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Wildfire Manwurrk: 'When We Play Our Music, We Tell The Story Of Our Country'

28 November 2022 | 1:40 pm | Mary Varvaris

"Moving forward, we want to break the chain and change the flag," says Victor Rostron of Wildfire Manwurrk.

(Pic by Renae Saxby)

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The debut EP from Wildfire Manwurrk, The Next Future, has come thousands of years in the making. The project tells the electrifying stories of the Rostron family from one of the most potent, captivating spaces in the world: remote Stone Country, Arnhem Land. The Rostron family have been making music together since 2012.

"It's really easy to get up on the stage and play music with family, but it was really hard for us to record and release music, and really hard to get support, even from our community, with no funding and no music space for us to use," Victor Rostron explains. The band hit brick walls with organisations that were supposed to help and no funding from the government. 

Astoundingly, The Next Future was recorded in just three days. Engineered by James Boundy (Dune Rats) and co-produced by Wildfire Manwurrk, Matt Smith (Thirsty Merc) and their band manager Kodjdjan Natalie Carey (Valentina Brave), it was the band's first time in a recording studio and a testament to how ready they are to bring their music to the world. 

"It was my sons' first time out of the Northern Territory. I was really proud to see my sons in new country. They were nervous but really excited to see different places. 

"Funny story, we saw all the Balanda [white men] swimming in the sea! In the saltwater! we thought, 'what are they doing out there?!!' Big wind, big waves and Crocodiles there," Rostron begins. "First time we saw Balanda swimming, we thought they were drowning. We said, 'These people, they're mad'. We drove up the mountain to Nowave Studio; we'd never seen a mountain before. We did it in 3 days, but we were ready because we had been waiting for a long time. We just went there and hammered it!"

Working with Boundy, Smith, and Carey was a positive experience for the band. "Kodjdjan Natalie took us to this biggest mountain, to the recording studio in the bush. We met Boundy, Matt and Julian (Nowave Studio owner) there. They really believe in us mob," Rostron says. "I met Natalie when we started working together on a music program. We have been working together since then, pushing really hard, trying our best, talking to organisations, and trying to get a music studio running. And we did it too, but when a new CEO came in, it collapsed again. But we never gave up. 

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"She's seen a lot of Bininj musicians going to waste, old to young; she's seen all the communities struggles. She fought for music in our community. She is a musician and a big believer in Bininj's side; she has a powerful spiritual side."

Wildfire Manwurrk felt welcomed and respected by James Boundy, who Rostron dubs a "deadly, respectful, powerful and hard-working man." It was the first time that the family had seen the kind of mixing that occurred in the Nowave Studio. 

Matt Smith, meanwhile, shocked the Rostron family with how well he could play the guitar. "The boys couldn't stop talking about how he plays. He's the best guitar player ever gone," he exclaims. Smith provided the ideal skills for what Wildfire Manwurrk capture in their music - the amalgamation of well-known Western music, like punk, garage rock and country music sung in ancient endangered languages Kune, Dalabon and Rembarrnga.

"We started putting Balanda and Bininj music together when the kids were young. Everyone in our family always played music. We are all musicians, even our old people. They sang Kunborrk, then gospel, and when the kids started loving heavy metal music, it came naturally to put it all together," Rostron says. The EP artwork was painted by Victor Rostron and represents "our country, our language and culture"; the image came from a powerful dream he had.

"On the riverside, I was fishing there. My fishing line got stuck on the log, and I had to swim in the water. I went deeper and deeper; it was really dark; I saw two eyes looking at me from the dark water. I swam up really fast and held the log. The water started spinning in circles, and there was one Bolong behind me, looking at me straight up. I turned around and looked at him face to face. The other Bolong was behind me, looking at me from the side. They were saying 'Mamam', which means Grandson. They said, 'you can swim. Everything will be alright,'" he explains.

"When I got to the bank, they said, 'Marrek Yi- durndeng' (Don't come back), like they were trying to protect me. One Bolong was looking at the sun, and I followed his eye and saw the sun shining. The other Bolong said, 'Wurdurd yibin-kan, marrek. gurri- koronhme' (take the kids, you are travelling right direction, don't look back). The water was like a rainbow. All colourful. It felt like a message for this family band not to give up looking after our country. It was them saying you're on the right track. I got up from sleep and started painting."

What do Wildfire Manwurrk want their audience to gain from their music? "We want people to learn about our language and our culture. When we play our music, we tell the story of our country. When we travel, we are taking our country with us and sharing it with you mob," Rostron tells. But the learning doesn't stop for anybody: the band wants to learn, too. 

"When we came to record in Northern NSW, we met one old man, Land Owner from Bundjalung Nation; he welcomed us and shared language with us; he talked about his land and sacred sites. He was a powerful talker. After he shared stories about that country, we could feel where we were standing, a really spiritual country. It made us really happy, and it felt like we shared the same culture. We will always come with big respect.

"Moving forward, we want to break the chain and change the flag. Walk together, Balanda and Bininj," Rostron says about the inspiration to continue telling the stories of his people. "We want to show our countrymen that we can walk forward and make our ancestors proud. We have struggled for over 200 years. It has left us with disease, with many sicknesses like Rheumatic Heart Disease and our people dying. 

It is hard to stay positive. Our lifestyle is changing. Young people, technology, overcrowded houses, all clan groups mixing up, and our language all getting remixed. Telling our stories keeps us connected to who we have always been. It makes us really strong. It reminds us of our early days' people, walking on the land, hunting and gathering and always happy and healthy," he adds, "We want to see each other as human beings, not our colour.

"We have serious things coming up in front of us, climate change, global warming, war, mother nature, and our earth has gone mad. Our dreaming and our sacred sites are suffering because people are not visiting those places own that country. By mining and building cars, we are killing the earth; the earth is getting sick. We need to remember the answers are in the old stories. Our Bolong (Rainbow Serpent), Mimih (Spirit being), sacred sites and Dreamings. We need to keep telling those stories to keep reminding earth that we still remember."

The Next Future EP is out now; listen to it here.