birds of australia: the drongo

Resident ornithologists Michael and Hayley have been unable to articulate words about the drongo that aren’t Alf Stewart quotes.

Drongo is a great insult, handily without racial connotations, a rare thing here in Australia. We should all aspire to use it more often. From ANU:



A fool, a simpleton, an idiot. There is also a bird called a drongo. The spangled drongo is found in northern and eastern Australia, as well as in the islands to the north of Australia, and further north to India and China. It is called a drongo because that is the name of a bird from the same family in northern Madagascar. The spangled drongo is not a stupid bird. It is not a galah. One book describes it thus: ‘The spangled drongo catches insects in the air, chasing them in aerobatic flight’. There is one odd story about the drongo, however: unlike most migratory birds, it appears to migrate to colder regions in winter. Some have suggested that this is the origin of the association of ‘stupidity’ with the term drongo. But this seems most unlikely.

So what is the true story? There was an Australian racehorse called Drongo during the early 1920s. It seems likely that he was named after the bird called the ‘drongo’. He wasn’t a an absolute no-hoper of a racehorse: he ran second in a VRC Derby and St Leger, third in the AJC St Leger, and fifth in the 1924 Sydney Cup. He often came very close to winning major races, but in 37 starts he never won a race. In 1924 a writer in the Melbourne Argus comments: ‘Drongo is sure to be a very hard horse to beat. He is improving with every run’. But he never did win.

Soon after the horse’s retirement it seems that racegoers started to apply the term to horses that were having similarly unlucky careers. Soon after the term became more negative, and was applied also to people who were not so much ‘unlucky’ as ‘hopeless cases’, ‘no-hopers’, and thereafter ‘fools’. In the 1940s it was applied to recruits in the Royal Australian Air Force. It has become part of general Australian slang.

Buzz Kennedy, writing in The Australian newspaper in 1977, defines a drongo thus:

A drongo is a simpleton but a complicated one: he is a simpleton [of the] sort who not only falls over his feet but does so at Government House; who asks his future mother-in-law to pass-the-magic-word salt the first time the girl asks him home…. In an emergency he runs heroically in the wrong direction. If he were Superman he would get locked in the telephone box. He never wins. So he is a drongo.

Since, having never seen a drongo (LOOK AT ITS EVIL FACE), our resident ornithologists couldn’t opine on it, I thought I’d do as they jokingly suggested and fill this post with Alf Stewart memes.


And then I actually googled, and all I could find were really terrible things. Don’t go into that part of the internet. It’s nice that an Australian curmudgeon has found continuing relevance as a meme, but uh wow. It’s full of like some r*pe squad, photoshops of Alf’s head onto sexy bikini lady bodies, use of the word c*nt.

From Redbubble: Prime Minister Howard Presents Alf Stewart Vs Harold Bishop

It’s interesting to me that this old white man is someone we all know; at the same time, it’s completely not a surprise at all. When an old white guy hangs around the cultural zeitgeist for 15 million years, 7pm every weekday from before we were born, it’s inevitable that we all know about him.

[Liz: I have literally never watched an episode of Home & Away, yet I know Alf Stewart.]

Definitely click through to this comic

Actually this final image isn’t true, no member of No Award is a member of the Alf Stewart Fan Club. It’s just an excellent visual pun. (It’s a flaming drongogalah, in case you can’t tell.)


More bird posts again soon.



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