowds. The phrase “don’t shoot the messenger” was literally a law once, and to defy it was considered treason.
Today, of course, we have a variety of ways to spread news and information that are somewhat more convenient than dressing a person up in a red and gold coat and a tricorne hat and forcing them to wander the streets, shouting at the top of their lungs.
But that doesn’t mean the position has vanished altogether. The role of town crier has passed into folklore, and many communities still appoint one for ceremonial purposes.
In Brisbane, for instance, our official town crier is Mandy Partridge, appointed earlier this year.
Max Bissett is the official town crier of the Redlands, and he takes his job very seriously. He’ll be hosting a convoy of town criers from around the country at the 25th National Town Crier Championships in September, which is basically like a Victorian-era version of The Voice.
28 Australian criers, and two guest criers from New Zealand, will be taking part in the competition, which will be staged as part of RedFest.
Each competitor has already prepared and submitted a morning “home cry”, about how great their home town is, and an afternoon “host cry”, detailing what they love about the Redlands, within a strict word count (no more than 125 words, but no less than 95).
Five judges will be in attendance, each weighing in on a different aspect of the competition.
One judge will have his back to the criers, and check that the cries follow the text that was submitted. A second judge will check the decibel reading of each cry, awarding top marks for the loudest effort, while a third will judge the period accuracy of the criers’ costumes.
The final two judges will consider diction, pace, pitch, intonation, pronunciation, content and tone, with harsh penalties doled out to criers whose voices crack over the course of the competition.
It’s a real art form — but it’s going to be a lot of fun, too.
Redland City Council will present the National Town Crier Championships at Norm Price Park (Redland Showgrounds) on Saturday 3 September, from 9:30am to 3pm.