My Dad’s raspy voice echoed from the other side of the ranch, with a cry that I was almost sure the whole of Queensland could hear. Leaving the cattle, I ran towards home, my stomach rumbling with hunger.
“How do you do that?” I panted, running past Dad, drawn towards the smell of lemon chicken.
“Do what?” he asked, in his usual, subdued tone of voice. Mum took a seat beside me, sighing as she studied my dirty boots.
“That sound - You make it travel so far.” I saw that Dad’s face beamed with pride.
“Ah. You want to know the secret of a good ‘cooee‘?” He lifted a piece of chicken on his fork, pointing it towards me. “It’s all in the actual word. The sounds all blend together in a loud, shrill voice and carry through the air well enough to echo around for miles. It takes a bit of practise though.”
“And it’s not a good idea to stand too close while he’s trying it,” Mum interjected.
I laughed, putting my hands over my ears, and pulling a painful face. “Do you think you can teach me how to do it?”
“Say, half a kilometre away?” Mum winked.
“Sure. Why not?” Dad grinned at Mum. “My own Dad taught me, so I guess we could carry on the family tradition. Of course it dates back much further than that. It was early Aborigines who first used ‘Cooee’ to call tribe members who were lost.”
“Reminds me a bit of John the Baptist,” pondered Mum, and I studied her in confusion.
“Did he shout ‘Cooee’ too?”
“Not quite, though it may have been useful had he known about it,” she mused. “He too called out to reach the lost, you see, with the good news that a Saviour was coming.”
“I hadn’t thought of that,” Dad nodded in agreement, “I suppose God still wants us to give a ‘cooee’ of good news to those around us, and a loud one, so that no-one misses out.”
“Wasn’t there some sort of famous ‘Cooee March’?” I tried to bring the conversation back round. Why did my parents always have to bring God into everything?
“Yes, I suppose that’s what made the ‘cooee’ call most famous, during the First World War.” Dad again waved his fork in enthusiasm. “Recruits in the Australian army were slacking, so a man called William Hitchen from New South Wales got this bonzer idea to start a recruitment march, calling out ‘Cooee’ to all the nearby towns and villages. His idea was to travel to Sydney - 766 kilometres away, on roads nothing like ours today.”
“Gee - He sure was brave.” My eager mind wanted to find out more. “Did he find others to join him?"
“Around thirty I think,” Dad answered, “though by the time they reached Sydney that number had reached almost three-hundred as far as I know. Some people called it a ‘snowball march’.”
“Well, they said it was like a tiny snowball, gradually picking up more snow as it rolled.”
“There aren’t many people like that around now.” I wondered at their great courage and fervour.
“That’s true,” Mum agreed, “and we could do with a few to fight our war.”
“What war?” She always puzzled me with her words. As far as I knew, we were living in peaceful times.
“As Christians, we have an enemy who always tries to bring us down,” she explained with quiet wisdom, “and we should prepare not only ourselves but others. Wouldn’t it be great to have the same drive and desire to recruit people into the Lord’s army? Who knows what sort of snowball effect a ‘Cooee’ for God might have?”
Dad did teach me how to give a loud, clear call later (well out of Mum’s earshot). Though I had learned so much more that day. A little tiny seed of faith within me began to sprout, thanks to my parents’ nurturing care.
I now often amaze the children of Adoni Orphanage, where I serve as a missionary, with a loud, “Cooee!” every now and again. I usually retell Mum’s wise message afterwards. As I listen to my call, echoing into the great expanse of the Sahara, I am reminded of some words my parents used to read to me from God’s word:
‘…how can they believe if they have not heard the message? And how can they hear if the message is not proclaimed?’ *
*Romans 10:14 (TEV)
Read more about the 'Cooee March' of 1915 at http://www.gilgandra.nsw.gov.au/
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