As a teacher and a mother I have always been concerned about the welfare of our young people. It benefits the whole society when we nurture and look after our youngsters even when they stumble and fall. I’ve never met a bad kid just some who make the wrong choices. Sometimes our young people just need to see things differently and to be given a chance. I became very emotional watching the new documentary Backtrack Boys for the philosophy behind the Backtrack program echoed my own thoughts on helping our troubled kids.
This documentary follows the rough talking , rule breaking Bernie Shakeshaft , a jackaroo who runs a youth program out of a shed in Armidale, New South Wales. The program is called Backtrack and Bernie provides a space where kids can feel safe, continue their education, but most importantly support each other and pursue their dreams. Filmmaker Catherine Scott followed Bernie and youngsters including Zach, Alfie and Rusty for a whole year as they hit the road with Bernie’s legendary dog jumping team learning so many life lessons along the way. If you only see one documentary this year see this little beauty. It will be one of the most unforgettable things you’ll ever see.
Bernie says he’s around dogs so much, “ I think more like a dog than a person.” He uses the power of the dogs to teach the boys about being calm, giving unconditional love and provide them with skills that will last them a lifetime. He doesn’t pick the dogs. He says, “ The right dog picks the right kid.” Unlike most of the people in the boy’s lives, the dogs never judge and are loyal and true to their young owners. Bernie’s mantra for the boys is to keep them alive, keep them out of jail and eventually help them to follow their hopes and dreams. It’s working for in the ten years this program has been running the crime rate in Armidale has halved and the local community has come on board to help.
You’ll fall in love with the personalities in this documentary. There’s the quiet achiever, 17 year old Zach who’s a role model for the younger boys, calm, friendly and aware how his life can change in an instant. You’ll be shocked when it does.
There’s the smiling 15 year old Alfie whose sunny nature and fun loving ways will win your heart. There’s Tyson, who we first meet in Juvenile Detention, but who has learned the Backtrack lessons and by the end of the show seems to have his life back on track.
And finally you’ll fall in love with the pocket rocket Russell ‘Rusty’, a twelve year old who really gets into a lot of trouble in his hometown and also proves a handful for the Backtrack team. He’s such a cheeky and lovable larrikin with an old head on his young shoulders that he steals the show. I really hope the team and Rusty have succeeded in turning his life around.
My husband and I watched this and marvelled at the good people in this world. There are the volunteers who cook meals and come and teach the boys about a normal family life. We marvel at the Backtrack team who are constantly calm and caring in the face of whatever setbacks befall the kids. There’s the caring teacher whose patience and guidance sets the boys up for a lifetime of learning and of course there’s Bernie steering the ship.
A poignant scene is shown where the Backtrack team travel to Sydney to meet with the powers at Parliament House and the Governor at Government House. Of course, it rains, the wet dogs aren’t allowed into Parliament House, one of the drivers gets lost driving in the big smoke, but still they manage to keep going and share the message that there is an alternative way. I just hope people are listening.
Dogs and kids are at the heart of this film, learning by doing and by example what is right. It’s great to see them around the campfire telling stories or travelling to the local shows to put on a show for the locals. The boys from Backtrack even got got to meet Prince Harry and Meghan whilst they were here in Australia. This inspiring story reveals the challenges these young people face as they try to find their place in the world- all with the help of Bernie and his trusted dogs in tow. Backtrack Boys is showing now in cinemas across the country. If you care about kids, love dogs and our Aussie way of life you will love this little gem of a film.