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2018 © Government copyright

Designing a new life in the Northern Territory

Brett Jacobs

Young design graduates in Australia’s major cities face a battle when they’re looking for their first job. Only the best secure roles in the top firms. Melbourne-raised Brett Jacobs knew he had what it took to succeed, but opted to jump on a plane and see the world before leaping in to professional life.

Of all the places he visited, it was Darwin that drew Jacobs to settle somewhere permanently with his wife. “We started a family together and immersed ourselves in creating our story - one that was very different to our friends and family back home in Melbourne,” he recalls.

Although the laid back lifestyle was a drawcard, the career opportunities were equally enticing. Defence, tourism mining and government had provided the economic backbone, but there was a growing creative culture that excited him. Darwin would later become an ideal environment for Jacobs and his wife to raise children, too.

Building a business

After spending some time working in an agency, Jacobs had decided he wanted to run his own show, and worried that if he didn’t do it then, he might not do it at all. So he bit the bullet, with the reassurance that came with working in a market that provided opportunities to work for someone else again later if he needed to.

Fortunately, the demand for his skills was high. “There weren’t many design studios when I first started out so it was less competitive,” Jacobs recalls. That meant word spread and work came fast. Within 12 months he had freelancers on hand to help him out and the number of employees grew every year.

“We started a family together and immersed ourselves in creating our story - one that was very different to our friends and family back home in Melbourne.”

A decade later, Boab Designs is one of the most successful brand identity and design firms in the Northern Territory. “We can be working on a priority project for the government one week, the next week we can be working for businesses and not-for-profit organisations on a campaign,” Jacobs explains.

NT: perception vs reality

The Northern Territory has changed dramatically since Jacobs decided to call it home in 2008. Back then, locals hit the road in utes and four-wheel drives.

But the arrival of head-turning new vehicles mirrored a changing population. “I remember when I saw my first luxury car in the Territory ... that was odd because for 12 months I hadn’t seen a luxury car,” he recalls.

“It felt like that was the start of the movement towards new people coming into the Territory,” Jacobs adds. Indeed it was. Now, there are more people, new suburbs, cafes and entertainment, too.

There’s also a thriving creative scene that Jacobs believes rivals other cities. The Darwin Festival celebrates the Northern Territory’s multicultural lifestyle through theatre, music, cabaret and visual arts and draws bigger crowds every year. In 2018, more than 44,000 tickets were purchased, double the 22,000 sold in 2016. “I’ve noticed more support for the creative community as well as more public display of art,” Jacobs says.

Darwin may be perceived as removed from the action in the major cities, but Jacobs believes the reality is completely different to what most people expect. “We punch above our weight as a community,” he says. It’s thriving and increasingly cosmopolitan. The rise in creative entrepreneurs and families makes it an exciting place to live.

As a family man himself, Jacobs also loves the mix of activities he can get into with his kids on weekends.  “We enjoy endless weekends with the kids swimming in our pool or one of our neighbour’s pools,” he says.

When they’re not chilling in the water, the family visits local markets where the signature aromas include coconut laksa and mango smoothies. “We also have at our doorstep the world famous cultural landscapes to explore like Litchfield National Park and Kakadu National Park which is always a great escape for the kids,” he adds.

A prosperous future

He’s enthusiastic about young people following in his footsteps and progressing faster here than they might elsewhere.

“Young professionals see the opportunity to advance their career. It’s an exciting place to live. It’s a great lifestyle for them,” he says, explaining that he’s seen marketing professionals with a year of experience advance fast, becoming senior marketers and managers in less than two years.

Savvy entrepreneurs are moving in, too. Uber has arrived and he suspects UberEats is close behind. “I predict private enterprise will start to shape the Northern Territory’s future,” he says.