TWO months after the innovative BackTrack program began at Trelawney Station, near Somerton, the gates were thrown open for invited guests and the community to see how far the students have come.
Fencing, welding, stock handling and a range of other skills are all in a day’s work for 45 girls and boys from Gunnedah and Tamworth, who visit the farm three days a fortnight.
The male students, referred by local high schools are now enrolled in Certificate II in Agriculture at Tamworth TAFE, while the female students are studying Certificate II in Animal Care.
The open day showcased the hard work the students have put in since the opening of the program and guests were invited on a farm tour to see them in action.
The groups are taking part in all aspects of farm life, including fencing, planting and irrigating crops, feeding stock and fixing machinery.
A fencing display, stick-picking and the renowned PawsUp program, involving dog jumping and tricks were shown to members of the community, including Aboriginal Elders, local police, Tamworth Mayor Col Murray, Member for Tamworth Kevin Anderson and representatives from Tamworth Aboriginal Lands Council.
Kevin Anderson said the area needed a “sound base” for education and life skills and that is what Trelawney offers.
“It’s a great opportunity for these students, and one not to be missed,” Mr Anderson said.
“The children are referred to Trelawney and work with dedicated people to show them there is more than sitting in a classroom.”
Founder of BackTrack Bernie Shakeshaft said the support they have received is “extraordinary”.
“People have asked me, why Tamworth? Why Gunnedah?” Mr Shakeshaft said.
“The people here want to try something to make a difference – so many people are on board with this project.
“To see these young people working together as a team is close to my heart, we hope to change a lot more lives.”
Trelawney Farm Manager Craig Wotton said the plan is to make the farm a viable operation, with the help of the students.
“Making the farm profitable would give the boys something to be proud of – it’s the first time some of them have ever done this type of work and they are loving it,” he said.
As part of their program, the groups are instructed to form a circle, where they discuss their feelings that day.
“We ask them how they are feeling on a scale of 1-10, and when some of them first started here we were lucky to get above a 3-4,” Mr Wotton said.
“Now we are getting up to seven, sometimes 10 most days and if we aren’t, we find ways to get them there by the end of the day.”
Daniel Davis and Marshall Irwin are two of the boys involved in the original program that is based in Armidale.
Daniel is inspired to study youth work after being in the program for around 12 months.
“My favourite part is the PawsUp dog program, we all enjoy teaching the dogs tricks,” Daniel said.
Marshall said he is gaining skills for later in life and enjoys the agricultural side of the program.
“I have learnt fencing, welding and how to handle stock,” Marshall said.
Trelawney is owned by the Indigenous Land Corporation and leased to the BackTrack organisation.
Later this year the groups will take part in a project funded by Namoi CMA which will include fencing off the Peel River from stock, planting trees and putting in alternative water points for stock.