CHANGING schools three times, hiding his singing talents for a whole year and then attempting to end his life after a horrifying schoolyard incident, Damien Agius knows what it's like to be pushed to the edge by bullies.
The 23-year-old North Eton man has spoken about his own personal hell after the suicide of 14-year-old Queensland schoolgirl 'Dolly' Amy Jayne Everett, who was bullied online before her death.
"This is happening every day," Damien said. "Kids are getting bullied so bad that they think their last resort is to take their own lives."
Damien shared a photo of himself on Facebook, joining the nationwide campaign of wearing Dolly's favourite colour blue, the day of her funeral.
In Year 8, Damien said he was "bashed up beyond belief" because he was a singer.
"It wasn't cool to be a singer. They took it out on me that badly that it was hurting me mentally... then it got to the stage where it got physical so I had to leave that school just to get away from the bullies," he said.
"And I'm a bigger boy ... I was told I was 'gay for singing' or just 'fat and useless' so I had to get out of that school."
When he moved to his new school in town from the Pioneer Valley, Damien made a promise to himself not to let anyone know he was a singer.
"My whole Year 9 wasn't too bad, no one knew I was a singer and it was great," he recalled. "I still did my gigs up the Valley, so the kids at school in town didn't know I was a singer.
"But then I performed at the River Rock to Mountain Top Festival in 2010 and one of the school teachers was there, noticed I was a singer and got me to sing at the school fair. Then, the week after, the bullying started again."
He said while he did tell teachers about some incidents, "it only gets 10 times worse if you're a dobber", saying bullies were often punished with suspensions "but the bullies love the week holiday".
"My parents were always ones to say 'just ignore them' - but that's not how bullies work. They'll see how far they can go until they get the reaction they want."
When Damien was in Year 10, he learned just how far the bullies could really push him.
"I did try and take my own life when I was in school," he quietly admitted.
Damien's tormentors had surrounded him. They held him down, called him gay for being a singer and then exposed themselves to him.
"After that, I was in a bad state of mind, that sort of time in my life... I'm only lucky that I have a strong family I could push my way through it, I went to psychiatrists and things like that," he said.
It was then he left that school, and started home schooling.
Eventually, he went back to school and graduated in 2010 from St Patrick's College - a school he says was "different" and "really friendly".
But his run-ins with bullies didn't stop after high school.
"My first job after school I was tormented that bad I left after six months," Damien said.
"The thing is, it shouldn't be happening at any age. You're making fun of someone for your own benefit and for someone to get to the point where they think there's nothing better in life and want to end it, is just shocking."
The turning point for him was after he left school and auditioned for reality singing show X Factor.
"My mother always said 'you need to prove 'em wrong' so I just tried my hardest to prove 'em wrong through my music," Damien said.
"Making the top 18 in Australia (on X Factor) was my 'prove 'em wrong'.
"I've learnt to accept who I am. If anyone says otherwise, well that's their opinion ... if I'm happy with myself then they can be as mean as they want to me, it's not going to affect me."
He admitted it took him "a long time" to get to that place.
"A teenager's mindset is different to my mindset now," Damien said. "Back then, the world's on your shoulders when you're a teenager.
"You think everything's the end of the world. I had a hell of a time through my teenage years but at the end of the day I'm a better man for it because I know that they didn't bring me down to their level."
Perhaps the most remarkable part of his story is how he has forgiven his tormentors and holds no grudges for what, at the time, had pushed him devastatingly close to taking his own life.
"A lot of the bullies from Grade 8 are not the same people," he said.
"They come up and say 'we were real arseholes to you' and they've actually apologised.
"They've asked how I'm going and how I'm going with my music... I believe half of it is the fact I went on X Factor and they saw that I wasn't bad at the thing they were saying I shouldn't do."
In fact, a boy who once made his life hell has become someone he can now have a beer with.
"To be honest, one of my best mates was a real bad high school bully to me," Damien said.
"That's the thing; it's funny how time changes people.
"I've got a thing in life, I've got no enemies ... there's no point in having enemies in this life; you've got one life and you may as well be living it to the fullest."
Today, Damien is still carrying his guitar, gigging almost every weekend around Pioneer Valley pubs.
"I'm working in the sugar industry now and I love it; it took me a while to find out where I want to be," he said.
He said Dolly's story - and his own - were just the tip of the iceberg.
"Dolly was a pretty girl, a nice girl and because someone like that has fallen victim to this sort of stuff it's opening people's eyes that it can happen to anybody," Damien said.
"There are kids out there going through the same stuff every day that Dolly went through and kids every day taking their lives.
"People don't realise how bad it is. Mackay has one of the highest suicide rates in Australia, and bullying comes in all forms and is a huge part of that.
"It's about time the nation's finally got off their arses and noticed there is a problem ... and it's a bad problem."
He hoped speaking out made people stop and think before saying or doing things to hurt others.
"For five minutes of amusement, bullies go home at the end of the day and go 'that was funny, ha ha' but the one who's bullied, they go home and it sits there and melts into their mind playing over and over and it just eats away as you sit there and think," he said.
"We need to just stop."
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