Michael Cox: Former All Black's anti-animal cruelty message inspires

Norm Hewitt had students transfixed with his story about leading the haka against the Barbarians. Photo / Paul Estcourt
Norm Hewitt had students transfixed with his story about leading the haka against the Barbarians. Photo / Paul Estcourt

Norm Hewitt and the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals have started a conversation with school students around New Zealand. It is wide-ranging, personal and gets right into the hearts and minds of our young people.

"Awesome" yelled several hundred children at the Te Awamutu Intermediate School in their approval of Norm's presentation. He gave them the crystal clear message that animals are your best friends.

I was an invitee, being the chair of one of the organisations that fund the SPCA.

"Sit in the middle of the hall Michael, and get the full reaction," Norm's offsider Shelly Ryan suggested.

I did.

He showed the kids his tough ex-All Black side: "I led the haka against the Barbarians and got in the face of one of the large English forwards, his name was Richard Cottrell. I came up to about his belly button - I was quaking in my boots, but I gave it all I had."

He exposed them to his softer side: "When I took part in the TV show, Dancing with the Stars, I lost nine kilos. I was trying to turn my family pack into a six pack like some of my All Black mates."

The kids thought this was very funny and roared their approval again.

He gave them the message that they can be whatever they wished.

"I decided I was going to be an All Black when I was 7 and I was a little runt." Their delighted laughter told me he'd struck a chord with many in that hall.

He told them that his father took seven hours to get fish and chips for tea. The pub was over the road from the chippy and this delayed dad's arrival home by some six-and-a-half hours.

After his father beat him and his mother, he always went and cried into his horse's neck.

"I talked to Tommy because no one else would listen to me. I was covered in bruises and cuts from my alcoholic father's belt; my mum didn't seem to want to know me, she had her share of bruises as well; my school teachers didn't say anything, my mates avoided me, but Tommy my horse just listened, he wasn't judgmental, he was still my best friend, he helped me through my tears."

Norm apologised for not having his old bulldog with him.

"I used to bring him along to these meetings, but as he got older he started farting too much in the car.

"I still love that old dog though, I would never hurt him, never. Do you know that a kid that is cruel to animals will be cruel to people - it's true."

The 11-year-olds nodded enthusiastically.

"Do you know that last year the Auckland SPCA had 18,432 animals handed into by people who no longer wanted them - ain't that sad?"

The kids nodded again.

Norm had some of the teachers up on the stage, coaching them through the Cha Cha. He threw prizes of T-shirts, caps and other SPCA paraphernalia to some of the luckier children.

He had kept them transfixed for an hour and a half, and boy did they get the messages, loud and clear.

"Animals are your best friends." Well done Norm Hewitt and your team.

Michael Cox is a former National MP and SPCA supporter.

- NZ Herald

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