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Shanell Dargan talks Aboriginal pride, past traumas and first fight after title win

Andrew Mathieson -

Shanell Dargan understands more than most of her boxing peers, Aboriginal or not, of the impact she endured from her fierce upbringing.

Mother and father constantly in and out of prison, her guardian and nan dealing with the pain of a member of the Stolen Generation, while Dargan before slipping the gloves on becoming a survivor of domestic violence that came out stronger in time.

Coming through the other side has shaped the Wiradjuri and Mununjali woman’s meteoric rise through the fight game’s ranks inside two years of a nonchalant professional debut.

Dargan took on and defeated Amber Amelia, an equally worthy Indigenous contender for the vacant Australian Super Bantamweight women’s title in October last year, in just the Campbelltown local’s sixth fight.

The reward didn’t come in cash riches nor just fame and glory from the vacant title victory, but what badge was added to the belt wrapped around Dargan’s waist with her arms raised in the air.

The execution from the Australian National Boxing Federation to place the Aboriginal flag on the other side of the strap from where the Australian flag happened “at the right time”.

“I did know that the ANBF decided they wanted to add the Aboriginal flag to the belt,” she says after the points-decision win.

“They just had the Australian flag on it for a time, so it just kind of worked in both of our favours then that we were able to fight for that.

“As soon as I saw that flag on (the belt), it just made that fight a bit more special.

“I say I am a very proud Indigenous woman, so to have a belt like that with my flag on there is really important to me.

“It’s a great addition to the belt and I commend the ANBF for doing that.”

Neither fighters requested the change, but with a good chunk of past Australian title-holders identify as Aboriginal, the overdue change “just organically happened”.

It's been more than a century in the making the additional flag, after research reveals, Aboriginal pugilists made up a disproportionate 15 per cent of the entire national boxing champions nearly that long ago.

The first Indigenous Australian to win a major boxing title was Yinman man Jerry Jerome in 1912.

Lionel Rose, Tony Mundine, Hector Thompson, Dave Sands, Anthony Mundine, Robbie Pedan, Daniel Geale and Paul Fleming have been the most impactful blackfullas in the ring since, but the women are catching up this century after so many lost years.

“I do believe it was meant to be,” Dargan says.

“That I was meant to fight for that.

“It was supposed to happen when it did happen.

“Now holding that belt makes me hungrier for regional titles and hopefully one day a world title in the future.”

The 31-year-old looks back before her boxing past and shakes her head a little, admitting she could never once imagine becoming a champion.

She was, after all, more than once down and out.

Talk about a life of hard knocks.

Growing up the trauma was constant inside her head, filling Dargan with a lot of anger and pain.

Like a one-two punch in her chosen sport, Dargan countered a life full of inter-generational First Nations trauma before being fell from facing domestic violence at the hands of a partner.

Boxing provided an outlet to express her emotions when she wasn’t first wowing judges singing on Australian TV or in front of John Legend in New York City at her passion –  or just playing football with mates back in Redfern that created a physical outlet too.

“Everything that I have been through my life, I have kinda used that as fuel to keep on pushing forward and what better for myself, and now my son,” Dargan says.

“I’m not perfect and I have never claimed to be, and I am still learning and growing, and I have grown a lot.

“I really just want to see young Aboriginal girls see me on TV and think I can do that.

“I know so many kids that have gone through similar circumstances to me: both of my parents have been in and out of prison since I was born, and my nan raised me.

“There’s a lot of Aboriginal kids who have had the exact same life experience as I had.

“I’m proving that no matter what has happened in your life, where you have come from, as long as you work hard, you can achieve anything really that you want.”

Boxing also only became a realistic option back in 2019, but she had obvious setbacks like most in gyms along her new road of the ongoing journey.

But becoming an Australian champion in Dargan’s head never was one of the options.

Certainly not while still learning the ropes while suffering the single loss amid a peculiar record of three wins, two draws and her only loss one contest after her maiden fight.

“Not a chance,” she laughs.

“It’s quite crazy to see where I started and when I did start it.

“We pretty much had Covid too, so I missed out on two years, really, of boxing.

“So when you think about it, I have been boxing for three years max when you count that Covid climate and everything else.

“I’ve always fought girls who are a lot more experienced than me.

“I always wanted to test myself and I think that has made me a better fighter.

“I’ve had really good people around me in my team that believe and support me, who want the best for me.

“I never would have thought that I could become a boxer and earn money, and really earn a living doing this, it’s insane.

“But there is still a long way to go – don’t get me wrong.”

Dargan is set to take on Kiwi Christine Gillespie next in an unplanned non-title fight.

Gillespie is grossly more experienced on the canvas through the amateurs, including holding two past New Zealand titles, but has fought just the one previous occasion in the pros.

More than six months since winning the 55.34kgs category, Dargan has been left to prepare feeling frustrated despite have the path cleared to retain her title a little longer regardless of the fight's outcome

“It was pretty much a last-minute change,” she says.

“We had a lot of girls pull out – the title fight was offered up to six (Australian) women.

“But we weren’t able to lock someone in a few weeks out.

“It’s been a sort of crazy few weeks of not knowing if I am fighting, who I am fighting or will I get an opportunity.

“I was meant to be fighting for my Australian title, but unfortunately I wasn’t able to get a flight from someone in Australia.”

But should Dargan get nothing else out of the belt providing no extra incentive for a Gillespie win, there is still the opportunity of facing a Southpaw for the first time.

They are placed on the undercard to Nikita Tszyu out to defend the Australian super welterweight against Danilo Creati in the main event on April 24 at Sydney’s Hordern Pavilion.

“It’ll be a very different fight to what I have been training for,” Dargan said.

“So I have had to train in a very different way and be more strategic because you face a Southpaw, everything is the opposite.

“It’s going to be a difficult fight and I expect she’s going to bring the fight.”

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