Storytelling Through Music

Victor Rostron of Wildfire Manwurrk is a highly respected songman, senior culture man, songwriter and musician. He was born in a place called Djenmet in remote Stone Country of Arnhem Land. Victor speaks and sings in the traditional languages of Kune, Dalabon and Rembarrnga.

Wildfire Manwurrk recently performed in the MusicNT’s Bush Bands Bash in Mparntwe (Alice Springs). Bush Bands Bash is the biggest annual celebration of contemporary First Nations music in Central Australia.

It was here that Renae Saxby had the opportunity to yarn with Victor about storytelling, protecting Country and keeping community strong - all through the power of music.

Wildfire Manwurrk by Renae Saxby

Why did you start playing music?

Victor: "I seen my uncles playing music. And they’d been listening to Jimmy Barnes, Cold Chisel… I seen them start mucking around, with guitar and singing. I’ve been playing music since I was a little boy. Maybe four or five-year-old. Started mucking around with acoustic guitar. My favourite chords were D and G - my first chord lessons from my uncles.

Music is number one. For listening and learning. I want this band to go further. I want this band sharing message and spreading message. Telling story of our home. And what our home is missing - a lot of Elders, ceremony and language. And skinship. We are losing a lot of things slowly, but with music, I want to share the stories to hold the things and hold them tight. We want to hold it tight - our culture."

What is the role of music in storytelling?

Victor: "When we tell story by the campfire, no difference. By music, we tell story from generation to generation - same ways like fire. How we have still been by the fire, and how we still go out there and be sitting on Country - we still got that chant. And we’ve still got that knowledge and culture. By music, we can do double - two ways. Growing and learning two ways - balanda and bininj. ‘Bininj’ means us mob - Blackfella. ‘Balanda’ means whitefella."

What makes music so powerful?

Victor: "Music - from what I see and what I learn - it takes you somewhere. And it tells story. Everyone can listen and learn something. We’re singing for our Old People and for our Country. We want to put the story in the music. Why? Because we don’t want the mining in our Country. We don’t want anything damaging our rock art in our Country. We want to protect by this music. And we want to tell story so we can get more support to protect our Country and our ceremony. 

I want this music to tell story to all the balanda to recognise our ceremony, our culture. Right now we are still practicing. And we’re still trying to explain to balanda our culture. And they’re still saying, “your ceremony, your culture, is gone.” But no, it’s really different. Our ceremony and our Dreaming - it stay there forever. Sometimes hidden in secret."

Victor Rostron by Renae Saxby

Does it feel different to create and play music on Country?

Victor: "When you sing on Country in your own language, you’re proud inside. And you’re singing from your heart because you know that behind you, your Ancestors are following you - your Old People’s spirit. You make people proud when you stand up and tell your story. You’re not alone - someone still there telling story too."

What can music teach us?

Victor: "This song I wrote, it’s really a story for young kid. Some community have heart break from loved one, and something’s gone wrong, and I see a lot of suicide. And this song about young kids - we want to stop suicide. We want to stop young kids leaving us. We want to work with young kids, and make song together in better ways. In the right direction. Something needs to change. When we have depress inside, in our brain and heart, there’s always someone beside you. Talk to your grandmother, talk to your mumma. Always respect your Elders."

Is there anything else you’d like to share with us about music?

Victor: "This music here, it changed me a lot. In my time, when my mum left me behind, I would struggle with my grandmother and grandfather. I had big struggles, big time. I had depress when I was a little boy. I didn’t know what to do. But always my Elders would take me hunting, fishing, go camping, visiting homeland, visiting sacred site, teaching me all the Dreaming. They take me to see rock art, a lot of good painting. Grandfather said this is our painting. Rainbow Serpent. That’s why I can’t forget my Elders - they’ve always been there for me. Depress is really dangerous but always listen to your parents, grandmother, grandfather.

I had been listening. My uncle had been singing and dancing. I remember my uncle pushed me, saying dance. And suddenly we been dancing. It’s really deadly if you do that. You can feel your depress go away."

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Top image: Victor Rostron by Renae Saxby
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We acknowledge all First Peoples of this land and celebrate their enduring connections to Country, knowledge and stories. We pay our respects to Elders and Ancestors who watch over us and guide Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community.

This space contains images, voices and stories from people that have passed away.

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