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Crikey! It’s The Irwins!

"I have no fear of losing my life - if I have to save a koala or a crocodile or a kangaroo or a snake, mate, I will save it." ~ Steve Irwin.

From the news reports worldwide about the last footage showing him taking his last breath, this quote by the legendary Australian conservationist might have come to pass. And if anyone had had the chance to watch that horrible footage — though it was kept private and later destroyed — they’d confirm as much that Steve Irwin was prepared to die doing what he loved and did best.

The world is not short of extraordinary people, people with a rare kind of potential. What the world lacks is a relentless passion and zeal from this category of people to courageously and fiercely pursue their dreams and maximize that potential fully.

In the last decade of the 20th century and a few years after, the world had the rare privilege to have one such legendary individual. A man with an unrivaled passion for natural wildlife and a courageous dedication to leave his mark on the global stage (though he did so way too soon).

Mention Steve Irwin, and the name conjures up images of a powerfully built man with wild blonde hair, an infectious smile, and vibrant energy. It is the image of a man clad in heavy beige khaki shorts and a matching shirt, speaking passionately into the camera, eyes glittering with excitement as he gesticulated vibrantly. It’s the image of a man full of vitality and unwavering passion for wildlife conservation.

Popularly known as the Crocodile Hunter, Irwin did leave his mark on the world: decade-long television shows that documented his love for fauna and natural marine life. In his films, the Australian conservationist and TV personality is often depicted with a wild or tame animal in the foreground or background, drawing the attention of millions of viewers worldwide and inspiring interest in wildlife even in the most inert of audiences. But who is Steve Irwin?

Born on February 22, 1962, in Essendon, Melbourne, Victoria, Steve Robert Irwin is the son of Australian herpetologist Robert Irwin and wildlife rehabilitator Lynnette Irwin. Steve was a man destined to live in and among the wild even before he was born. His parents founded and operated the Reptile and Fauna Park in Queensland, Australia. Steve and his two sisters grew up around crocodiles, snakes, kangaroos, and all manner of wildlife found in Australia.

By age six, Steve demonstrated that his parents’ wildlife and conservation efforts were hereditary when he caught his first venomous snake, a 12-foot scrub python, which he was later given as a gift. But his moment of reckoning occurred at the age of nine when — under the supervision of his father — he successfully wrestled a crocodile and managed to tame it. It marked the beginning of Steve’s path to destiny, that of an unnatural interest in the study of animals and an awesome courage in dealing with the deadliest of reptiles.

Even after completing his education at Caloundra State High School, Steve didn’t go further than that, having known early on that his life belonged in the wild. It is this inborn passion for nature that saw him join his parents’ wildlife conservation and rehabilitation efforts at Beerwah Reptile and Fauna Park, feeding animals and helping with the daily running of the park.

The Irwins spent their honeymoon on a crocodile trapping adventure, where they first filmed the Crocodile Hunter.

As Steve’s love for crocodiles grew, he spent many months living in the most remote areas of far north Queensland, helping the Australian Government catch problem crocodiles. He did all this single-handedly, accompanied by his little dog, Sui. It was Steve Irwin who developed the popular crocodile capture and management techniques now used by crocodile catchers around the world.

In the early 90s, Steve would experience the fairytale “love at first sight” phenomenon when he met the Oregon-born American wildlife tourist in what would seem like a beautiful manifestation of fate. On June 4, 1992, he married the love of his life, Terri Raines, who, because of their mutual love for crocs and lizards, and kangaroos and snakes and all, had no qualms being hoodwinked into going for a crocodile trapping adventure instead of a proper honeymoon characterized by beaches and sand. The result of this fascinating love story is a daughter named Bindi and a son, Robert. A few days after Robert was born, Steve was quoted saying:


Because I could be dead tomorrow, I need these blokes to come out as quickly as they can. So this little bloke’s going to have to catch Crocs with Bindi.”

The prediction came true three years later. Way too early for Bob to understand what enormous legacy he’ll be expected to fulfill, let alone learn to catch Crocs.

In their hay days, Steve and Terri would go on to realize the dream of preserving the natural world as the couple expanded the Beerwah Reptile and Fauna Park to a sprawling 73 ha park that rehabilitated and housed rescued Crocs and other wildlife from the vast Australian marine and jungle habitats. That same year, they launched their first TV show, the Crocodile Hunter, where Steve Irwin demonstrated not only his gift for handling the deadliest of animals but also his untapped potential as an educator, actor, and TV commentator.

