Over the years, I’ve written about the impact Steve Irwin had on the lives of my family. Below is a repost of something I wrote in 2009, which still rings true. I’d like to add a few thoughts.
Steve may be gone, but we’ve witnessed new generations carrying on with his mission. Irwin daughter Bindi is officially an adult and continues to talk about the need for conservation, advocates for the animals, and has become a true global ambassador for wildlife. His son, Robert, does the same. Though his younger years perhaps limit his visibility, he aims high and reaches or exceeds that mark with pure, unbridled enthusiasm. Both Irwin kids are passionate, educated, and very well-spoken, which is a testament to not only their mother, Terri, but to the foundation of keen interest and the solid work their father did in the name of wildlife conservation.
As I mention below, my own interest in wildlife began early. My parents were the leading contributors to this, but I was also intrigued by the work of Marlin Perkins, who was pretty much all my generation had in the way of a wildlife educator/promoter. There were others who followed, of course, but that was the start of my budding curiosity. I’m so very grateful for the path Perkins paved because it brought us Steve.
I’m grateful my children grew up in the Age of Irwin. I’m grateful for the first class shows they had, to see the world through khaki colored glasses, to see wildlife conservation as something exciting and important.
For those reasons alone (though there are many more), I continue to mourn the loss of the great wildlife warrior named Steve Irwin.
I’ll never forget the year LD turned two and on Christmas morning he went crazy when he saw one of his presents was a three or four foot plastic crocodile. He immediately jumped it, covered its eyes, called for Terri (his sister given a co-starring role in his funny little world of Croc Hunterdom) to get his shirt off and wrap it around the croc’s head. Yes, LD was two and had absorbed enough Irwinisms to run his own fake rescue and relocation in our living room.
Dressed in his regular uniform of khakis (the boy wanted what he wanted), we headed over to my sister’s house for more Christmas activities. The croc came along. Anyone speaking to LD that day had to address him as Steve. To this day, there are probably a few people who were dating relatives or friends of my sister and brother-in-law who really believe this is my son’s name. We probably should have considered it, but for the simple fact that the ex’s brother carries the same name and they weren’t on speaking terms at that point. Still, my little 2 year old had made his stand about the name and his goals for the day: he would be Steve and he would be on croc patrol. No cats, people, or food would go missing if he could help it! (Okay, maybe a little food, but that was only if it was near enough to a chair he could climb up to get at it.)
And he did it all with an Australian accent. My American born baby boy sported a fair dinkum Aussie accent. Because that’s how his hero spoke.
This was how it went for two and half years, give or take. Halloween costumes were, naturally, khaki and sported fabric paint representations of Australia Zoo’s logo, with the name Steve below that. We’d attached frogs, lizards, and snakes to his shirt (all plastic, of course…our collection was immense…still is) and his shorts or pants, and his hat, although the hat was from the Norwich Gators (close as we could get at the time). Our pumpkins were carved with crocs and “Steve” and occasionally a panda or regular jack o’lantern pattern. But they still represented The Man.
When the news broke during the early hours on Sept. 4, 2006, I was awake and editing for Blogcritics.org at the time. I heard it. And everything stopped. Then I started flipping channels and it was everywhere. It didn’t seem real. Finally, I emailed my friend Pat who lived at the zoo and received the sad confirmation that it was, indeed, tragically true — Steve Irwin was gone.
What unfolded after that was beyond anything most anyone anywhere would have ever expected. Despite the popularity of the Crocodile Hunter series and other spin off shows, no one could have predicted just how widespread this man’s infectious enthusiasm reached. Straight out admiration, parodies, and even a handful of naysayers…the man, his mission, had stretched around the globe and back a million times. He made the scariest animals important, even lovable (except leeches and I’m afraid I’ll never laugh as he did about them), he made us care about the animals he encountered, taught us why they were special, why we should want them around. His plans were grand and he was making great strides in realizing many of his dreams, which ruffled a few feathers and caused some backlash, but Steve did it all for one reason: to protect the land and the animals, and give our children more than just picture books filled with photos and drawings of animals and trees we once encountered on land. Careful management could and can preserve habitats and healthy populations of animals if we can find a way to work together — from land management, husbandry, careful community planning, caring individuals, and sensible care plans from government agencies to help keep nature a viable and valuable part of our heritage.
It’s a message I was taught by Marlin Perkins, local Native Americans, and even by my parents (except snakes, but that’s a cause I took up on my own). To me, what was the point of keeping the forest if there were no animals? What was the point of loving the animals if they had no home? I learned it early and have always carried this with me. My conservationist roots run deep and likely always will. I guess my kids came by it honestly.
And then one day, Steve and Terri Irwin showed up and echoed what I’d grown up hearing. They even went far beyond what I’d learned and gave me new ideas, a new means of understanding, new hope! It spread quickly. I wasn’t the only one looking for a way to learn. It became part of our watercooler conversations.
Then we got that punch in the ol’ solar plexus we never wanted to hear. Yes, Steve Irwin was a celebrity and we often roll our eyes when a celebrity dies. But this seemed to run a bit deeper. Here was a young man actively, passionately chasing the dream of educating the world about our natural resources. He wasn’t famous for kicking a soccer ball or wearing the latest styles or releasing a record of music he had little to do with. He was out getting dirty and conducting research that continues to this day to enlighten us on the habits and lives of creatures we previously understood little about. He gave us tools to learn and set us upon a course of caring.
It’s been three (er, now 10) years and it still hurts. Thankfully, there are people everywhere who have picked up the mantle and carry on.
It may mean nothing to you, but it continues to mean a great deal to this family. Each of us, in our own manner, have found a way to carry on educating friends and strangers about the animals we encounter, the land upon which we live, the land that surrounds us, and how important it is for all of us to work together to keep it working.
Steve Irwin may be gone, but plenty of people in this world are carrying out his work, sharing the knowledge, spreading the word.
We miss you, Stevo.