Armidale’s BackTrack initiative is breaking ground, with a new farm of their own.
For years the program has been training and upskilling young kids with rural skills on local properties, and now, Founder, Bernie Shakeshaft, and team have a place to call their own.
“We are always humbled by the generosity of people who recognise the growing need for these types of programs. And we have always wondered, what if we had our own farm?” said Bernie.
Well as it stands, fate had the same idea.
“A guy I went to school with came and saw me, he was having a lifestyle change and he wanted to sell the farm, so he came and had a chat and next thing I know, we had half a farm and some cattle.”
“I was telling another supporter about our strike of fortune, and he asked what is happening to the other half of the farm? And so, he bought it for us.”
This new chapter is situated on a 600 acre property at Enmore, 36km south-east of Armidale, and brings untold potential and growth to Backtrack in our region.
“For 17 years we have been training kids fencing on other people’s properties, and now we can do it on our own.”
“Everything we do will be wrapped around training and that will bring kids from different areas in for specific training, such as chemicals or chainsaw, white cards. But for the first bit we need to make a plan,” Bernie said.
Out with the five-year plan, BackTrack are looking long-term at a 100 year game changer, to include staffing, access to consistent funding, machinery and accommodation.
“We want the kids we work with to have somewhere to go back to for the rest of their lives”
Officially taking ownership this year, BackTrack is focused on getting the foundations right before growing their numbers, and learning the way of their land.
“We are learning the ins and out of the cattle, and learning the ropes our farm, how to drive he tractor, all the bit and pieces that go with running a farm,” he said.
“We are spraying blackberries and fixing fences at the moment.”
The farm is only one part of BackTrack’s tripod program, which include its core mission, working with young kids who have been kicked out of school, kicked out of home, kicked out of the shopping centre and the footy team.
“They’re the kids we started with and that’s out core little group.”
“The referrals keep getting young and younger, 12 and 13 years of age, as opposed to 16 and 17.”
“We have a school teacher and we teach those kids lots of different skills, and working with the dogs.”
Stage two, is BackTrack Works.
“If kids can’t get a job, or they aren’t quite job ready, we employ them. We have about 35 young people employed and then we have metal fabrication, carpentry, lawns and gardens.”
“We keep finding work for these young people until they are ready for the real world.”
And the final leg, BackTrack Network, connecting and expanding across more communities in Australia.
“Everyone asks can we replicate this, and we call this the BackTrack Network” said Bernie.
“We now work with eight different communities, and we have over one hundred on the waiting list, but it needs to be the right fit for the community.”
Funded through the generosity of supporters and grants, BackTrack stands by its mission.
“Our mission is to help as many young people having a hard time as we can and that is what the BackTrack network is involved in.” said Bernie.
“Some of the kids we work with are with us for 5, 6, 7 years and we wont quit on them.”
“I always knew we were on the right track from day one and that hasn’t shifted.”
BackTrack would like to thank their supporters, the Armidale community and every individual who has been a part of the journey.
“There is a saying is takes a village to raise a child, pretty proud of what we have going here in Armidale and the people who help us out on a daily basis, so good on our community for walking alongside us.”
There are big plans for agriculture and conservation with BackTrack and their new farm, so watch this space.
“A bunch of kids looking after a little patch of country, how good is that. It’s pretty special.”
To learn more about BackTrack or to get involved visit www.backtrack.org.au