Former Gunnedah youth officer Bernie Shakeshaft has been named the 2020 NSW Local Hero in the Australian of the Year Awards.
Mr Shakeshaft, the founder of BackTrack Youth Works, received the title at the awards ceremony in Sydney tonight.
He and three other NSW category winners will join those from the other states and territories for the national awards ceremony in Canberra on January 25, 2020 - the 60th anniversary of the awards.
The 52-year-old and his team have transformed lives through the unique program, formed in 2006 to help youth falling through the gaps in society.
Mr Shakeshaft said last week, after having been named as one of four nominees for the state Local Hero title, that he found it hard to believe the how far the youth-at-risk initiative had come.
It began with "a handful of kids and a handful of volunteers in a busted old tin shed, no funding, no plans".
"I shake my head in disbelief," he said at the time.
National Australia Day Council chief executive Karlie Brand congratulated the award recipients from NSW, noting their amazing contributions to our country.
"The 2020 NSW Australians of the Year are truly inspirational - they are making a huge difference to the lives of others and to the world in which we live," said Ms Brand.
The winners in other categories are:
- 2020 NSW Australian of the Year - Professor Munjed Al Muderis, of north Sydney
- 2020 NSW Senior Australian of the Year - Sue Lennox, of Bellingen
- 2020 NSW Young Australian of the Year - Corey Tutt, of Gordon
What they said
Mr Shakeshaft's award commendation reads:
After seeing the plight of disadvantaged youth in his community, Bernie Shakeshaft decided to take action.
Starting in 2006 with a shed and an idea, Bernie founded the BackTrack Youth Works Program, turning around the lives of some of Australia's most vulnerable kids.
Using the skills he developed growing up and as a jackaroo in the Northern Territory, learning from the Aboriginal trackers, 52-year-old Bernie has developed an award-winning program that uses animal-assisted learning, agricultural skills and a residential facility.
He and his extraordinary team have helped more than 1000 children reconnect with their education, training, families and community, offering them love and support to live out their hopes and dreams.
The BackTrack program, now the subject of a documentary, Backtrack Boys, has the support of magistrates, police and mayors.
It has helped decrease Armidale's youth crime rate by more than 38 per cent, saving millions of dollars and keeping children out of correctional systems.
Bernie's kind, effective approach is life changing and inspiring.