Doco shows remarkable program helping Aboriginal kids

Backtrack Boys
Documentary by Catherine Scott
In cinemas now

The best documentary films are ones that tell a story. Backtrack Boys allows Aboriginal kids from around the Armidale region in NSW to express themselves and show how hard life is for them.

These are kids who are who are close to totally off the rails. Luckily, they have become involved in a youth program run by an ex-roustabout called Bernie Shakeshaft. By teaching the kids how to train farm dogs, he gets them to calm their emotions, develop self-discipline and find a path for themselves.

The scenes where he teaches the kids how to quieten the dogs verges on the mystical. Shakeshaft’s personal story doesn’t get much exposure, but he gained his skills from Aboriginal elders in the Northern Territory.

Through the Backtrack program, there has been a significant decrease in crime in Armidale.

The documentary is calm and measured. Filmmaker Catherine Scott followed her subjects for a year. There is an awful lot of pain and suffering, run-ins with the police and personal mayhem shown.

But there is a lot of personal growth as well. By the end of the film, you feel a deep connection with these kids and their dilemmas.

Shakeshaft says his task is keeping the kids alive and out of jail. And, if he can achieve that, to awaken their dreams of a better life.

He does not always succeed. But his achievements are on screen in Backtrack Boys.

This film makes you think about what a community can do rather than send people to prison, and what compassion truly looks like.

And the dogs, of course, are also beautiful.