Former Alice youth advocate gets Oz Day honour


The 2020 Australia’s Local Hero award was presented to youth advocate Bernie Shakeshaft of Armidale, NSW, for many years a resident of Alice Springs.
He joins top 2020 Australian of the Year Award winners: Dr James Muecke AM (SA), an eye surgeon working to prevent blindness; Professor John Newnham AM (WA), an obstetrician leading the world in the prevention of pre-term birth; and  Ash Barty (QLD), the world’s No.1 ranked women’s tennis player.
After seeing the plight of disadvantaged youth in his community, Bernie Shakeshaft decided to take action, says a media release from the awards organisers.
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, Bernie 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 1,000 children reconnect with their education, training, families and community, offering them love and support to live out their hopes and dreams, says the release.
The BackTrack program, now the subject of a documentary, BackTrack Boys, (reviewed by the Alice Springs News, and photo at top) has the support of magistrates, police and mayors.
It has helped decrease Armidale’s youth crime rate by more than 38%, saving millions of dollars and keeping children out of correctional systems. Fifty-two-year-old Bernie’s kind, effective approach is life changing and inspiring.
UPDATE 10.30am
In Alice Springs this morning, after Mayor Damien Ryan conferred Australian citizenship on people from 23 countries, the 2020 Centralian Awards were presented.
The biographies below are based on information from the Town Council.
Centralian Citizen of the Year is Emma Kraft.
With tertiary qualification in food science and public health she is actively role-modelling and educating about the benefits of exercise and healthy eating, in town and remote communities.
She is active also in promotion of health through sport and is an often successful competitor in running championships.
The Centralian Senior Citizen of the Year is Brendan Heenan.
Prominent in promoting tourism he is the owner-operator of the BIG4 MacDonnell Range Holiday Park.
Volunteer work includes the Finke Desert Race, Old Timers Fete, Henley on Todd Regatta, and the Alice Springs Masters Games.
Brendan is a previous president and member of the Rotary Club of Stuart and a Paul Harris Fellow.
He has been on the Hamilton Downs Youth Camp committee since 2005 and is working for the Transport Historical Society, under statutory management, and formerly known as the National Road Transport Hall of Fame, “to safeguard the organisation against closure”.
Centralian Young Citizen of the Year is Zhengxiong (Sean) Xiao.
Sean is recognised for his community leadership and “dedicated service to Centralian Senior College” and has a string of earlier awards.
He is a member of the Youth Advisory Group for the local Headspace and has run its school holiday program.
Sean is most active in promoting positive youth engagement across the wider community, listening to the concerns of his peers and sharing his positive vision for young Territorians.
Centralian Event of the Year – Apex Christmas Icy Pole Treat , 2019.
2019 marked the 46th year of the Apex Club of Central Australia’s annual Christmas Icy Pole Treat, delivering the sweets to children in all areas of our community, including town camps and the hospital, from the back of utes and trucks.
The event has grown to 16 vehicles, 64 volunteers and about 6,000 icy-poles last year.
The Centralian Volunteer of the Year is Simon Casey.
He is the backbone of the Alice Springs Volunteer Bushfire Brigade.
With the support of wife Julie, Simon often works late at night, with limited resources and used parts, somehow managing to keep the pumps, trucks and equipment running.
Simon has been mentor and role model for the brigade’s newest volunteers.
He has assisted with the Harts Range Races, Aileron Rodeo and Finke Desert Race, rotated north to assist the Darwin Brigade, also at Yulara, as well as given countless hours tackling the West MacDonnell Ranges fires last year.


  1. I watched Bernie Shakeshaft accept his award last night on TV.
    He was so humble and his passion for mentoring and helping young people was unbelievable! Congratulations and all the best.


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