June Mills is a well known Darwin identity – a traditional owner of Larrakia land, the country on which Darwin is built and the surrounding area.
The Mills children grew up surrounded by music and it wasn’t long before they started to pick up the various musical instruments in the house – guitar, ukelele, mandolin, piano accordion, organ – and began to play. The family’s musical tradition continues with June’s children, and some of their young cousins, moving into various areas of the Darwin music industry.
June recalls that her first experiences of singing in public started in 1980 when she took her mother to the Northern Country Music Association meeting at the Alawa Hall in Darwin. The following week they took sister Allyson, and then each week brought another sister with them. Eventually they were all up there – June on guitar, Allyson on ukelele, Barbara on tambourine and shakers, Violet on Tbox (bush bass) and Robin Forscutt on lead guitar. The Mills Sisters (not to be confused with the Torres Strait Islander Mills Sisters), who were to become a Darwin musical institution, were born.
From these early performances the Country Music Association recommended the Mills Sisters as the support act for The Bushwackers and Bullamakanka. They went on to support many famous acts like Harry Secombe, Charlie Pride and Tina Turner and became very well known, performing regularly around Darwin and interstate at various festivals. In 1985 they travelled to Adelaide for the Black Women In Focus Festival, to be a part of the play ‘Tjinderella’, the Aboriginal version of Cinderella. June would later go on to become involved in a range of theatre productions in Darwin.
While family and other interests slowed the activities of the Mills Sisters, June became more involved in her own art, continued her prolific songwriting, and began to work on some of the social justice, human rights and environmental issues she felt strongly about.
June’s art and music have always reflected the environment in which she lives, the people, landscape and the stories of her country. She sings about love and loss, the connections between people, between country, and the importance of belonging – themes that are universal.
The long-held dream of recording her own album was finally realised in 2005:
“I had given up on ever being able to release and record my songs so you can imagine how I feel about finally being able to say: Here is my album. I just want to now get out there and perform, promote and share my music. This is truly a heartfelt album. I am proud that it presents my songs and music in an honest straight forward fashion. I wanted it to be real and to reflect what I am on about”. (June Mills, September 2005)
“I’ll Be The One” (Skinnyfish Music) June Mills’ debut album, reflects a lifetime of performance, songwriting, activism and creative endeavour. The songs include prayers to friendship, homage to her country and beloved family and elders as well as commentary on the sorry state of world affairs. It is clearly a very personal offering of June Mills the woman, who has been not only a musician and singer since childhood but also a fighter for social justice, human rights and environmental issues. This fine CD production was recorded at Audrey Studios in Melbourne where June had the benefit of backing by some of the best of that city’s session musicians such as Craig Pilkington (Killjoys) on guitars, trumpet and banjo and Stuart Speed on double bass and bass guitar. The album also features nationally and internationally – acclaimed master guitar player Jeff Lang, who has toured with the likes of Bob Dylan, Ani Di Franco, Dr. John and Loudon Wainwright 111 and won an ARIA Award for his collaboration with USA virtuoso Bob Broznan.
As June says in her thanks, they “…have transported my songs into the realm of magic with their musical wizardry”.
Her songs have the ability to communicate with all of us, regardless of our heritage. June is an Indigenous Australian with a view of the world that we can all appreciate and share.