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Changemaker DOBBY On His Stunning Debut Album ‘WARRANGU: River Story’

14 June 2024 | 12:57 pm | Emma Newbury

“Learn your past, at least that’s the truth, cause all of these rivers they lead back to you.”


DOBBY (Supplied)


Murrawarri and Filipino artist multi-talent DOBBY has the midas touch.

The drummer and rapper (or as he endearingly calls himself “drapper”) has driven a career showcasing his roots and calling out Indigenous struggles as he sees them, leaving behind a bread-crumb trail of accolades. These accolades include composing for Elevate Sydney’s innovative drone shows across 2022 and 2023, composing the soundscapes for Parrtjima’s Festival in Light in 2021 and 2022, and releasing the anthemic I CAN’T BREATHE (featuring BARKAA) which became an integral soundtrack to Australia’s Black Lives Matter Movement. 

With a career as sonically rewarding as DOBBY’s, it may come as a surprise to learn that the singer has never produced more than a slew of singles before this point. With all calls pointing to DOBBY’s next big step, the artist has finally delivered an album of his own. Titled Warrangu: River Story, the rapper’s debut album is an archive of generations of Indigenous land knowledge.

Warrangu, meaning river in the Ngemba language, speaks of the three bodies of water surrounding the land of Brewarrina, which the singer/rapper’s mob call home. DOBBY takes us on a track-by-track guide of his stream of conscience on Warrangu: River Story below. 


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You will hear the crunching footsteps of myself walking alongside Brad Steadman, a Ngemba man with extensive cultural knowledge of the land and its languages. He has been a mentor to me throughout this project. He expresses to me the ebbs and flows of the land as we walk through the Bogari (Bogan River) dry riverbed in Gongolgon, NSW. This is just under an hour south of Brewarrina. His lessons throughout the riverbed are the central and underlying theme of WARRANGU: River Story, rising and falling throughout each song just as the river does.

He begins to tell me, “You get a story… Book story, right? Story written by somebody, doesn’t matter if it’s blackfella, whitefella, whoever… It’s two-dimensional, at best. Ay?”

“Am I the road back to the Country, or is the Country the road back to me?” - Brad Steadman

Dirrpi Yuin Patjulinya

The Bird Names Himself. On a hot morning in Brewarrina 2018; I recorded this “tritone magpie” right outside my window at my Aunty Noeleen Shearer’s house. He forms the basis of the song, and I’ve provided some more music around his melody.


Aunty Josie Byno, the Murrawarri elder in Weilmoringle, NSW, tells the story of the Mundagutta, which travels through the Ngaandu (Culgoa River).

I’m here at the Mundagutta hole in Weilmoringle with Aunty Josie, my father Ted Clapham and friend Ben Jones, fellow Murrawarri men. Aunty expresses her connection to the land, and in particular, to the river and waterholes in Weil. She talks of a connected story, of Wah Wae, told by Aunty Doreen Wright in Brewarrina, that is linked to the Mundagutta;

“They all link together… to form this story, amazing story.” - Aunty Josie Byno


Brad Steadman describes the devastating impact on the Barwon River as a result of illegal over-irrigation at a nearby cotton station. In addition to this, last year, up to a million fish died in Menindee, NSW, rendering it the biggest fish kill in history due to the high levels of blue-green algae in the rivers. It is evident that the waters in our rivers have been mismanaged on a catastrophic level.

My cousin / Aunty Lily Shearer, a proud citizen of the Murrawarri Republic and Ngemba nations, takes part in the Nation Dance via live Facebook video from Nipissing First Nation. She highlights the significance of water for the livelihood of our Country and our people.

Aunty Josie Byno reminds us, “We’re river people! [The Old People would] go and camp down near the river, that connection to the river… You go out to Brewarrina, I could cry.”

Brad Gordon shares his message for the government: “You keep draining these little rivers; the ecosystems and towns are gonna die.” He calls this travesty a “man-made drought.”

