Drongo - The loser horse that stayed a loser horse
Drongo was a racehorse during the early 1920s. He looked promising and often came close to winning major races, but in 37 starts he never won anything. Soon after his retirement, 'Drongo' became an affectionate term for 'hopeless cases' , 'no-hopers', and thereafter 'fools'. In the 1940s it was applied to recruits in the Royal Australian Air Force.
The affection Australians reserved for Drongo is similar to the affection they held for the hopeless swimmer 'Eric the Eel' in the Sydney Olympics. The two are admired not for their ability rather for simply having a go.
Roy Cazaly was a South Melbourne ruckmen in the 1920s and 1930s. He stood at 180cm (5ft,11in) and weighed 79.5kg (12 Stone 7lb)
Despite his small stature, he had incredible athletic prowess and a huge lung capacity. His team mates and later the public would yell ‘Up there, Cazaly’ to encourage him to leap higher for hit-outs and marks.
The expression soon moved into the vernacular when Diggers on World War 2 battlefields would yell "Up there, Cazaly" when going into battle. In the 70's, the saying was turned into a pop song that reached number 1 on the Australian charts.
During the 1930s depression, Germans were finding self-esteem by rallyin g behind Adolph Hitler. Australians were going to the racetrack to cheer on Phar Lap.
Part of Phar Lap’s appeal was his record, winning 37 of his 51 starts. Although the winning ration was impressive, few Australians remember it. Instead, they remember the challenges that he faced. They remember that he was born of poor blood lines and lost most of his early races (unplaced in 8 out of his first 9). They remember that he was ugly with warts on his face, that handicappers saddled him with enough weight to stop a train and that someone tried to shoot him. Australians remember that he overcame his adversity because his heart was almost twice the size of most race horses(14 pounds compared to the average 9) and that when he left Australia's shores to prove his worth in America, he easily won his first race, and then died.
Although his achievements won him admiration, it was Phar Lap's style of racing that punters found truly inspiring. The jockey would hold him back until the home turn and let him sprint for the finish. Thus, just when onlookers believed all hope was gone, he would find something extra to mow down the front runners on the line.
It is admiration for that 'never surrender' spirit that helps explain why Australians have made a national hero out of a horse, but forgotten the name of more “worthy" human alternatives.
Bradman - The battling batsmen
A cricket batsman appears a battler as they appear at the crease with 11 opponents plotting their demise. Don Bradman appeared as a particularly capable battler. Such was his supremacy, the English Captain, Douglas Jardine, invented bodyline; instructing his bowlers to aim at the batsmen body with the intention of disrupting Bradman's concentration by causing injury. Accompanying the bodyline strategy were taunts like,
"knock that bloody Convicts head off."
Despite bodyline, Bradman averaged 99.96 in test cricket. He needed only 4 runs in his last innings to average the magical average of 100 for his career. He was bowled first ball.
Dawn Fraser is the only athlete in the world to win the same event at three successive Olympic Games.
At the Tokyo Olympics, she wore a custom made swimsuit and marched in the opening ceremony. Although such actions are commonplace today, at the time she was acting in defiance of official protocol.
As a consequence of her actions, she was banned from competition for ten years which denied her the chance to win a fourth gold at the Mexico Olympics. (Her antics also rumoured to have included stealing the Japanese flag and running a pair of knickers up the flagpole.)
Bon Scott arrived in Australia from Scotland at the age of 6. Teased at school for his accent, he was dubbed 'Bonnie' (Scotland) which stuck for life. Bon battled against the prejudice that anyone who tried to make a living out of music was just a 'shirking laybout and probably a poofter to boot. ' For years he persevered and eventually schemed his way into becoming the lead singer of AC/DC, Australia's most successful artistic export. The band hit the verge of the big time with the single 'Its a long way to the top if you want to rock and roll' and the follow up album, 'Highway to Hell.' Shortly later, Bon was found dead in a car; rumoured to have died from excessive alcohol consumption.
25 years after his death, AC/DC fans still undertake a pilgrimage to his grave to pay their respects and pour some Jack Daniels over the earth.
Errol Flynn was born in Tasmania in 1909. In his adolescent years, he was expelled from every school he attended and never passed an examination. When his schooling was complete, he left to sail the high seas. His adventures included farming, skippering, slave trading, gold mining, poaching, a job biting the testicals off rams, cock-fighting in the Philippines before finishing as a Shakespearean actor in England. In one of his performances, his roguish looks caught the eye of a Hollywood producer and a star was born.
Despite being in the public eye, Errol continued to live by his own wicked ways. Rumours of his debaucherous romps abounded and inspired the derogatory saying "In like Flynn." Curiously, Errol never denied the insult but instead embraced it as his personnel motto.
Even though he is one of Hollywood's immortal actors, Flynn never received any kind of award or even a nomination. His funeral was poorly attended.
Douglas Mawson - "It's dead easy to die; it's the keeping on living that's hard."
On January 7 1913, Douglas Mawson stood alone as he looked over the blizzard-swept ice of Antarctica. He was 100 miles from main base, his dogs were dead, food almost gone, and he had just made an ice tomb for a fellow explorer. There was little hope for survival. When faced with similar predicaments, other polar explorers had simply pitched a tent, got in their sleeping bags and spent their final days writing their memoirs.
Despite the lack of hope, Mawson did not wait to die. He had a single-minded determination to never surrender and it was this determination that kept him putting one foot in front of the next. Even when the soles of each foot came away to leave exposed flesh, he simply bandaged them back into place and kept his feet moving forward.
Just as Mawson had almost no hope that he would make it back, his search team had almost no hope that they would find anyone alive. All teams had to be back by January 14 otherwise encroaching sea ice would prevent the ship from leaving. Despite the lack of hope, six men decided to endure another Antarctica winter so that they could continue searching, and continue building snow cairns for a lost party that would almost certainly never use them. Against all odds, on January 29 Mawson found one of these cairns. A week and a half later, he walked back into main base with the greatest tale of polar survival ever told.
(1)Michael Page & Robert Ingpen. Aussie Battlers Adelaide, Australia: Rigby Limited, 1982.