Backtrack Boys (Rating 9)
An exceptional and emotional documentary by Catherine Scott (‘Scarlet Road’). It tells the story of Bernie Shakeshaft who takes in kids that have come from broken homes or violent backgrounds and, through his dogs, teaches them that they don’t need to do things violently to get their own way.
Bernie says he came from a similar background so he knows what these kids are going through. He has 3 goals: to keep the kids alive, keep them out of gaol and help them to chase their hopes and dreams. An emotional Bernie said that, unfortunately, he has been to too many funerals and visited too many kids in prison.
It was heart-warming to hear these kids saying that they want to change their lives and do something that can make them proud of what they achieved. A long-time beneficiary of the scheme is 17-year old Zak who helps Bernie and becomes a role-model for the other kids. In particular he wants to help 12yo Russell (“Rusty”) because he reminds Zak of himself when he lived in Alice Springs. Rusty has been in trouble since he was 9, and his foul mouth and short temper could see him ending up in the wrong circles and a criminal life.
Despite his rough background and young age, Rusty shows the maturity he is capable of when he compared his past as looking in the rear-view mirror and seeing it disappear behind him, whole the large windscreen in front of him is his window to the future.
Alex (15) and Sindi (17) are best of mates. Alex said his parents judged Sindi and tried to stop themm hanging out together, but he chose Sindi over his family. Most of the kids cite their problems stemming from home where their parents were alcoholics or drug addicts (or both!).
The kids are made to go to a school run by Sarah Mills, who says they come to her damaged – told they are stupid, useless, a complete waste of space and they don’t trust females and they hate teachers. Her first role is to encourage them to feel safe with her and the results are evident – a turnaround for kids who are considered “unteachable”.
Tyson (18) who had been in the program for 3 years had a lapse that saw him back in a detention centre. Realising he had stuffed up and showing significant remorse, he volunteered for duties which allowed him to teach other kids in detention that there is another life outside the one that saw them all behind bars. He became a role model for them and regular correspondence with his 17yo girlfriend, Anastacia (also part of the program), keeps him focussed on changing his life for the better.
Overall a very provocative but heart-warming documentary. I take my hat off to people like Bernie Shakeshaft for the commitment and perseverance to helping troubled youth and give them a hope for a future they can feel proud of. Well-produced film Catherine Scott!
Words by John Glennie