Backtrack Boys

The Film

Backtrack Boys had its world premiere at the Sydney Film Festival in June 2018 and was released nationally in Oct 2018.

Winner of 5 prestigious Audience Awards at Sydney Film Festival, Melbourne International Film Festival and the Stronger than Fiction Film Festival in Canberra & Byron Bay Film Festival

Find out where to watch 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.

The Characters


Bernie Shakeshaft is the founder and CEO of BackTrack Youth Works in Armidale NSW and is the 2020 Australian Of The Year Local Hero.
He has spent the past 25 years working and living out his passion…. catching wild dogs and wild kids. In 2006 he turned his vision of working with the most disadvantaged young people in our communities into a reality. Listen to this conversation with Bernie Shakeshaft on Richard Fidler's Conversations on ABC.


At just twelve years old, Rusty is looking down a dark path when he first arrives at BackTrack. Rusty quickly bonds with Arco, the program’s largest dog (he is nearly Rusty's size). Arco helps him to calm down and, through training the enormous dog to follow his commands, Russell gradually builds self-esteem but this is a heartbreaking journey as we see Rusty get in trouble with the law once again.


Zac, a seventeen-year-old who has been in the program for years, takes Rusty under his wing. In Zac, we see what the BackTrack team work so hard to achieve. Despite his youth and difficult beginnings, Zac presents as a true leader among his friends.


Tyson’s story illustrates the cycle many kids can find themselves in, and how jail can serve to prolong rather than break it. At the time of filming, Tyson had been involved with BackTrack for three years. In the film, Tyson is a leader and role model for the other boys behind bars and is determined to break the cycle.

“Keep the kid alive, keep them out of jail and chase their hopes and dreams”.

Bernie Shakeshaft 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.

In 2006 with his children growing up and forging their own paths in life, he was determined to turn his vision of working with the most disadvantaged young people in our communities into a reality.

Backtrack Youth Works

In the last ten years over 1000 kids have walked through the BackTrack Youth Work’s doors and in that same time the local crime rate has dropped by more than 38%. The BackTrack model helps kids find a way back. It’s an alternative to detention and succeeds where others have failed.

Following the release of the film, BackTrack are continuing to develop a strategy to sustainably support communities who are seeking to start up their own BackTrack style programs in rural and regional Australia. BackTrack have kicked off support work with the communities of Broken Hill, Moree and Grafton and are continuing to provide support to their long-term friends Dubbo, Lake Cargelligo, Condobolin and Bourke.

“This is a game of inches. We stick by the kids every inch of the way. We do whatever it takes, we’re in it for the long haul.”

– Bernie Shakeshaft Founder and CEO

Paws Up

Backtrack Boys follows the story of the boys and their dogs. BackTrack Youth Works Paws Up program centres around animal behavioural therapy which promotes self-moderating behaviours, leadership and self-confidence.

“My favourite dog is Robin. I saw her and fell in love with her straight away.”

– Zac

Our Team

Catherine Scott

Producer, Director, Writer, Cinematographer

Catherine has worked as a documentary filmmaker for over 20 years. She was Senior Producer SBS Dateline and more recently as a freelance video journalist for the program.

Catherine has been a director and producer on documentaries broadcast internationally including SBS TV, ABC TV, CBC Canada, PBS Television, Channel 4, Arte and France 2. Her credits include Producer – Unconquered – The Invictus Games (ABC TV) Shooter Producer – Not everyone Wants a Goat - Foreign Correspondent (ABC TV) Producer, Being Me – Four Corners (ABC TV), Director/Co-producer of Scarlet Road (SBS TV) Director/Co-writer of Selling Sickness (SBS TV) and Director/Co-producer of the Walkley Award-winning Business Behind Bars and Profits of Punishment (SBS TV).

Catherine was a member of the Paper Tiger TV collective co-producing over 30 productions including Breathless and Drawing the Line at Pittston. Catherine was also co-producer/director for Deep Dish TV including Who’s Afraid of the Little Yellow School Bus?, The Last Graduation, Lock Down USA and The Gulf Crisis TV Project.

Andrea Lang


Andrea Lang ASE has been editing documentaries for about twenty years. Recently she cut We Don’t Need A Map, the opening night film of the Sydney Film Festival (SFF) 2017. The Cambodian Space Project – Not Easy Rock’n’Roll was in competition at the 2015 SFF and nominated for Best Editing in the AACTA awards.

Her work is characterized by a strong sense of story and social justice with a seditious sense of humor. Her international feature documentary credits include Cunnamulla, Wedding in Ramallah, Landmines a Love Story, End of the Rainbow and Surgery Ship. She won an AFI for Best Editing Thomson of Arnhem Land in 2000. In brief digressions from editing, she co-produced and edited a 4 part series for ABC Our Boys and co-directed and cut an episode of the AFI winning series Liberal Rule.

Back at the bench Three Boys Dreaming and Scarlet Road, her first outing with director Catherine Scott were finalists in the SIFF Foxtel Documentary Awards. In 2012 she was awarded by the ASEG for her work on A Law Unto Himself. Her background includes turns as a social work graduate, rusty violinist and amateur clown. In her spare time she is a keen bush regenerator and lately a sailing tragic.

Madeleine Hetherton

Consultant Producer

Madeleine is an experienced and multi-awarded director and producer. Her filmmaking has taken her around the world, from diamond diving in Africa to wildlife trafficking in Burma and through the remote Australian outback. She works across a wide range of documentary and factual programs which have been broadcast in over 60 countries across networks including ABC, BBC, Discovery, Nat Geo and Al Jazeera

In 2012 she co-founded the independent production company Media Stockade with Rebecca Barry. Most recently, Madeleine has been in West Africa, Producing the 8 x 1hr series ‘The Surgery Ship’ for National Geographic Channel. The series, based on the earlier single documentary, follows stories aboard the world’s largest civilian hospital ship as it roams the coast of Africa. It was released globally in 2017 to excellent ratings and impact.

