Dhagan Warumbunglee - Making a Impact in Coonabarabran, NSW

Today we learn about 'Dhagan Warumbunglee', a new Indigenous group doing amazing things for the small community of Coonabarabran - a town situated at the foot of the Warrumbungles, NSW. Early this week, we had the privilege of chatting with one of the founders Dylan. Through this interview he tells his story and how this led him to starting 'Dhagan Warumbunglee' along with his cousin Steven. The group is focussed upon improving the mental health and wellbeing of youth within the community through teaching culture and creating new pathways.

Students performing at Dhagan Warumbunglee’s Sorry Day Event. Courtesy of Dhagan Warumbunglee, 2021.

Give us an intro to you and what was it like growing up in Coonabarabran?

“My name’s Dylan Neville, a proud Kamilaroi...Wailwan…[and] Coonabarabran man... I have strong family ties to the area. I'm a direct descendant from Mary Jane Cain, she’s my great-great grandmother. She was the first feminist and freedom fighter here. She wrote to the Queen to apply for land, which got granted, which was unusual back then. So she’s a pretty history figure here in Coonabarabran and all of the Indigenous families span from her.

"Yeah, growing up in Coona, it's a small country town, only about three and a half thousand people. We have a really good school here but growing up I didn’t have much exposure to my identity in terms of my Indigenous side. My mum's Indigenous and my father’s a white fella. So, growing up with no identity, and understanding what it actually means to be Indigenous and not knowing the history, it's really difficult to find your way through life I guess at a young age.

“Until one day my cultural brother...Marty Gordon started running a few dance gigs through the town. We’d go bush and we’d do dance practice and he would show us a bit about culture...That's what I was really missing through all of my growing up...So once I met him I found my purpose and my identity.”


Mary Jane Cain Bride, Coonabarabran.  Courtesy of Dhagan Warumbunglee, 2021.

What are some of the issues the Coonabarabran faces?

“Yeah, there’s also a dark side to Coona. It's on the direct line from Melbourne to Brisbane, so we get a truck coming through here every two minutes on average. The tourism side is really good. We get a lot of tourism, but are also along the ice highway so there’s a lot of drug addiction and community problems that come from that. Alcohol abuse, violence, systemic violence, systemic racism in the community are very prevalent. Growing up, I copped a lot of it, but it was just like normal you know. We didn’t see it as something that was hindering us at a young age.

“So all of this sort of stuff happened when I was young - I didn’t have the best upbringing. I’ve got the most beautiful parents in the world, but they had their fair share of difficulties...Once I was 16 and I met Marty, everything sort of started becoming clearer...So after that, I graduated high school here…[but] I didn’t know what I was going to do. I moved away, I had to get out of town I think at that age…...I’d come back every often to visit family...I’d hate it, it would bring back...all the negativity and violence. I didn’t think I would come back to this community and want to live here.

“I found myself on the coast, dancing and connecting with my Indigenous side [which] helped me make connections all throughout New South Wales and right across Australia. Wherever I went or wherever I landed, there’d be people there to keep guiding me on that traditional path and teach me my ancestors’ ways. There’s this big drive for us: the continuation of Indigenous culture…[and] cultural preservation, and that’s what we’re trying to do here in [the] community. Once I had moved away to the coast, I worked with different Indigenous organisations performing and doing all of these different things.”

So when did you begin Dhagan Warumbunglee and why?

“Corona hit and it was that beautiful reset button for a lot of people. So I hit the big button and I moved home and I was like this is it; this is where I want to be, and everything sort of made sense to come home at this time. The whole vibe was different. I wanted to build my relationship with my family. Everything sort of just fell into place.

“...I moved home and I was like, “ Why don’t we just start our own little business here and try and change the story here?.” The first thing that I noticed when I got home was that there was nothing really happening in terms of that cultural space in the community...There was some stuff in the background, but there’s no Indigenous organisations here so there was room for us to grow. I basically just picked up the idea and just ran with it and got my cousin on board - Stephen. When I started brainstorming and told him all of my ideas he was like, “Let’s go! Let’s have a crack at it.””

What is the meaning behind the name Dhagan Warumbunglee?

“So, Coonabarabran is a beautiful place right at the foot of the Warrumbungles National Park, and that’s where we get our name from. Dhagan Warumbunglee means ‘Brothers of the Warrumbungles.’ It's gorgeous and it's a very important and special place. There’s a lot of different mobs that have come in from...NSW, right across Australia to that National Park for the ceremony and [they] pass through there. So, the lines are very prevalent from way out west and all the way to the coast, following them Songlines and storylines and travelling through the country.”

Students performing at Dhagan Warumbunglee’s Sorry Day Event. Courtesy of Dhagan Warumbunglee, 2021.

What kind work do you do with students through your school program?

“We’ve set it up so that each term we attack something different. So, first term, we’re referring to...roles and responsibilities, and then the second term (which we are doing now) is dance and Songlines, and the third term will be arts and artefacts. Then last term, as a little gift, we're doing a cross-cultural exchange…take them to the coast and share stories down there, then take them to the west, to the desert country out there to see different sites. It works so perfectly, because they’re at that age where it could go either way, and if they’ve got that support into their senior years they’ll be leaders. And once they graduate the program they also become mentors for the next group that comes through. We’re just trying to build that relationship. When you see them down the street they come over and see what's going on. We just really want to change the whole outlook and vibe of this community.”

Community gathered together for the Sorry Day March. Courtesy of Dhagan Warumbunglee, 2021.

Has the community as a whole been supportive of the work you’re doing?

“The community is screaming for it; they are so behind us, love everything that we’re doing and all of our ideas; backing us 110%. And that’s the best part because we’ve grown up in this community, most people have known us since we were young boys and to see us actually trying to change the future they’re really backing us.”

What positive changes have you seen so far through the work that you’ve been doing?

“I think the best thing for me is just the feedback from the community and becoming more prevalent in this community. Whether...it’s doing things at the high school, dancing for community events, playing local sports - the more that we are involved and the more we’re in the limelight, the more everyone is starting to take us a lot more seriously and are really getting behind us. There’s a massive platform and we could go a million different ways we could go with this. But the main thing we want to do is provide opportunities, but also provide work and different paths for people.”

How can people currently support you?

“Everything helps. Even just through our social media, following and supporting on that platform. It’s a great motivator for us, but also people get to see our good work. It also keeps us on track and eventually when we do get our merch it would be nice if everyone bought it!”

We’d like to say a huge thank you to Dylan for sharing his story and enlightening us about the incredible work the Dhagan Wurumbunglee does within the community of Coonabarabran. Stay tuned for some exciting projects coming soon!

Support Dhagan Warumbunglee by following their Instagram @dhagan_warumbunglee