Steve Irwin was born into a home filled with dangerous snakes, lizards, injured birds, and orphaned kangaroos, which fuelled his passion for wildlife from the get-go. His mother Lyn cared for both the injured and orphaned, and Steve used to say she was ‘the Mother Teresa of wildlife rehabilitation’. Meanwhile, his father Bob was a wildlife expert interested in herpetology – zoology concerned with amphibians and reptiles. The love for wildlife, especially reptiles, was seen in Steve from a very young age. At the young age of six, Steve caught his first venomous snake, a Common Brown, and would often arrive late to school due to rescuing lizards off the side of the road with his mum.
Relocating as a family to Beerwah, Queensland, the Irwins opened the Beerwah Reptile and Fauna Park in 1970, and it was the beginning of a charming little reptile park. With a love for reptiles growing every day, Steve wrestled his first crocodile at the age of nine under his father’s supervision. The crocodiles caught were ‘small problem crocodiles’ who hung around boat ramps. Steve quickly learnt how to jump atop these large reptiles and wrestle them into the dinghy.
With a sixth sense for wildlife growing within him, Steve captured over 100 crocodiles as a volunteer for Queensland’s East Coast Crocodile Management Program – some of these crocodiles were relocated, whilst others were moved to his family’s park.
In 1980, the Irwins wildlife park was renamed to Queensland Reptile and Fauna Park – and Steve called this park his home. However, throughout the 1980s Steve moved to many remote areas across the far North Queensland, saving crocodiles from poachers’ bullets. Working with his little dog, Sui, Steve developed a crocodile capture and management technique that is now used by crocodilians across the world.
By 1991, Steve took over the management of his family’s park. Alongside the help of his best mate, Wes Mannion, they worked many hours to maintain the grounds and care for the wildlife.
Not long after Steve took over the park in 1991, he met tourist Terri, an American naturalist. Their whirlwind of a relationship saw them married in 1992.
‘I thought there was no one like this anywhere in the world. He sounded like an environmental Tarzan, a larger-than-life superhero guy.’ – Terri Irwin
Instead of departing for their honeymoon, Steve and Terri began filming a wildlife documentary. This documentary was so successful it was turned into a series – nicknaming Steve as – The Crocodile Hunter; debuting on Australian TV screens in 1996 and in North America in 1997. Being an expert on Australian wildlife, a conservationist, and now an international television personality, with a broad Australian accent, Steve’s infectious personality brought him worldwide fame.
Alongside The Crocodile Hunter, Steve starred in many other documentaries and films. In 1998, he worked alongside director Mark Strickson to create The Ten Deadliest Snakes in the World. The nation’s iconic children’s music group The Wiggles filmed their Wiggly Safari in Australia Zoo in 2002. Steve and his family appeared in this all-singing, all-dancing film educating children about Australian wildlife.
Alongside this, Steve starred in interviews, including The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, announcing a developing show – with Discovery Kids – for his daughter Bindi. However, this series Bindi the Jungle Girl started in 2007, after Steve’s death.
In 2006, Steve also provided his voice for an elephant seal named Trev, in the animated film Happy Feet. Passing during post-production, this film was dedicated to Steve.
In 1992, Lyn and Bob Irwin retired from the park, leaving Steve in charge. Working aimlessly, he improved and expanded the wildlife park, and in 1998 he renamed this park Australia Zoo – with the vision of it being the world’s best zoo.
With the help of his popularity across the United States and around the world, by 2002, Australia Zoo was voted Queensland’s top tourist attraction. Steve was a keen promotor of Queensland tourism, and Australia tourism as a whole.
In July 2006, Steve worked out a ten-year business plan, determining the future of his beloved zoo.
Steve’s action-packed relationship with Terri, saw the welcoming of their first child, Bindi, in 1998. Steve described his daughter as ‘the reason [he] was put on the Earth.’ Being a daddy’s girl ‘who worshipped the ground he walked on’, they were seen cooking, surfing, and doing everything in between, together.
In 2003, they welcomed the birth of their son Robert, who joined Steve on his rounds across the zoo. Being a spitting image of his father, Robert – life Bindi – had their parent’s love of life and wildlife.
‘I consider myself a wildlife warrior. My mission is to save the world’s endangered species.’ – Steve Irwin
Established in 2002, Steve and Terri created the conservationist organisation, Steve Irwin Conservation Foundation. Encouraging the education of how to protect injured, threatened, and endangered wildlife. This organisation was later renamed to Wildlife Warriors Worldwide, and Terri remains as a patron and significant advisor today.
Steve also helped to find and establish the International Crocodile Rescue, the Lyn Irwin Memorial Fund (in memory of his mother, who died in 2000), and Iron Bark Station Wildlife Rehabilitation Facility.
Steve Irwin has been awarded many awards and honours. The first, in 1997, Steve and his father discovered a new species of turtle on the coast of Queensland – as a result of this finding, he was given the honour of naming this new species. This species of turtle is known as Irwin’s turtle (Elseya irwini), after his family. Other awards include the Centenary Medal by the Australian government (2001), recognition as Tourism Export of the Year (2004), and a nomination for Australian of the Year (2004).
In his honour, the vessel M/V Robert Hunter owned by Sea Shepherd Conservation Society was renamed M/Y Steve Irwin. The road that runs past Australia Zoo – Glass House Mountains Road – was renamed to Steve Irwin Way in 2007; and in 2009, a newly discovered Australian species of air-breathing land snail, was named in his honour: Crikey steveirwini.
On 4 September 2006, Steve was filming an underwater documentary film titled Ocean’s Deadliest along Batt Reef, near Port Douglas, Queensland. Swimming in chest-deep water, during a break in filming to provide footage for Bindi’s upcoming TV show, Steve approached a stingray with an approximate span of two metres. Initially he thought he had punctured a lung, however, the stingray’s barb pierced his heart. The footage of this incident is believed to be the only stingray fatality ever captured on video; however, at the request of his family, all copies of this footage were destroyed.
This unexpected incident wasn’t only a shock to his family and the nation, but to the world. The flags along the Sydney Harbour Bridge were lowered to half mast in his honour, thousands of fans visited Australia Zoo paying their respects, and the then-Prime Minister John Howard expressed the nation’s distress by stating ‘Australia has lost a wonderful and colourful son’.
Steve was buried during a private ceremony at Australia Zoo in a grave site that is inaccessible to visitors.
The world-renowned American channel Animal Planet broadcast a series finale of The Crocodile Hunter, titled Steve’s Last Adventure. This three-hour documentary showed footage of Steve’s travels and adventures from across the world; including Borneo, the Himalayas, the Yangtze River, and the Kruger National Park.
A public memorial service was held on 20 September 2006 at the Crocoseum in Australia Zoo. Introduced by Russell Crowe, the service was broadcast across Australia, US, UK, Germany, and Asia, and was seen by over 300 million viewers. The final tribute saw staff at the zoo spell out his iconic catchphrase Crikey in yellow flowers, after Steve’s truck was driven from the Crocoseum, for the last time.
In memory of the Crocodile Hunter, Steve Irwin Day (15 November) is an international annual event celebrating his passionate life.
This true blue Aussie changed the world with innovative ideas and extreme conservation efforts. Well known for darting bites from venomous snakes, tackling crocodiles, and rescuing those in need of help, Steve was at the forefront of animal conservation.
Praising Steve for introducing the public to the natural world, Sir David Attenborough said ‘He taught them how wonderful and exciting it was, he was a born communicator.’
His legacy will live on forever. After all, as he says, ‘Crocs rule!’