Ian Thorpe takes on the bullies

March 24, 2017


Sometimes watching uncomfortable television is good for us.


Former Olympic swimmer Ian Thorpe’s ABC two-part documentary series Bullied

should be compulsory viewing for teenagers and adults alike.


Thorpe, who suffered from bullying by a teacher when he became a successful schoolboy swimmer, tackles a case of extreme peer bullying with teenage boy Kelsey, for whom life at school has become unbearable.


Looking at his long sandy hair, slim frame and gentle demeanour, Kelsey is a little different to the majority of his classmates and this has made him an extreme target, being called ‘mop head’,’ faggot’, and many more unprintable slurs.


Kelsey’s loving family are at their wits’ end to know how to solve the bullying, as approaches to his school haven’t had much impact.


So Thorpe’s team comes up with a controversial idea—to give Kelsey a backpack with a hidden camera to film the bullying, so it can be shown to the school principal, and later to students in a group discussion.


While there are obvious privacy issues, it is made very clear that, as nothing else has worked, this is a last-ditch effort—and eagle-eyed viewers watching the opening credits will spy a news headline about schoolboy Tyrone Unsworth, who took his own life after long-term bullying. Somehow, stretching a few privacy rules to poten- tially save someone’s life seems acceptable.


Bullied has a sincerity about it that tells us this is real life, not something manu- factured for the cameras. Thorpe is an engaging television presence with real empathy and a big heart. It’s easy to see why Kelsey and his family felt they could trust Thorpe to make a positive impact on their lives.


Bullied also involves psychologist Professor Marilyn Campbell, an expert on bullying behaviour, who points out to the students who attend the group session to watch the bullying footage and then discuss it, that this is not a blame session, but a genuine attempt to solve a problem.


The one thing that makes Kelsey smile is his cricket club involvement, and there is such a contrast between the hunted, morose look on his face to his huge smile when he plays cricket or meets his idols, including cricket star Brett Lee.


This documentary series requires the tissue box, but it was heartening to see the reactions of the peers in the group session, when they see the footage Kelsey has shot. The shocked faces and tears show Kelsey he has support, after they realise what his life has been like. Six months later, Kelsey feels his issues have been dealt with and he has been embraced by enough of his peers for the bullying to become yesterday’s issue.


Jesus always looked out for the downtrodden, and that’s exactly what Thorpe achieves in this compelling documentary.


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