While most Australians know of the word Drongo they probably don’t know of its derivation from the name of a horse that failed to win a race from 37 starts and also the name of a bird!
I spoke to author Bruce Walkley about his new book Drongo. Bruce Walkley is a former Tasmanian and he gets back here every couple of years to visit his brother who resides here, as well as friends in Launceston and the big drawcard in Tasmania’s fine wine and food.
It was the Tasmanian examiner’s Frank Dexter, who was ending his career as Bruce was beginning his, that set Bruce out to write this book.
The bird from which the name Drongo is lifted is a bird that has a gift of mimicry. It also is known for being a fighter when its loved ones come under attack. Ironically it was the horse Drongo who found himself under attack because of his inability to win races.
Drongo’s sire was named ‘Lanius’ a word which also translates as ‘bird’ which solidifies his name derivation from the bird drongo.
Drongo would therefore race into our language a word consigned to those deemed failures, but as Bruce Walkley shows us in his book ‘Drongo’ that is not entirely the case,
It was not Drongo’s fault that he was not granted the opportunities to succeed.
Although he never won a race he did have a much more a respectable career than his name would suggest.
He finished a respectable second in some races and of his last four races taken place in Adelaide he finished in the first four places, a fourth and a second and third.
He might even be considered a ‘rogue’ horse, one that is so called because he wins when he wants to, and is often the case, when not expected but Drongo’s inability to win in 37 starts has a logical explanation.
The problem in him not reaching his potential was that throughout his career he was never given the chance to ride in anything but metropolitan races, normally a horse that didn’t succeed in these would be tried out at other venues (Gosford, Bathurst,Wangaratta or Cape York) but this would not be the case for Drongo. It is wise to remember too that the horses he raced against were the best of the best.
If things had been different perhaps Drongo would not have been seen as a hapless loser but then he would not have given us the quintessentially Australian word that is ‘drongo’.
Drongo may have been under attack for his losing record but he also has in common with his namesake bird drongo the fact he was a little fighter ,sadly, who was not given his chances on an even playing or rather racing field to prove his true worth.
Drongo by Bruce Walkley is out now published by Slattery Media.