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The Collaborative International Dictionary

Cooey \Coo"ey\, Cooee \Coo"ee\, n. [Of imitative origin.] A peculiar cry uttered by the Australian aborigines as a call to attract attention, and also in common use among the Australian colonists. In the actual call the first syllable is much prolonged (k[=oo]"-) and the second ends in a shrill, staccato [=e]. To represent the sound itself the spelling cooee is generally used. [Written also cooie.]

Within cooey, within earshot.


interj. (context informal chiefly Australia UK English) (non-gloss definition: Used to attract someone's attention.) n. 1 (context Australia informal onomatopoeia English) A long, loud call used to attract attention when at a distance, mainly done in the Australian bush. 2 (context Australia informal with "within" also figuratively English) A short distance; hailing distance. vb. (context intransitive Australia informal English) To make such a call.


Cooee! (IPA /ku:'i:/) 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.

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 recognizes the call is commonly used among Australians.

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 northwest of Sydney, as a recruiting drive after enthusiasm for the war waned in 1915 with the first casualty lists. The men 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 men. To this day, Gilgandra holds a yearly Cooee Festival in October to commemorate the event. Other Cooee Festivals occur across Australia. Cooee is also the name of a suburb in the Tasmanian city of Burnie.

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.