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Community | Education | Health & Wellbeing | Indigenous | Rural | Social Justice | Welfare | Youth
Backtrack Boys



A group of troubled boys are on a perilous course towards jail until they meet up with the free-wheeling jackaroo, Bernie Shakeshaft, and hit the road with his legendary dog jumping team.

This observational documentary, filmed over two years, follows boys in a youth program that Bernie runs from a shed on the outskirts of Armidale, a rural town in Australia. On the road, the boys find their voice, make great friendships and the dogs become national champions. But as the boy’s sleep under the stars at night the trauma is never too far away. With their survival and futures at stake, they must constantly step up, push themselves, support each other and some days can be hard.  This inspiring coming of age story reveals the challenges and triumphs these boys face as they try to find their place in the world, and the dogs that help tame their wild ways. 

A life-affirming documentary, Backtrack Boys explores Bernie’s philosophy in action and through the journey of the kids in his care. It reveals how he helps them to navigate their relationships, deal with personal trauma, take responsibility for their own decisions and gain practical job skills so they can eventually create a sustainable future for themselves.

LINK TO TRAILER https://youtu.be/AlynTykYF-Y


Please consider making a tax-deductible donation so we can continue to support marginalised communities and frontline organisations all around Australia who want to use the documentary as a tool for discussion and community engagement.  


How does the project meet the aims of a philanthropic foundation?

The Backtrack Boys provides a unique insight into youth at risk in rural Australia. Kids that fall between the cracks in the education system and face a range of issues from family breakdowns, to violence, suicide, drugs, and crime. 

 This is a story about Bernie and his unconventional youth program that is turning kids’ lives around. The film will ask - why is Bernie’s program working when so many others fail? What do these kids need from the rest of us in society so they can successfully launch into the world and escape the poverty-prison cycle? 

 This story presents a real model that could be rolled out in many other rural towns grappling with the same generational social crisis throughout Australia. Australian grant-makers are keen to help young people develop skills to become actively engaged within their local communities. Many have a strong focus on developing young leaders, addressing core social issues that lead to delinquency, while others offer schemes to enhance employment skills to avert social problems. 

This documentary speaks to all these areas of focus and could attract strong philanthropic interest and support. This project is particularly timely in light of the Don Dale Detention scandal. The shocking footage and damning report has the entire nation asking why do we continue to incarcerate young people? Who do we send into detention and why? What are the effects of detention, and what are the alternatives to incarceration? While this documentary explores how Bernie’s program operates it offers an alternative view to how we often approach working with kids at risk. Ultimately The Backtrack Boys is a small town, local yarn that addresses some of the most daunting social issues of our time.

Aims & Objectives

What outcomes do you hope to achieve by making this film and how will you measure its impact?


The documentary film Backtrack Boys will stimulate advocacy and action to enable communities to take on a whole-of-community approach to working with young people at risk of social exclusion, particularly in rural and regional areas.

“We hope the film will inspire communities to take a different approach to working with young people at risk of social exclusion, particularly in rural and regional areas”. -Cathy Scott, Director


Upon seeing the film audiences:

- Are inspired by Bernie’s methods of working with young people.

- Gain an insight into the challenges, resilience and aspirations of young people having a tough time.

- Have a greater understanding of how all members of the community can take on a role to support young people in their town.


Short Term

After seeing the film we hope audiences:

- Donate to Backtrack training program.

- Take on new approaches to working with young people.

- Explore alternative pathways for/as young people.

- Share the Backtrack film with their networks.

Medium term

After engaging with the film, audiences: 

-  Sign up to the Backtrack Training Program 

- Use training clips and/or film resources to improve existing youth services 

- Offer job opportunities to youth programs or young people having a tough time 

- Influence key stakeholders and community members to get involved/support youth programs.

Long term:

Improved education and employment outcomes for young people at risk in rural and regional areas 

- Donate to BackTrack training program.

- Take on new approaches to working with young people. 

- Explore alternative pathways for/as young people

.- Share the Backtrack film with their networks.

- Reduce rates of young people in juvenile detention

- Improve social cohesiveness in rural and regional communities


What is your education and outreach strategy?


- WINNER of Audience Awards at SFF, MIFF, Canberra and Byron Bay Film Festivals 

- Screened Theatrically 100 cinemas across Australia

- Embraced by communities Over 200 hosted screenings in libraries, communities and youth service orgs

 - Powerful endorsements Russell Crowe, Steve Biddulph (Author of Raising Boys), Richard Fidler (ABC), David Stratton 

- A tangible increase in funding for BackTrack the organisation Request for mentorship and training


Results from our Audience Survey (700 respondents):

87% of our 700 survey respondents said it “increased their awareness of what young people who are encountering the justice system and juvenile detention are experiencing” either a great deal or a lot.

People are pledging to get personally involved with many wanting to donate to BackTrack or help young people in their community


- High-quality discussions Relating to raising the age of criminal responsibility, remand, the transformation of the lives of young people and alternatives to prison Funds raised for BackTrack and other youth organisations

- Communities are looking at new approaches implementation of BackTrack style programs

- People are being connected as service organisations are working together on young people’s issues

- Young are people being given hope and inspired


Help policy makers and government organisations realise :

1) this is not a one-dimensional issue It affects everyone - kids, schools, jobs, industry, health, justice - and we need to work across many domains

2) this approach will help to save lives and keep kids out of jail. We need greater support for flexible, holistic approaches and funding that is not time-bound


Use the power of documentary to: - 

Convene people 

- Raise awareness 

- Amplify the message 

- Create meaningful discussions 

- Build consensus to change policy 

- Support systems change from the ground up

Catherine Scott
Catherine Scott
Total budget
100 Minutes