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Longreach town crier Patrick Casey and the 'ancient and honourable' guild of Australia's human foghorns

An "ancient and honourable" guild is carrying the torch for a tradition that once boasted agents in almost every town of Australia but can now count its members on a pair of hands and feet.

Patrick Casey is a smooth-tongued 88-year-old who is known around the outback Queensland town of Longreach as the Mad Hatter.

Every morning he dons a shirt and vest with an American-style bolo tie around his neck, pulls on a long dark coat and balances a top hat on his head that augments his height by almost a foot.

He has the dacks and shoes and other less visible articles of clothing, clutches a smart-looking walking stick and treads down to the middle of town.

Mr Casey is the local historian, a published poet and the oldest player by seven years to ever win a title at the Longreach Bowls Club.

"They call me Patrick, and at the bowls club, they call me pathetic, and around town, I'm called the Mad Hatter, and in the RSL, I'm the captain," he says.

"I walk everywhere in town just to keep me active, and I get the Courier Mail five days a week with the 14 sudokus, cryptics and crosswords to keep my brain active."

The almost-nonagenarian is the Longreach town crier and an absolute force of nature.

Ringing the bell for the bush

Mr Casey was one-third of Longreach's first set of triplets and says, he carries the honour of being "the bandiest kid" to be born in the outback town up until 1934.

The region's history is firmly implanted in his mind — and it's that knowledge that earned him a tap on the shoulder six years ago to become the town crier.

He lives and breathes Longreach.

"Everybody chats to each other … they all greet each other walking down the street," he says.

"There are 14 police vehicles, and basically, the only time you see them move is to go and buy lunch."

Mr Casey is a member of a vanishing craft.

The official body representing these human foghorns, the Ancient and Honourable Guild of Australian Town Criers, lists just 19 members on its website.

But there was a time they performed a critical duty in towns all over Australia — and the western world.

An 'ancient and honourable' history

The guild's spokesman Stephen Clarke is the town crier in the City of Gosford on the Central Coast of NSW.

He is a bell-swinging, thunderous proclaimer whose white moustache is so broad that it almost tickles his ear lobes.

"Town crying draws its roots back to the Battle of Hastings in 1066 when William the Conqueror sent criers all through England to tell the public that King Harold II had been defeated and killed," he says.

It would have been quite the shock for the English masses to learn they were living under the eminence of a Norman invader who had been born out of wedlock — a scandalous attribute that earnt him the sobriquet of William the Bastard.

Australia's first town crier was a convict named Samuel Potter, who was transported from Norfolk in England to the settlement at Sydney in 1789.

Mr Clarke says the man was a convicted highwayman — although convict records for the "bellman" state he received a 14-year sentence for buying 20 volumes of printed books, five sermon cases, and a considerable quantity of medicine, which he confessed he knew to be stolen.

"You can imagine how significant the town crier was back then," Mr Clarke says.

"There was a lot of news coming in with ships from England — a new king, a battle won or lost, or anything else that might have happened.

"The authorities would get all of the news, and the town crier would go out and ring his bell, and everyone would take notice."

Town criers these days perform more of a ceremonial role and can lead parades, oversee citizenship ceremonies, and drop the odd "hear ye, hear ye" at other official events.

The guild's "ancient and honourable" claim is a stretch since it was formed in 1989, but it takes the name from its British predecessor, which was formed way back in 1978 — the same year the Bee Gees topped the charts with their seminal disco track, Stayin' Alive.

Hear ye, hear ye, it's time for young blood

The guild is in the market to try to institute more colourful community ambassadors in towns across Australia.

"We would love some new blood," Mr Clarke says.

There are established protocols for local governments to appoint town criers — with a panel of judges on hand to select the most suitable candidate after a cutthroat audition process.

"The best candidate should be able to score highly in not only volume but also in clarity and diction — they have to be clearly understood," the guild website explains.

"Your best candidate may be a lady crier as the higher vocal register can carry well."

Back in Longreach, the irrepressible Patrick Casey is, in fact, something of a rogue.

It turns out he's not actually a member of the guild — but he agrees that every town in Australia should have its own crier.

"These days, for people to go on ship or plane overseas for their holidays is rather risky," he says.

"So many of them are now coming inland and seeing their own country, which is a great thing to do.

"People do want to know about the places they visit, and I recommend that there's no-one better to bring them up to date than if that place has a town crier."

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