The NSW Governor has expressed his admiration for the BackTrack Youth Works program in a recent interview with former Gunnedah man James Knight.
The 40-minute interview with His Excellency General The Honourable David Hurley, Governor of NSW was part of Mr Knight’s research for his new book Back on Track – the story of BackTrack and its founder, former Gunnedah youth officer Bernie Shakeshaft.
On Tuesday, Mr Knight said the Hurleys had spoken “so glowingly and with such admiration for what [BackTrack’s] doing”.
Mr Hurley said he and his wife Linda became co-patrons of BackTrack in May 2017 after establishing a relationship when they visited the organisation a few years before.
“We were just so impressed with the model they were using to help kids,” Mr Hurley said.
“You could see from the way they were approaching kids, there were significant changes being made in their lives. And it wasn't being done on the basis of no co-respect. The kids had to step-up. The kids were responsible for their decisions.
“Underpinning it all, you could see there’s enormous love in that organisation for young people.”
Mr Hurley said the program received “great support” from the Armidale community and he had admiration for a set of women who volunteer their time to teach the youth domestic skills.
“[They] teach them basic home care skills such as how to look after your bedroom, how to clean, how to wash; skills we might take for granted but youngsters might not have,” he said.
“I think those ladies need a pat on the back.”
Mr Hurley said he and his wife had visited BackTrack a number of times and had also hosted staff and participants at Government House in Sydney.
“They’ve come to visit government house [and] brought dogs with them,” he said.
“They've had the run of the house and they were here for the launch of the documentary [BackTrack Boys].
“One heartwarming thing for us… [was when] we went to the [Armidale] high school and walked into a classroom and there were two faces we recognised and we said, ‘We know you’.
“They said, ‘Yes, we’re on BackTrack and we’ve decided to come back and finish our schooling’. That was just an amazing thing for those kids who had been through the program.
“It’s a really powerful story.”
Underpinning it all, you could see there’s enormous love in that organisation for young people.Governor Hurley
Mr Hurley said Bernie was a “good mentor”.
“Bernie is a pretty laconic fellow. He’s your Australian bushie,” Mr Hurley said.
“There are no airs or graces around Bernie, in the sense of being pompous. He is what he is and gets on with business but he’s got a good head and a big loving heart for these youngsters.
“The use of the dogs in that program is really important because by learning how to train and teach the dog and calm the dog, you’ve learnt so many skills that apply to human beings. I think Bernie’s so good at taking those lessons and turning it around and saying, ‘How does that apply to your life?’
“If anyone [reading this] has a spare dollar in their pocket, think about BackTrack.”