Wednesday, September 20, 2006


How to reduce a cynic to tears...

Until today I had viewed the Steve Irwin phenomenon with some detachment. I had always dismissed the guy as a bit OTT.

A bit? Are you kidding? You couldn't get any more Over The Top than Steve Irwin.

Believe it or not we never really saw any of the Crocodile Hunter shows (mostly a reflection of my TV station choices) and, like quite a few other Australians, I tended to cringe at how overboard 'Ocker' he was. He rose to celebrity status in the US, and we didn't quite know whether to be proud of him, or embarrassed that he was perpetuating an image of an Aussie that didn't really sit quite comfortably with us.

I mellowed a little when we visited Australia Zoo a few years ago, and I was quite impressed with the place, even though I'm not really big on zoos per se.

I weakened more when I saw him being interviewed on 'Enough Rope' (a fairly well regarded interview show on our national broadcaster, where the interviewer, Andrew Denton, tends to try to dig below the surface), and I could see that the guy was truly unique. He personified the term 'WYSIWYG'. The guy really was full on, like that, ALL the time. No pretensions. Just full on passion. And I mean, how could you not admire (just a bit!) a guy who would turn up an invitation to a dinner party with the President because it 'wasn't his thing'.

You couldn't fault his love for his family, even if he probably made some questionable parenting decisions at times. The crocodile feeding with baby Bob in his arms was the obvious one. The more trite example that came up in the interview was something about him letting his kid have icecream for breakfast if she wanted it!! (Terri must surely, at times, have felt like she had 3 children.)

But it became apparent that this bloke really did put his money where his mouth was. More than his TV shows, and his zoo, his private contributions to such a wide range of practical conservation programs were what really impressed me.

I recategorised him from a 'wacko' to an 'alright wacko'. By god, at least he was out there doing something he believed in, which is more than what I do.

I reacted to the news of his death in the same way I react to news of anyone dying. I loathe making more of a celebrity death than any ordinary person - but I tend to tear up when I hear of anyone dying - whether it's a local 'nobody' who has family and friends who will miss them - or someone in the limelight.

A few extra tears escaped because he was exactly the same age as me. And a parent, like me. And oh how I felt for his wife and kids. 44 is too young to die, even if it is doing something you love, and in a way you have brought on yourself.

I might have even held back on some emotion because of the celebrity factor. On principle, you know. It doesn't do to be worshipping celebrities, especially one who has toyed with death and danger all his life.

But the memorial service today brought me undone; not that that is too difficult, but I really was trying to be pragmatic. I first caught it on the radio while I was driving in to town, and then again, replayed on the telly tonight. And I cried.

The world has lost a true conservation warrior, and that truly does make me sad. I don't doubt that his family and friends will continue his work. His daughter is a chip off the old block if I ever saw one - and it was her most amazingly presented tribute that will surely have had tougher nuts than me wiping away the tears.

...We cringed at times and shook our
heads - but true to Nature's call
There was something very Irwin in the make up of us all
Yes the more I care to think of it -
the more he had it right
If you're going to make a difference-
make it big and make it bright!
Yes - he was a lunatic! Yes - he went
head first!
But he made the world feel happy
with his energetic burst
A world so large and loyal that it's
hard to comprehend
I doubt we truly count the warmth
until life meets an end
To count it now I say a prayer with
words of inspiration
May the spoltlight shine forever on
his dream for conservation...

(Rupert McCall - excerpt from his poem,
read by David Wenham at the memorial celebration)


I was a cynic about the crocodile hunter, too. But, the funeral had me wiping away a tear as well, particularly at the end when they loaded up his truck for the last time. The song 'Hey, true blue!' seemed really appropriate and sad.

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