So successful was the Crocodile Hunter series that the Irwins went on to create and release subsequent documentaries, including Croc Diaries, The Crocodile Hunter Diaries, and New Breed Vets. He was also the brains (and hands) behind The Ten Deadliest Snakes In The World. Dr. Doolittle 2, Mystery Hunters, The Crocodile Hunter: Collision Course, The Fairly Odd Parents, Pacific Rim, and Happy Feet.

At the height of his career, Steve Irwin was working on two iconic projects: Ocean’s Deadliest. In this underwater documentary, he dedicated his time and resources to educating the world about the dangerous residents of Australia’s marine coasts. He was also working on Bindi The Jungle Girl, a documentary dedicated to his daughter Bindi.

Steve Irwin had a unique style of delivering his message that endeared him to his audience worldwide. With a deadly animal in the background or strapped across his shoulders or nestled in his bosom, an infectious smile, booming voice, darting eyes, and funny gestures, he would take his audience through an educational session filled with adventure and humor.

Not even renowned channels like NatGeo and Animal Planet could match up to the passion and energy with which the Aussie zoologist delivered his content. These usually featured animals in their natural habitats with a faceless narrator.

Steve made the documentaries real and relatable with his creative touch, giving them a rare personality. He had a way of catering to the adventurous needs of his audiences while impressing them with dazzling pellets of information packaged in layman’s terms, piquing the interests of even the most passive audiences.

His relentless and zealous pursuit of his dream and a burning desire to share it with the world earned him global fame and admiration. He was a true testimony that success belongs to those who toil and (bleed literally) for what they believe in. His spirited documentaries captured wildlife in various habitats across Australia. From kangaroos and koalas in the vast Noosa National Park to crocs along the coasts of Queensland to the deadliest snakes in Africa.

Steve Irwin was a man destined for a dangerous life. And painful death. His daring optimism had built a mythology about him that he was determined to preserve by all means. He casually handled dangerous water and land animals and escaped death many times. He had been bitten by parrots, bugs, and non-venomous snakes and had suffered countless injuries in the course of his work. Many believed he was excessively optimistic and failed to anticipate danger, that he was an accident waiting to happen.

Steve himself knew he was going to die young, and he and his wife were prepared for it. But what he never wanted or anticipated was to die from a crocodile or snake bite. He considered a car crash less tragic and controversial. He didn’t want an incident where people would roll their eyes and say, “Of course.”

It is this strong desire to preserve the mythology around him that when Irwin was bitten by a black mamba in Africa while shooting Africa’s Deadliest Snakes, the incident was never aired in the media. It became a closely guarded secret for over a decade. Let it never be said he was killed by the animals he loved.

Steve was a man destined for a dangerous life and a painful death. But it was not the fear of a snake or croc bite that bogged him down in the months leading to his death.

After a decade of preserving wildlife and taking his audiences on an educational adventure into the deep and the wild, Steve knew his time to exit the stage was coming to a close. First, the fame had gotten to him so bad he didn’t know how to cope with it. He was a pained man, fighting his demons and would, at times, fight himself, literally. Those closest to him would be pained to narrate how Steve used to flog himself badly.

He never had much of a social life because most of his time was spent at work and on trips outside Australia. Whatever little time was left off his schedule was spent with his family. As such, he was quite a loner though he had his cameraman cum right-hand man, Justin Lyons, who had the privilege to witness the takeoff of Steve’s career and the bad luck also to witness his gruesome death that fateful September morning.

Steve was an alpha male per excellence, but his inability to know when to stop was his undoing. He pushed himself far and beyond and would push harder and harder until he crashed, and the crash was painful.


Steve was an alpha male per excellence.

One time, after releasing a crocodile into the fauna park, he made a speech to his crew and thanked each of them as he went around them one by one. He’d get teary and emotional as he thanked them for their immense contribution to the cause. That was unlike the man known to show no emotion.

In the early days of September 2006, Steve loaded his family into a seaplane, then got on the top of his car and waved until the seaplane disappeared. Terri and the children were en route to the wilderness of Tasmania for a trekking and research holiday. A few days later, on September 4, 2006, Steve and his crew were shooting underwater scenes for Ocean’s Deadliest in the Great Barrier Reef off the coast of Port Douglas in far north Queensland.

The crew had chartered a small inflatable boat through the chest-deep waters when they encountered an eight-foot-wide bull stingray. Stingrays are normally calm sea creatures known for their placidness towards humans. They seldom attack and prefer to swim away when you get too close. Irwin and his crew were aiming for just one shot. The idea was to have him swim behind the animal with the cameraman positioned a few feet at the front to get a shot of the ray swimming away. The plan was supposed to be perfect, but as it turned out, it wasn’t too perfect.

