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Teacher's crusade against bullying sparked by tragic death

Niamh O'Sullivan holding images of her brother, Keith O'Sullivan, at Gladstone State High School, Gladstone.
Niamh O'Sullivan holding images of her brother, Keith O'Sullivan, at Gladstone State High School, Gladstone. Luka Kauzlaric

HE WASN'T lynched but he may as well have been, because bullies left Keith O'Sullivan feeling no other option but to hang himself from a street light.

Ten years on his sister, Gladstone State High School teacher Niamh O'Sullivan, is leading a campaign against bullying.

"I was eight when it all happened," said Ms O'Sullivan.

"It was his last year in school and he'd started getting bullied that year."

Ms O'Sullivan told her brother's tragic story to an all-school assembly on the National Day of Action Against Bullying and Violence last Friday.

Keith was 17 and attending a school in Ireland when a group of students in his year level began picking on him.

At first the students abused him verbally, but soon he was being followed to and from school and beaten.

"He was intelligent so he might have been seen as nerdy," Ms O'Sullivan told The Observer.

"He wouldn't have been the most confident of people.

"They were people in the same grade as him ... four or five (of them) but one main ringleader."

The teachers at her brother's school had tried to help him, but Ms O'Sullivan said they didn't try very hard and later regretted their lack of action.

Niamh O'Sullivan holding images of her brother, Keith O'Sullivan, at Gladstone State High School, Gladstone.
Niamh O'Sullivan holding images of her brother, Keith O'Sullivan, at Gladstone State High School, Gladstone. Luka Kauzlaric

"It was great to see him smile, things seemed to be looking up," Ms O'Sullivan told her school assembly.

"He rode his new bike to and from school every day.

"But the bullies must have seen how special this possession was, as one dreadful day the bike went missing."

Ms O'Sullivan described a turning point for Keith, when his bike was discovered in a nearby forest, in pieces.

Keith and the bullies arranged a fight.

"The fight didn't end well," Ms O'Sullivan said.

"With about 50 onlookers Keith was punched and pushed.

"As he fell to the ground the four bullies continued to kick him until a local resident saw the commotion and intervened.

"By that time Keith's body was black, blue and swollen, especially his face."

After the fight, Ms O'Sullivan said, Keith withdrew and didn't speak to anyone.

The following day he went missing in the middle of the night. His mum and dad searched for him, she said.

"No stone was left unturned.

"Eventually they came to the train station, (and) it appeared Keith was not there either.

"But when they went to leave, his Dad had one last glance in the (rear) vision mirror and that's when he was found.

"This is something I'd never wish upon anybody.

"It is also something that could possibly have been prevented.

"If more friends supported Keith, if more onlookers tried to intervene, could one life have been saved? " asked Ms O'Sullivan, who joined with students and fellow teachers at Gladstone State High School in pledging to take a stand against bullying.

"People who are being bullied rely on others to be their voice. Will you be the voice for another?" she asked the crowded hall.

"Don't stand by and be an onlooker, be an ally. Will you stand up today and take a stand against bullying?"

You could have heard a pin drop as the whole school stood up.

Lifeline 24 hour crisis support 13 11 14.

Gladstone State High teacher Niamh O'Sullivan with students Maddy Cushway, 17, Michael Eiser, 17, Taylah Crosbie, 16, Bree Smith, 16, Jillian McKewen, 17, Anna Williams, 16, Billie Chapman, 16, at the anti-bullying mural erected on Friday, National Day of Action Against Bullying and Violence.
Gladstone State High teacher Niamh O'Sullivan with students Maddy Cushway, 17, Michael Eiser, 17, Taylah Crosbie, 16, Bree Smith, 16, Jillian McKewen, 17, Anna Williams, 16, Billie Chapman, 16, at the anti-bullying mural erected on Friday, National Day of Action Against Bullying and Violence. Brenda Strong

Committed students build ongoing campaigns

BULLYING and violence of any form has no place in a school community.

That's the message from Gladstone State High School, and it reads loud and clear with the student population, whose vibrant and creative expressions of care for each other and toward the school are the centrepiece of a successful anti-bullying campaign.

Enter Gladstone State High School's grounds at lunch time and you'll hear music playing and kids laughing. You'll notice artwork on the walls.

The school has its own radio station, regular party days and events organised by an active team of young leaders.

As with other schools, there are cases of bullying, but the overwhelming atmosphere is one of happiness, enthusiasm and mutual respect.

Year 12 coordinator Kim-Maree Lambert is one of a handful of committed teachers, including Niamh O'Sullivan, whose efforts to build change from within the student body are paying off.

She said over the past three years Gladstone State High had gained widespread involvement and support from students across all year levels to carry out a number of campaigns against bullying and violence.

"A mural with a handprint from every student in the school was erected on the National Day Against Bullying and Violence last week," she said.

"Each handprint represents the student's commitment to creating a school environment that is safe, respectful, supportive and welcoming toward all students."

Activities were organised throughout the year, in addition to those surrounding the National Day of Action.

Get help

Call:

  • Roseberry Youth Services 4972 8200
  • PCYC Youth Connections officers 4928 5243
  • Lifeline crisis support hotline 13 11 14

Visit:

SPEAKING OUT: Gladstone State High School teacher Niamh O’Sullivan addressing the school on the National Day of Action Against Bullying and Violence.
SPEAKING OUT: Gladstone State High School teacher Niamh O’Sullivan addressing the school on the National Day of Action Against Bullying and Violence.

Topics:  bullying editors picks education gladstone state high school suicide



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