Prestigious Sydney private school investigated for animal cruelty after ABC obtains ‘horrific’ sheep-tackling video
Australian Broadcasting Corporation
Reporter: Lorna Knowles
The King’s School is being investigated for animal cruelty after the ABC obtained videos of members of the school’s top rugby teams crash-tackling sheep in a farm paddock, threatening to tarnish the school’s proud sporting history.
LEIGH SALES, PRESENTER: One of the nation’s most prestigious private schools is being investigated for animal cruelty.
The ABC’S obtained videos of the school’s top rugby teams crash tackling sheep in a farm paddock.
The King’s School in Parramatta helped pioneer rugby union in Australia and has produced dozens of Wallabies players.
The school’s defending the behaviour in the videos, but it’s been condemned by farming and veterinary groups, as Lorna Knowles reports.
LORNA KNOWLES, REPORTER: It’s one of the oldest and best-known independent schools in Australia and sells itself as a boys’ school for Australia’s future leaders. One of its proudest traditions is its rugby team.
But disturbing footage filmed at a recent rugby camp threatens to tarnish the school’s reputation.
The videos obtained by 7.30 show the King’s School top rugby players chasing, tackling and flipping over these young rams.
The boys are being egged on by the adult in charge, former Waratahs player and King’s old boy James Hilgendorf, who’s also the school’s PE teacher and rugby coach.
The videos have triggered an investigation by the RSPCA which could lead to criminal charges against the school and staff involved.
STEVE COLEMAN, CHIEF EXECUTIVE, NSW RSPCA: It’s horrific. I can’t sum it up any other way – that the behaviour in that footage is disgraceful.
DEREK SCHOEN, PRESIDENT, NSW FARMERS ASSOCIATION: This is unacceptable animal husbandry practices. You’d never treat your stock like that and I would say most concerned farmers would view that with a bit of horror.
LORNA KNOWLES: The video was filmed last month at a camp for the King’s first and second 15 teams in Orange, NSW. The camp included a visit to the sheep farm of a King’s old boy.
The latest King’s School newsletter trumpets the visit:
THE KING’S HERALD (male voiceover): “The day at the farm was a huge success, the boys doing a series of activities that both challenged them, whilst also taking them out of their comfort zone.”
LORNA KNOWLES: 7.30 took the footage to the RSPCA late last week.
STEVE COLEMAN: Out of control, absolutely out of control. That’s a dog. If that’s – if that’s a stock – if he has any involvement with those sheep and he’s watching that happen, we’d like to know who that is. …
… Clearly there are actions and behaviours in that that are, again, unreasonable, unnecessary and unjustifiable and they are the three main ingredients in the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act.
LORNA KNOWLES: RSPCA CEO Steve Coleman is most concerned about the behaviour of the adults supervising the boys.
STEVE COLEMAN: There’s a level of pre-organising, if you like, around this. This doesn’t just happen on a whim. So someone has thought about providing this as a so-called opportunity for these teenage boys.
LORNA KNOWLES: Dr Robert Suter, head of the Australian Vets Association, is also alarmed by the footage.
ROBERT SUTER, AUST. VETERINARY ASSOC.: We’re dealing with rams and rams can actually turn into – they can learn from that and when they’re adults and 120 kilo ball of muscle with a skull as head as a bowling ball, one of them might turn around and decide to take it out on a handler in the future. They might learn from this and I pity the handler.
LORNA KNOWLES: The videos have also raised serious concerns around the safety of the boys involved. 7.30 has obscured their faces, but it’s clear that some of them are uncomfortable.
STEVE COLEMAN: A group of teenage boys and like any group of people, you’ve got those that are dominant, those that are on the fence and those that aren’t comfortable all ending up over here because of some adult that’s encouraging it.
DEREK SCHOEN: A full grown ram will be over 100 kilos and frequently when they’re shorn, they’ll be sedated for the safety of shearers, so to have rams running around with a whole lot of schoolkids, I think is just plain stupid.
LORNA KNOWLES: The headmaster of King’s, Dr Tim Hawkes, declined an interview, but in a statement defended the incident.
TIM HAWKES, HEADMASTER, THE KING’S SCHOOL (male voiceover): “The task was supervised closely by the farmer who gave instructions to the boys as to how this task should be done. The two rugby coaches were assured by the farmer beforehand that the activity was safe and all the more so because he would be supervising it carefully. No animals were injured in the exercise. Neither were any boys.”
LORNA KNOWLES: These RSPCA investigators are far from satisfied with that explanation. They’re here today with a few more questions for Dr Hawkes.
So, that was yesterday. Meanwhile, today, Tim Hawkes has retracted his earlier pro-sheep abuse comments. He now says that the sheep abuse was ‘totally wrong’.
Mr Schoen says the sheep were ‘obviously stressed’.