Higher Degree Research

For a long time Helena Pastor, a PhD graduand at UNE and mother of four boys, had struggled with her eldest son, Joey – an early school leaver teetering on the wrong side of the tracks.

In her search to find a way to help Joey move ahead in life, Helena stumbled across the work of Bernie Shakeshaft, founder and manager of BackTrack Youth Works in Armidale.

BackTrack helps struggling teenagers reconnect with their families and communities through a variety of innovative educational and “work-ready” programs. The organisation has received a tremendous amount of public attention and awards in the past eight years, and has positively transformed the lives of many young people.

A man and three teenage boys moving hay bales

BackTrack Youth Works

Back in 2007, Helena volunteered to help out with a welding program at the BackTrack shed. Over the next two years, she worked closely with Bernie Shakeshaft and learned a great deal about troubled youth and the social and psychological challenges they face.

Realising that what she was witnessing at the shed could have wide-ranging application for parents and others working with youth, Helena decided to put pen to paper, documenting her experiences in a memoir entitled, Wild Boys: A Parent’s Story of Tough Love.

“Becoming involved with BackTrack changed my life for the better,” Helena said.

I’m keen to share the lessons I learnt from Bernie and the boys, and offer a new perspective on parenting teenagers and the nature of wild boys.”

Wild Boys documents Helena’s journey in a style that is less a parenting manual than a personal account of her time at the shed and how she learnt to have a better relationship with her son.

Bernie, a parent himself, says: “It can be a tough gig raising teenagers, but if you are committed, know what you want and are prepared to make some changes – as Helena demonstrates throughout the book – then relationships can heal and grow into the future.”

Wild Boys is a complement to Helena’s PhD in Creative Research Practice at UNE, which seeks to explore research and writing options available to writers through the genre of creative nonfiction. Helena’s research focuses on the early years of BackTrack Youth Works, particularly the Iron Man Welders program.

Helena completed her PhD in late 2015.