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J-MILLA’s Guide to the Northern Territory

Darwin-born hip hop artist J-MILLA talks to Rolling Stone Australia for our #UpInIt series, where Australian musicians reveal their unique perspectives on the NT.

J-MILLA’s Jacob Nichaloff is a proud Mak Mak Marranunggu man who was born in Darwin in the late 1990s. Nichaloff wrote his first bars at age 11. He launched the J-MILLA project in 2017 and released his first single, “My People,” a song about racial discrimination and the path to reconciliation, in 2018. 

Racial discrimination is a recurring topic in J-MILLA’s work. Nichaloff has experienced intergenerational trauma throughout his life, but he finds solace in music. His releases are strongly influenced by contemporary hip hop and R&B, while also drawing on the storytelling traditions of his cultural ancestors. 

In a new video produced by Rolling Stone Australia and Tourism NT, J-MILLA speaks about his favourite places in the NT, from Darwin and nearby Marranunggu land to Kings Canyon and the APY Lands across the South Australian border.

“The Mak Mak Marranunggu people are from Litchfield National Park region, and also out in Bamboo Creek and Batchelor,” says J-MILLA. Litchfield National Park is a 100-kilometre drive south-west of Darwin. It’s home to Florence and Wangi Falls. “My favourite would probably be Florence Falls, and also Buley Rockhole,” says J-MILLA.

The swimming holes of Florence Falls are situated within a monsoon forest. Buley Rockhole is made up of several ancient rock pools that cascade downhill. J-MILLA advises against visiting in the wet season, as the whole place will be flooded. “So you don’t really enjoy a rockhole spot to sit back with your family,” he says. 

But during the dry season, it’s an amazing spot. “There are open rockholes to swim in,” says J-MILLA. “It’s free, you don’t need to pay, and that’s like your Wet’n’Wild natural waterpark right there for you.”

J-MILLA’s favourite local views can be found at Litchfield’s Wangi Falls, as well as Jim Jim Falls in Kakadu National Park, 170 kilometres east of Darwin along the Arnhem Highway. “If you take a photo, you could put it on your MacBook [desktop]—it’s like a real nice, beautiful look,” he says.

In terms of total land area, the Northern Territory is bigger than New South Wales, Victoria and Tasmania combined. Even born-and-bred Territorians like J-MILLA haven’t seen it all. A few years ago, J-MILLA and his partner, influencer Poppy Radbone, road tripped from Alice Springs to Darwin, adding 1500 kilometres to the odometer. 

The couple visited Tennant Creek, a small town in central NT with a population of three-thousand people, 50 per cent of whom are Indigenous. “It was kind of crazy because people recognised who I was and wanted to get some photos and stuff, so I was freaking out on how many people knew us along the way,” says J-MILLA.

J-MILLA’s favourite stop on the drive from Alice to Darwin was Kings Canyon, located in Watarrka National Park a three-hour drive from Uluru. “That was amazing,” he says. J-MILLA had known about Kings Canyon for most of his life—it’s another spot with desktop background potential—but visiting was another story.

“It’s just an amazing scene,” he says. “There’s this cliffside, right, and there’s no barrier, there’s no gates or anything that’s blocking you from falling off. And there’s about 150 metre drop down this cliff.”

By virtue of their respective métiers, J-MILLA and his partner typically spend a lot of time engaging with followers on social media. During the trip around the NT, they were able to go offline and reconnect with the natural world.

“It’s a good way to switch off from your phone and your electronics,” he says. “You’re actually in tunnel vision of what’s going on around you and you’re really in the moment.”

Darwin, J-MILLA’s hometown, is the place he knows best. If you’re in Darwin in the dry season (from April till October), J-MILLA recommends the Thursday night Mindil Beach Sunset Market. “There’s many types of foods,” he says. “From Asian to your traditional Aboriginal types of foods to fish and chips.”

Darwin’s culture also helped shape J-MILLA’s personality. “Everyone’s so cruisy up in Darwin. We’re laidback people. That’s where I was born and raised and I think that’s made an impact on me as a person,” he says.

One of J-MILLA’s all-time favourite gigs was a hometown performance for the 2020 Darwin Festival. “It was a sold-out show and I was on stage before Electric Fields,” he says. “The atmosphere was amazing and I enjoyed every bit of it.”