Meet the Team

Bernie Shakeshaft

Bernie Shakeshaft

Founder & Manager

20 years of youth work in a full range of services across Australia shaped Bernie ‘s understanding of what it takes to make real impact and achieve life changing results for young people. Drawing on that knowledge, Bernie founded BackTrack in 2006 in Armidale, NSW.

Bernie’s vision was to create a model of youth work that redefined what achievements were possible and simultaneously strengthened individuals and communities.

His passion for BackTrack has drawn many people forward, and the sustainability of the program is firmly planted in the strength of community contribution and connectedness.

A word from Bernie – “Over the past 7 years I have witnessed the growth of many young people in our community. We started with nothing except the determination to make a real difference -right here, right now. We have relentlessly stuck to our game plan – ‘what ever the price, only do what works.’

For confirmation that BackTrack works, trot down to the Shed anytime and look into the faces of our champion young people and prepare to be inspired.”


Paul Dawson

AgLads Coordinator


Paul has a strong history working in the agricultural field and values sharing his passion of the land with young people and in assisting them in learning best methods and positive work ethics.  The ultimate goal is to train the young people to be come work ready and reach their dreams and goals.

One of Paul’s hobbies is training working dogs and shares his knowledge with the young people in training the PawsUp dogs as working dogs – which is a perfect fit to both the AgLads and PawsUp programs.


Paul Dawson
Nathan Bliss


Nathan Bliss

Youth Worker

Nathan Bliss – known by all as “Blissy” – started with BackTrack at its inception in 2006 as a young man who was having a tough time.  Since then Blissy has paid it forward to hundreds of other young people who have needed a hand.

Blissy loves working with young people and with dogs and is a perfect fit as a BackTrack team member.



Matt Pilkington

Youth Worker  & Artist in Residence

Matt brings his skills and knowledge in the visual arts and youth work to the mix at BackTrack. He has been a practising artist for more than 12 years, completing a BA in Fine Arts in 2000 at the University of Western Sydney.

Matt has had many exhibitions around regional NSW and Sydney including an exhibition at New England Regional Art Museum in 2011. Matt was the New England Art Society President for three and half years running a gallery in the Armidale Mall.

For as long as he has been as artist, Matt has been running workshops for all ages in community groups, goals, schools and galleries. He discovered BackTrack while studying a Certificate 111 in Community Services at TAFE. Matt has since completed his Certificate 1V in Youthwork and stepped into a creative and practical role at BackTrack.

A word from Matt – “BackTrack to me works so well because it is hands on mentoring with all the programs – Paws Up, Iron Man Welders, AgLads, Imagine This and the arts workshops. It helps young people find their way and learn skills for life”


Matt Pilkington


Sarah Mills

Youth Worker, Teacher

After teaching in both the Public and Private sectors in Education for the past 13 years coming to teach at the BackTrack School, or ‘Paddock’ as we like to call it, was an easy progression for me. I had been involved with BackTrack behind the scenes and was therefore able to approach the Paddock with a solid understanding of our students’ strengths and needs.

As I am formally trained as a Primary and Secondary Teacher, I am able to engage the students on their own levels whilst guiding them through all aspect of literacy and numeracy. This type of re-engagement with education is exciting to be around and I feel very privileged to walk into the Paddock every day.

Our vision for the Paddock is to offer the students all of the Key Learning Areas (KLA’s) with Science & HSIE being introduced into our curriculum next semester.

On a personal level, I enjoy setting goals and challenges for myself as well as together with my own four children. We travel together through the ups and downs of life and always come out smiling or at the very least with a good laugh under our belts.

I apply this approach to the Paddock enabling the students to learn in an environment where they are able to take risks, accept challenges and feel safe. For the students, it is a predictable yet dynamic place to laugh and have-a-go without fear of failure.

I feel incredibly lucky and proud to be part of something so unique and special, made so by the students themselves.


Don't Be Shy. Get In Touch.

If you’re interested in finding out more about Backtrack, get in touch and we’ll get back to you as soon as we can!