Bernie Shakeshaft says that when he first brought wild kids and wild dogs together, he knew he was onto something special. In 2006, he started a small youthwork operation called BackTrack in Armidale, NSW, with just a rundown shed, some working dogs and a handful of volunteers. 17 years later, BackTrack is nationally recognised for the profound impact it has in helping some of the country’s most vulnerable young people turn their lives around. Using an integrated approach involving wraparound youthwork, diversionary activities, 1:1 education aligned to the curriculum, accredited training programs, residential accommodation, a working farm and a social enterprise, BackTrack offers a proven alternative to the cycle of incarceration and a supported path towards education, employment and community.

Many are surprised that less than 10% of the BackTrack budget comes from government funding, which often applies a more siloed, short-term lens to service delivery. The BackTrack Way is all about a holistic and long-term approach. We do whatever it takes for as long as it takes, providing family-like support throughout a young person’s life – because that’s what works. It means we rely on the generosity of private funding to keep the lights on and to keep all of our programs running. And it means our consistent funding partners are an integral part of the family. Third Link has been a leader in understanding the power of discretionary funding to a small and necessarily nimble charity like ours. Thanks to the generosity of Third Link investors, we’ve been able to position ourselves and begin a journey of growth that we hope will set BackTrack up to help at-risk young people for generations to come.

In 2023 we established the BackTrack farm and we also transitioned to a new CEO, Marcus Waston, who is working alongside Bernie to ensure that BackTrack will be around for more young people for the long haul. We are consolidating our BackTrack Network of likeminded organisations doing similar work across NSW and QLD to determine how we can support more passionate people to deliver programs like ours in their own communities, and we are embarking on a 100-year vision for BackTrack.

BackTrack’s mantra is to keep kids alive, out of jail and chasing their hopes and dreams. Sometimes it’s hard to quantify the impact of work like this which is based on relationships and profound personal change. To this end, we have worked with a documentary film maker to provide insight into the intersecting challenges our young people face. The 2018 feature documentary ‘BackTrack Boys’ is an award winning film available to stream on our website. In December 2023, we released an update, ‘BackTrack: Chasing Dreams’ to follow some of our original young men and show the power of this vital work. Together, we are changing lives, communities and generations.

For more information see and follow along on Insta, Facebook & LinkedIn @backtrackyouthworks



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