BackTrack Boys is a heart-warming documentary that ponders an alternative to incarceration for troubled kids.

Set in Armidale, NSW it shows how kids can start to turn their lives around with the help of a dog, a fire, and a sense of family. This slow moving piece is fascinating.

The documentary follows Zac, Tyrson and little Rusty who’ve all had their run ins with the law. Their futures look bleak. But then they get an opportunity to join BackTrack, run by quietly spoken Bernie Shakeshaft.

“We have three jobs,” says Shakeshaft. “To keep the boys alive, out of jail, and help them follow their hopes and dreams.”

On arrival the boys team up with a dog, or should I say each dog picks a boy. By looking after the dog they inadvertently learn how to look after themselves. They learn self-discipline, trust, communication and most importantly how to be calm.

They also get to be part of Bernie’s legendary, world record holding, dog jumping team. The dogs jump over fences that increase in height. Through the team they get to travel to rural shows across NSW, and even visit Government House.

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When they’re on the road the boys camp out around the fire and sleep under the stars but the trauma from the past is never too far away. The boys must constantly step up and push themselves and some days can be hard.

The home Shakeshaft creates enables the children to feel safe, continue their education, learn to support each other and contemplate the future. His approach is best summed up by the phrase,

“We never let a dog not get over the fence, even if we have to push it over.”

In the last ten years over 500 kids have walked through the BackTrack doors and in that same time the local crime rate has dropped by more than 50%.

Filmed over 2 years, 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.

It’s an absolute delight on so many levels. While watching the boys learn about themselves the audience is left to ponder:

  1. Never underestimate the power of a non-judgmental dog;
  2. But  more importantly the unspoken message about the power of a good male role model;
  3. If only there could be more people like Shakeshaft.

For more information go to Luna Cinema.

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Glennys Marsdon
Most kids grow out of asking ‘but why’, Glennys didn’t. So she trained as a psychologist and established The Customers’ Voice, consumer psychology consultancy in 2000, where she researches why we do what we do. After losing her partner in 2005 she understood the importance of making the most out of life, and began The Ponder Room blog, to help people do just that. By ‘having a go’ she now has a monthly column in a magazine, three non-fiction books published, been nominated for a Telstra Business Women’s Award, and profiled by US internet guru Seth Godin in a worldwide competition about people making a difference. She firmly believes in living a positive life and following your passion.