Dr Mitzi Goldman

Executive Producer

Mitzi is a founder and CEO of the Documentary Australia Foundation, having been instrumental in its realisation since its inception in 2006.

With thirty years experience as a documentary director, producer and editor, through her production company, Looking Glass Pictures, she has created many award winning documentaries.

Her most recent films include Ka-Ching! Pokie Nation and Night Parrot Stories, which premiered at 2016 Sydney Film Festival. Previous credits include A Common Purpose winner of the Audience Award for Best Documentary at the Sydney Film Festival. Mitzi was Co-Head of Documentary at AFTRS (2002-2008) and Co-Chair of the Australian International Documentary Conference.

For the last decade Mitzi has been building and nurturing philanthropic engagement with documentary storytelling. She has a Phd in Cultural Studies from the University of Western Sydney.

Katie Barry

Executive Producer

Impact Director Documentary Australia Foundation, Executive Producer, has 15 years’ experience working with non-profits and social enterprises and is now a leading impact producer. She produced the Australian campaign for award-winning U.S. documentary BULLY and consulted on THE OPPOSITION. Katie designed and delivered StoryWorks, Documentary Australia Foundation’s filmmaker support program and the Australian teacher professional development program How to use Documentary Film and Filmmaking in the Classroom.

Katie is the founder of Loud Island, a social enterprise working with independent musicians and creators, and is on the Committee of Management for Aid/Watch – Australia’s independent monitor on aid and trade policy.

Lisa Hancock

Impact Producer

Lisa has extensive experience in project management and communications for over 20 years within renowned media and design agencies Ogilvy Australia, Naked, Play Events, There Design and not-for-profit Documentary Australia.

Lisa has directed award-winning design and branding projects, created successful digital, social and marketing communications campaigns and has produced high profile experiential events, exhibitions, and roadshows.

Notable projects include: Sony’s World Photography Awards, Telstra’s Moonlight Cinema sponsorship, Hoyts Cinemas digital marketing campaigns, Cirque Du Soleil tour for Optus, Documentary Australia’s Sydney Film Festival sponsorship and Good Pitch2 at the Sydney Opera House.

Working as an Impact Producer for Backtrack Boys and Documentary Australia brings together Lisa’s passion for raising awareness of documentaries that tackle societies most pressing issues with her skills in communications – bringing resources together, harnessing partnerships and growing a network to make an impact.

Jonathan Zwartz


Jonathan Zwartz is a double bassist and composer. He has recorded three instrumental albums ‘The Sea’ which was awarded two Bell Awards in 2010 and ‘the Remembering and Forgetting of the Air’, which received an AIR award in 2013 and most recently ‘Animarum, released in 2018.

He has studied Screen Composition at AFTRS and has a Masters (Music) from ANU.

He has composed Music for the documentary ‘To Spring From The Hand’ about the life and work of artist and dancer Paulus Berensohn, (2014), Ka-Ching Pokies Nation 2016, Madhattan (with Amanda Brown 2017) the Scribe (with Kristin Rule 2018) and a number of short films as well as promotional ads including ‘Man Up’ (ABC TV) that went viral worldwide with 40 million hits.

Jonathan has been an APRA Ambassador since 2010.

Kristin Rule


Australian Cellist, Composer & Technologist Kristin Rule has a passion for creating meaningful and powerful works.

For Kristin, a composition graduate from the Victorian College of the Arts, music is about evoking the spirit of aliveness, of living our one and only life uniquely.

During the making of Backtrack Boys, Kristin received a serious and traumatic injury to her L.H rendering her unable to play cello for the project. A remarkable team of surgeons and hand therapists from RMH and Merimbula, a deeply inspiring film on rising above adversity, and a fantastic and supportive crew all enabled Kristin to create a little magic on her newly acquired world first Hand Therapy Cello.

Film / TV credits include, ‘Memoirs of a Plague’ (dir Robert Nugent), ‘Maratus’ (dir Simon Cunich), ‘Sticky’ (dir Jilli Rose), ‘Afghanistan – Inside Australia’s War’ (dir Victoria Midwinter Pitt), ‘We Don’t Need a Map’ (dir Warwick Thornton) and ‘Scribe’ (dir Ruth Cullen).

Kylie Maxwell

Web Design + Management

Kylie Maxwell has over 25 years extensive design experience, specialising in web design, print media, book design, project management, and print production.

She is passionate about graphic design and thoroughly enjoys the interaction of understanding a client’s needs and satisfying practical and emotional requirements in a way that is both creative and rewarding.

In her spare time she enjoys doing stupid stuff – especially for a good cause… ‘cos, why not?

Kate Hodges

Impact Producer

Kate Hodges has worked in the Australian film and television industry for over 25 years as a producer, researcher and production manager for some of Australia’s most prestigious current affairs programs, ABC television’s documentary department and as an independent producer.

Most recently she was one of the producers of the theatrical documentary Frackman and spearheaded the innovative grassroots distribution and outreach strategy that drove the box office success of the film.

Kate has a passion for films that tackle the big issues facing our world and is excited about creating real conversation and community around documentaries.

At the helm of independent distribution and outreach agency Screen Impact she oversaw the national tour of feature film Motorkite Dreaming and developed partnerships and strategies that helped to grow and engage audiences for a number of social issue films including Wide Open Sky and Cast From the Storm.