RSPCA NSW is investigating possible animal cruelty offences in relation to an alleged private school rugby training exercise involving rams on an Orange district property.
ABC’s ‘7.30 Report’ late last week broadcast footage of The King’s School students allegedly tackling rams on an Orange district property in April as part of a recent rugby training exercise by senior students.
The ABC reported that footage of the incident was posted on a private Facebook page by school teacher and coach James Hilgendorf and a fellow former professional rugby player, Hugh Perrett, but later removed.
NSW Farmers president Derek Schoen said he didn’t believe such behaviour was widespread and presumed it was the first time the school had conducted such an activity on the farm, but would be checking.
“This is the first occasion that I have come up with something like this since I’ve been president, since I’ve been on NSW Farmers actually, that you would actually put school kids in this situation.
“I think it was probably thought up as a great idea, but not a lot of thought was put into how it was going to be executed and the consequences of it,” he said.
“Hopefully this was a one-off.”
NSW Farmers claims no knowledge of the farm’s owner
ABC reported that the farm was owned by a former student of The King’s School and Mr Schoen said he did not know who the owner was.
“I don’t think it is a member of ours, so I’m not sure who actually owns it – everyone has gone very quiet on that.
“The principal half-mentioned a name and we went through our database and we couldn’t find a member of that name,” Mr Schoen.
But he said if he could find out who the owner is, “I would love to have a chat with them.”
“This is something that farmers have to keep in the back of their minds all the time.
“It’s all very well to make these arrangements that seem in good faith, but if that had happened on my farm I would be horrified.
“Not only on the sheep husbandry side of it, but also on occupational health and safety – it’s a minefield,” Mr Schoen said.
“It stresses the rams and it possibly would make them harder to handle in the yards.
“The other thing is you are looking at a ram that is worth $800 upwards, so why would you put them through that?”
Orange is situated in NSW Farmers’ Region 6, but the region’s board member Mitchell Clapham and executive councillor Graham Brown also said they did not know who owned the property.
Schoen to visit The King’s School to talk with students
In response to the report of alleged animal cruelty broadcast on ‘7.30 Report’, Mr Schoen and The King’s School headmaster Dr Tim Hawkes issued a joint statement saying that Dr Hawkes had accepted an offer from the farmer leader to work with senior rugby players at the school on appropriate animal husbandry procedures.
Despite initially defending the incident to the ABC, Dr Hawkes later issued a statement saying he was appalled at the decision taken to allow the training exercise involving the sheep to take place.
“Regardless of whether it was supervised, or that no animals or boys were harmed, it was totally inappropriate.
“The central issue is that the respect that needs to be given to animals,” Dr Hawkes said.
“It is vital that a culture of care and respect be engendered in all who live or work with animals.
“This is a charter that the school takes very seriously, particularly given our history in educating boys from regional Australia.”
Dr Hawkes said The King’s School has a rich heritage of involvement in regional communities.
“We hope this regrettable incident will provide a learning opportunity so that matters of this nature are never repeated.”
NSW Farmers to underline “inappropriate animal husbandry”
Mr Schoen will visit the school in the next few weeks to discuss with the boys concerned the best practice animal husbandry procedures and appropriate methods of handling livestock on farms.
“NSW Farmers wants to underline that whilst the behaviour of the boys in the video was inappropriate animal husbandry, it was much more foolhardy than it was malicious.
“My main concern is for the welfare of the boys and the animals they were working with. I am thankful that the no one was hurt and that no sheep suffered long-term injury,” Mr Schoen said.
“Clearly the animals were distressed and this has been a lesson for all those involved.
“In speaking to the King’s Headmaster today it’s been pleasing to see that the school’s executive have recognised the wrong-doing. But these are young kids who didn’t understand how to handle livestock.”
RSPCA investigating possible animal cruelty offences
RSPCA NSW has said it is investigating possible animal cruelty offences depicted in recent ABC news reports.
“Although the investigation has only recently commenced, it is understood that a Sydney school rugby team was on a training camp in Central West NSW during the last school holidays.
“The rugby team attended a rural property where it is alleged the incident involving sheep took place and was videoed,” an RSPCA NSW statement said.
“The RSPCA has made contact with the school regarding the incident and the investigation is ongoing.
“The school is cooperating with the RSPCA’s investigation.”