Cooee! (//) is a shout used in Australia, usually in the bush, to attract attention, find missing people, or indicate one's own location. When done correctly—loudly and shrilly—a call of "cooee" can carry over a considerable distance. The distance one's cooee call travels can be a matter of competitive pride. It is also known as a call of help, which can blend in with different natural sounds in the bush.
The word "cooee" originates from the Dharug language of the original inhabitants of the Sydney area. It means "come here", and has now become widely used in Australia as a call over distances. It was known among white settlers in colonial times and Watkin Tench refers to the Aborigines of Sydney calling to each other in this way.
History and usage
One of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes mysteries hinges on the use of "cooee". "The Boscombe Valley Mystery" is solved partly because, unlike everyone else, Holmes recognises the call is commonly used among Australians. However, author and missionary to Tasmania, Reverend John West (1809-1873), reported in 1852 that "cooey" was "not unknown in certain neighbourhoods of the metropolis" (London). In 1864, an English slang dictionary reported: "Cooey, the Australian bush-call, now not unfrequently heard in the streets of London". In 1917, the Anglo-Welsh poet Edward Thomas used "coo-ee" as the parting word with his wife Helen, on leaving for the Western Front from which he never returned; a fact commemorated at a 2014 Remembrance service in Glasgow.
The expression "within cooee" has developed within Australian and New Zealand English as slang for "within a manageable distance". It is often used in the negative sense (i.e. "you're not even within cooee", meaning not close to or, a long way off). Another example would be: "They realised they were lost and there was no-one within cooee". It is also use in the abstract (e.g. "How much do you think they spent redoing this place?" "Oh, I don't know, five thousand dollars?" "You're not even within cooee—twenty-five thousand!").
The word cooee has become a name of many organisations, places and even events. Perhaps the most historic of these was the Cooee March during the First World War. It was staged by 35 men from Gilgandra, New South Wales, 766 km (476 mi) northwest of Sydney, as a recruiting drive after enthusiasm for the war waned in 1915 with the first casualty lists. They marched to Sydney calling "Cooee!" to encourage others to come and enlist. A poster read "Coo-ee – Won't you come?". When they reached Sydney on 12 December, the group had grown to 277. To this day, Gilgandra holds a yearly Cooee Festival in October to commemorate the event. Other Cooee Festivals occur across Australia.
Richard White indicates the important means of demonstrating Australian nationality with the call taking on a consciously nationalistic meaning. He also documents its spread through the Empire, to New Zealand and South Africa.
- Richards, Kel (2013). Kel Richards' Dictionary of Phrase and Fable. NewSouth. ISBN 1742241123.
- The Macquarie Concise Dictionary, The Macquarie Library, 1998, Sydney, ISBN 0-949757-95-0
- West, John (1852). The History of Tasmania - Volume II. Launceston, Tasmania: Henry Dowling. p. 92.
...they called to each other, from a great distance, by the cooey; a word meaning "come to me." The Sydney blacks modulated this cry, with successive inflexions; the Tasmanian uttered it with less art. It is a sound of great compass. The English, in the bush, adopt it: the first syllable is prolonged; the second is raised to a higher key, and is sharp and abrupt. [Footnote 35] A female, born on this division of the globe, once stood at the foot of London bridge, and cooeyed for her husband, of whom she had lost sight, and stopped the passengers by the novelty of the sound; which, however, is not unknown in certain neighbourhoods of the metropolis. Some gentlemen, on a visit to a London theatre, to draw the attention of their friends in an opposite box, called out cooey; a voice, in the gallery, answered—"Botany Bay!"
- Hotton, James Camden (1865). The Slang Dictionary. London: J C Hotton. p. 107.
- Cramb, Auslan (5 August 2014). "Coo-ee! The echo of a poignant First World War parting rings out in Glasgow Cathedral". www.telegraph.co.uk. Telegraph Media Group Limited. Retrieved 24 August 2017.
- Allam, Lorena; Jennifer Bowen (9 November 2008). "Cooee: the history of a call". ABC Radio National - Hindsight. Australian Broadcasting Corporation. Retrieved 25 August 2014.
- "Cooees across the Strand: Australian Travellers in London and the Performance of National Identity" Australian Historical Studies 32(116) April 2001