Suddenly, the stingray propped on its front and started stabbing wildly with its tail, unleashing hundreds of strikes in a few seconds. Unfortunately for Steve, he was in a vulnerable position, less than two meters from the ray, when it charged at him. There was no time to act, and the creature went straight for his chest, driving its venomous knife-like barbs into his heart. The camera recorded footage of the gruesome attack as the foot-long barb pierced through Steve’s chest in a terrific tearing of flesh.

The stingray must have mistaken Steve’s shadow for a tiger shark, its natural predator, prompting it to react violently. When the crew pulled him into the boat, soaking in a pool of blood, Steve was in a lot of pain. They performed CPR and tried to resuscitate him, but by the time the boat arrived at the shore some minutes later, Steve calmly said, “I’m dying,” and bowed out.

Steve had survived snake bites, croc injuries, bug bites, parrot bites, chopper crashes, storms at sea, and muggings at knifepoint.

It was a rude irony that he would succumb to a stingray attack, an animal known to be placid toward humans. News of his death tore into the hearts of millions of his fans worldwide, with tributes pouring from every part of the globe. His family, whose vacation had to be severely nipped in the bud, jetted back from Tasmania clothed in grief and pain, the kind of helplessness and loss that only death can bring. They, together with friends, later held a private funeral on September 9, 2006, in Caloundra and, after that, interred his remains at the Australia Zoo.

Terri with the kids during Steve's memorial. Bindi was then 8 and Robert was 3.

A public memorial service was held on September 20 at his Australia Zoo’s Crocoseum, a 5,5000-capacity arena where thousands of mourners gathered to pay their last respects. The service was broadcast live in Oceania, the United States, the UK, Germany, and Asia, with an estimated 300 million viewers. There, thousands showed up to pay tribute to the man who dared to dream and made the world view nature from a different perspective.

It’s been 17 years since Steve Irwin died. Outside the scope of his work, Steve was a devoted husband and loving father. The world did witness the love and devotion the couple had for each other, which was so unwavering, so much so that when the wildlife champion and television personality had an unexpected confrontation with his mortality and succumbed shortly thereafter, Teri was unable to go back on her vow. In her own words, 12 years after Steve’s death, she said: 

“There’s always the potential to find love again, and that’s a beautiful thing . . . but I had my happily ever after, so I’m doing okay.

The Irwins with Steve photoshopped in the middle holding Grace.

Seventeen years later, after Steve's death, Terri Irwin has not dated or remarried, according to her interview with People magazine

According to that 2018 interview with People magazine, she had not dated or had a relationship since her husband’s death.

Terri has done a good job at keeping Steve’s image and legacy. The couple’s vision was to create the largest wildlife conservation in Australia, and Terri and the kids have worked hard to keep the vision alive.

The Irwins, three generations. Steve is survived by his wife Terri, their daughter Bindi, son Robert, granddaughter Grace Powell, and son-in-law Chandler Powell. The wildlife warriors have done a great job at making Australia Zoo what it is today.

The family continues to run and manage Australia Zoo, turning it into one of the best and largest wildlife conservation parks in the country. Steve Irwin will be remembered for his extraordinary passion for wildlife and his larger-than-life personality. He did leave his mark, after all. He’s survived by his wife, Terri Irwin, daughter Bindi Irwin, son Robert Irwin, granddaughter Grace Powell, and son-in-law Chandler Powell. He was 44.

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Teri O'halo McMahonn

Teri O'halo McMahonn

Writer & Blogger

I’m just like you. I’ve gone through pain in its various forms. I’ve lived with the pain of neglect and abandonment, watched my baby die in my arms, nursed multiple heartbreaks, and buried all my best friends. Like you, I became numb with every blow life dealt me. That was until I realized talking about these unpleasant life realities is a great coping mechanism. By confronting rather than suppressing my suffering, I was able to heal and find acceptance and closure. I’m not saying it was easy. My resilience and strength were severely tested. And yet, “Still I Rise.” That’s why I can easily relate to your current pain, no matter the tragedy. That’s why I’m here to help you cope with it by talking about it. It’d be an honor to have me tell the world your story.

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I help families bring out the beauty and character of their dear ones by writing obituaries, tributes, eulogies and mini biographies that define their legacy. Obituaries that go beyond the usual bland and dull announcements, capturing the essence of their true selves.

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I help families bring out the beauty and character of their dear ones by writing obituaries, tributes, eulogies and mini biographies that define their legacy. Obituaries that go beyond the usual bland and dull announcements that fail to capture the essence of who those people really were.

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