The BackTrack Story

BackTrack was established in Armidale in 2006. Founder Bernie Shakeshaft saw vulnerable young people facing challenges that made it incredibly difficult to connect with their community, participate in education and training, or find employment. They were dropping out of school, getting into trouble and falling through the cracks of a system that couldn’t meet their complex needs. It was a cycle often involving homelessness, substance use, psychological distress, juvenile crime, disengagement from school, and unemployment. Armidale needed a youth program that could engage young people, help them develop life and work skills, and help them plan their future pathway.

Bernie started small with strong community support, volunteers and a shed where he gathered together the first group of young people and the now famous working dogs. Today’s BackTrack evolved from this moment, but it has kept at its core the essence of the experience those young people had in that shed on day one. Today BackTrack offers wrap-around wellbeing and youth support, hands-on skills training, education, and activities that build self-confidence, responsibility, leadership and belonging. BackTrack also shares what it has learned with other communities in need. This coaching mentorship has led to other programs adopting and adapting BackTrack’s principles and methods to suit their own unique setting.

“We start with belonging because you can’t do anything to help a kid and change their trajectory unless you’re giving them something to feel connected to. Once a young person feels that connection, we can think about their learning. That can look like mastering a vocational skill or being out on the job or figuring out those life skills they need to share a home or have a family. This experience of mastery is very personal because it ultimately depends on their own goals. We think this ability to have a say in their own lives and take ownership over what matters to them is what independence is all about. And finally, we’re looking to help them experience generosity. Fortunately, there’s no shortage of these opportunities at BackTrack and we are lucky enough to attract countless people who want to offer their help.”

– Bernie Shakeshaft

Our Team

Our staff bring a wealth of expertise and experience to BackTrack, with a shared commitment to finding the gold in every young person who walks through our gates. Our team collaborate to deliver holistic, flexible and long-term support that is tailored to the individual and underpinned by patience and respect.

There would also be no ‘BackTrack’ without the unconditional love, loyalty and acceptance of our pack of dogs. Whether it’s offering a listening ear or a friendly face lick, hanging out in the classroom, participating in countless dog jumping competitions or welcoming a new young person into the fold, they have been there since day one and they never judge

Our Board

Greg Paramor, Board Chair

An active and supportive Board Chair, Greg brings great experience from his many other directorates…

Bernie Shakeshaft, Founder Director

Coming from a career in youth work, and seeing the need to do things better, he intuitively…

Janine Wood, Director

Following 40 years of executive commercial experience in the global media and advertising

Philip Jarvis, Director

A graduate of the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst, Philip came to Australia after serving…

Rob Blain, Director

Rob has more than 40 years of real estate experience, including property and asset management…

Zoë Robinson, Director

Zoë holds a law degree and a Masters of Human Rights. She previously worked as a solicitor

Patrick Cooke, Director

Patrick is one of the founders and Managing Director of the Mona Aboriginal Corporation which currently

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