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Darwin-born Indigenous business owner Jessie Risk and her partner Antal Reti remember as if it was yesterday the moment they won their first decent contract.

It was a $1 million roadworks project at Robertson Barracks awarded by Augility for the Department of Defence through the PDS Estate Works Program. 

“We were so happy,” says Jessie. “And very nervous. I turned to Antal and said, ‘Hey, are you sure you’ve priced this right?’” 

Their civil construction company, AKJ Services, successfully completed the Defence contract – on budget and three months ahead of schedule. It was the first of many contracts for Defence. 

“None of it has been a walk in the park. We’ve had to be competitive. We’ve had to deliver value for money and we have had to deliver quality outcomes.” 

As with all businesses, there were still rocky days ahead, but it was the start of an extraordinary story of self-made steady growth and success. 

AKJ, which was established in early 2018, now has an enviable reputation for efficient, cost-effective, high quality work. 

They employ 80 workers, 30 percent Indigenous, and have about $10 million worth of plant and equipment. 

Their continued progress and success has been so solid that turnover is expected to double this financial year. 

With significant growth in reputation for excellence in delivery and company culture, AKJ Services has attracted some of the most highly-experienced and skilled senior leaders in the civil construction industry. 

Two of them, General Manager Richie Ward and Operations Manager Kris Zechef, both of whom worked alongside Antal previously, have added to an outstanding in-house civil engineering team. 

Jessie and Antal are proud that AKJ is a “true local voice” that invests heavily in the Territory and enthusiastically plays a part in combating Indigenous disadvantage. 

As a 100 percent Larrakia-owned company delivering on Country, AKJ is the only fully Indigenous-owned owned and self-made, civil construction company delivering head contracts in Defence in the Territory and, likely, nationwide. 

The company has carried out contracts on many Defence bases in the Territory, including all of the Darwin bases and several regional bases, such asthe Bradshaw, Mt Bundey and Kangaroo Flats training grounds. 

AKJ has also worked for the Department of Infrastructure, Planning and Logistics, including the construction of a housing subdivision at Galiwin’ku on Elcho Island, for Parks Australia at Kakadu National Park and Sitzler on the NTTAR Project. 

“Working remote obviously has a lot of challenges, including getting the right staff,” says Antal. “But we’ve got staff who are happy to work remote and we provide opportunities for local Countrymen to work on projects on their own Country. 

“We create flexible options that work for community life and embed ourselves as part of the community.”

AKJ attracts Indigenous workers without really trying.

“They come to us,” says Jessie. “It’s a natural thing. They know who we are and what we do. They know about our company culture and that AKJ treats everyone as family.”

Six of the company’s eight apprentices are Indigenous and everyone is provided with training and development opportunities.

“It is important to us that we don’t just train our people, but that we also promote them into senior roles,” says Antal.

“We’re passionate about hiring good people and giving people a chance. And we’re passionate about closing the gap. We don’t just talk about it and write it into plans – we do it.”

AKJ is a generous supporter of start-up Indigenous and Territory businesses. They have invested heavily in the creation of a potential competitor, JER Civil, which is owned by Jessie’s brother Jackson.

He did his apprenticeship at AKJ before buying a grader, which was dry hired by AKJ at first, before Jackson went out on his own, where he continues to subcontract to AKJ and other companies.

“Provision of subcontracts to Territory businesses is important to the AKJ nation-building philosophy,” says Jessie. “Aboriginal business in the Territory is good for everyone. We want to help Territory businesses grow.

“We know what it’s like to do it tough.”

The couple had an unusual start in business.

Jessie was 23 when she gained a teacher’s degree and went to work at Dripstone Middle School. But she quit after only six months to work for INPEX – as a cleaner at twice the pay, eventually running stores.

They saved all of their money, then gave up well-paid jobs to risk all by going out on their own. They self-funded and did the hard yards, knowing that they wanted to always be 100 percent Larrakia-owned and controlled. 

“It’s been stressful” says Antal. “But we’re getting plenty of work and the business is strong and healthy.”

AKJ now wants to move into land development 

“Becoming a proponent, as well as the contractor, is a dream of ours – to be Larrakia Developers on Larrakia Land.”

AKJ is also keen to get involved with the oil and gas industry, where they see opportunity to create new jobs.

The company happily gives back to the community with a $20,000-a-year sponsorship of Clontarf, the charity that helps improve the self-esteem and school attendance of Indigenous boys.

As Jessie says: “Indigenous kids can do anything. We just have to give them a chance.”


AKJ Services 

PO Box 618 Palmerston, NT 0831 

0415 241 715