Bernie Shakeshaft is the Founder and Director of BackTrack. With 25+ years of youth work experience under his belt, he believes that young people are the most accurate barometer of how we are faring as a nation. In the early days of his career, Bernie saw kids dropping out of school, getting into trouble and falling through the cracks of a system that couldn't meet their complex needs. This is what inspired him to start BackTrack.
In 2006, Bernie founded the organisation with just a shed, a passionate crew of volunteers and a mission to keep kids alive, out of jail and chasing their hopes and dreams. Sixteen years later, BackTrack has gained national recognition for how it engages, educates, trains and employs vulnerable young people. The organisation offers young people the holistic, flexible and long-term support they need to get their lives back on track, through a combination of educational, training and diversionary activities, transitional employment, residential accommodation and youth work.
After holding the position of CEO for 15 years, Bernie passed the title to Melinda Phillips, BackTrack’s long-term COO. He continues to play an active role in setting the organisation's strategic direction in his capacity as founder, board director and member of the Executive team.
Bernie has been named Australian of the Year Local Hero (2020) and National Rural Health Alliance Unsung Hero (2019), and has received the Spera Australian Rural Education Award (2018), the Australian Crime and Violence Prevention Award (2017), the Churchill Fellowship (2014) and an Honorary Doctorate from the University of New England (2020). He and BackTrack have also been the subject of the award-winning documentary 'Backtrack Boys' and biography 'Back on Track'.