Rachel Evans yells in a protest in Sydney, “When water rights are under attack, what do we do? Stand up, fight back!”

I’d like to draw attention to the accompanying instrumentation, in particular, the combined harsh sticks and dry dripping throughout the track.

Matter Of Time

An imminent ecological disaster approaches and time continues to tick…

“Sick and I’m tired, temperature rise, livin’ in flood, suffer the fires,

Sick and I’m tired, sick and I’m tired, sick and I’m tired, I feel like it’s only a matter of time.”


We return to Brad Steadman’s lessons in the Bogari riverbed in Gongolgon, NSW. We stood in the riverbed and imagined if there was water in it, the water that washed over our feet would make a pattern that would meet up with the flow of the water in the Barwon River back in Brewarrina.

“The lie of the land, the way the country is laid out, is the lore of the land.” - Brad Steadman

This moment was deeply personal for me, a revelation that can be heard in the track “It’s all interconnected.” You can hear Aunty Lily Shearer’s clapsticks in Nipissing First Nation in transition with the Murrawarri clapsticks made by Uncle Roy Barker.

“Warrangu. That’s the river. Any river. Water source, creek. River. Warrangu. Ngaandu, Ngaandu, the Culgoa. Bogari, Bogan. Wahwangu, the Barwon. Wahwangu…” - Brad Steadman


A yearning to connect with Ancestors at a crossroads on this inward journey.

“Nothing I’m saying on these tracks are new; we all gotta do what we each have to do,

Learn your past, at least that’s the truth, cause all of these rivers, they lead back to you.”

Rivers Run Dry

Kelsey Iris, Yuwaalaraay, Gamilaroi and Murrawarri musician sings her Country as the rivers run dry. Sister Kelsey first played me this song in Brewarrina at Baiame’s Ngunnhu Festival 2019, where we played this song together beside the dry riverbed of the Barwon. The Ngunnhu (ancient fish traps) were exposed, with no water flowing through the cracks.

You will hear the Murrawarri words of her father, Uncle Tommy Barker, bringing the water back to the rivers.

“I belong to Mayi, to the land. Trynna find my way back home; wanna follow the songlines where the rivers flow. And now the Rivers Run Dry and I cry, and I cry, and I cry…” - Kelsey Iris


Brad Steadman returns with the story of Wah Wae in the Barwon River that runs through Brewarrina. Bradley Hardy gently plays the guitar, floating over the trickles of the water. As he strums, the water begins to flow faster and heavier. The birds sing, Dirrpi Yuin Patjulinya and the water crashes over the weir and spills through the Ngunnhu.

Current and emerging elders introduce themselves; “Hi, my name’s Lily Shearer, I’m a proud citizen of the Murrawarri Republic and Ngemba nations”, “Brad Gordon here, ‘WATER where the bloody hell are ya?’”, “Yeah, my name’s Josie Byno, I’m a Murrawarri from the Culgoa River in Weilmoringle”, “My name’s Tom Barker, I’m a descendant of the Murrawarri on my dad’s side, and my mum’s side, a Yorta Yorta”, and finally my grandmother, Mary Beryl Shearer: “I was born Mary Beryl Shearer. I was born and raised in Brewarrina.”

“Barkindji calls him Ngatchi, Murrawarri calls him Mundagutta, we call him Wah Wae, mob further up the river call him Guttya. Same fella. What the whitefellas call ‘Rainbow Serpent’. That Wah Wae is clever because he can talk any language, and you just gotta know what language to talk to him in. And what to call him.” - Brad Steadman

Language Is In The Land

This is a final message, an urgent call for action in our parliament to reverse the damage to our land and waterways before it worsens. Brewarrina currently has sludge running through its taps, and there is no free access to clean water, only bottled water.


We finally return to the crunching footsteps of the Bogari riverbed, where I walk alongside Brad Steadman. He begins to tell me; “You get a story…

Warrangu: River Story by DOBBY is out now via ABC Music. You can listen/buy the album here.