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Bernie Shakeshaft, Australia’s 2020 Local Hero

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Over the years, K’gari has attracted some pretty special characters.  One of these, Bernie Shakeshaft, who works with at-risk teenagers in Armidale to help them on the path towards employment and further education and training, has been named this year’s Australian Local Hero in the Australian of the Year Awards.

Bernie is the founder and CEO of BackTrack Youth Works in Armidale, NSW. He has spent the past 25 years working and living out his passion, catching wild dogs and wild kids. For many years he lived in the Northern Territory learning his trade in remote areas, learning the lessons of life in the bush and surrounded by wise and skilful Aboriginal men and old school stockmen.

Making a difference: Bernie Shakeshaft with two dogs who are part of his BackTrack program. Photo: Umbrella Entertainment

In 2006, with his children growing up and forging their paths in life, he was determined to turn his vision of working with the most disadvantaged young people in our communities into a reality. To keep them alive, out of jail and chasing their hopes and dreams.

Under Bernie’s leadership, BackTrack has forged a new beginning for over 1000 young people. Bernie takes great pride in how his vision of giving young people having a hard time a new life journey and a new beginning, is now spreading across NSW with mentoring other communities to get started using the same successful tools that have had remarkable results in Armidale.

Introduced to K’gari by the late John Sinclair AO, in the 2000s, Bernie and the BackTrack team also went on to work with QPWS. The BackTrack team helped track dingoes, identified the scale of feral cats and participated in groundsel management on the island.  

Congratulations Bernie – you genuinely are a local hero. 

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