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Irwin – The Man, the Myth, the Stingray Martyr

Ryan Vaughan



Steve Irwin is dead. It came as quite a shock to learn of the untimely death of Australian television personality Steve ‘the Crocodile Hunter’ Irwin. Just the day before the news broke, I was hungover and contently watching Irwin as he schooled a new generation of croc hunters. As the news slowly sunk in, and as the tributes mounted, I truly felt a sense of loss. Steve is gone, but certainly not forgotten.
As an animal lover myself, I grew up fascinated by this bubbly Aussie’s ability to tame the wildest of crocs, and charm the most venomous of snakes. Steve was a larger than life character. His passion about animals, and his love for all living things meant he was the perfect wildlife presenter. There was never a dull moment on one of Steve’s shows. Steve was a real life action hero who seemed to leap off the screen at you. He was seemingly always in danger. Or if he wasn’t in danger, he would usually be seen running towards it. He was fearless, yet he knew just how far to push before things got too out of control. He seemed to have a sixth sense about what an animal would do next. This control and knowledge made him the perfect weapon in the fight against animal cruelty, the illegal trading of exotic animals, and the perfect role model for future conservationists.
His lessons about all animals, great and small, taught me much about the animal kingdom. I learnt about crocodile conservation, about deadly snakes and unpredictable spiders. I learnt where crocodile babies come from, and just how hard it is to capture a rattle snake using only your bare hands. But Steve, like any good celebrity, was no stranger to controversy.
On the 2nd of January 2004, the Croc Hunter found himself embroiled in public controversy after he engaged in a crocodile feeding demonstration while holding his infant son, then only two months old, in one arm while feeding a chicken carcass to the close up croc with the other. I forgave Steve for this. It was a publicity stunt gone awry, but was really pretty funny. But even the shock that incident caused was nothing compared to the stunned reception when he died..
When I heard he had been stung by a stingray I thought it was a piss-take. How could the great Crocodile Hunter be cut down by nature’s U.F.O? The usually placid stingray must have taken offence to Steve’s shorts, because that ray, aiming its poisonous barb with deadly precision went right for the heart. In his last act of bravery Steve pulled out the ray’s razor sharp barb, then slipped away into death. One of Steve’s most well known quotes allows us to take some comfort in his death. The fact is he knew it was coming, he just got the animal wrong. He was once heard to say something along the lines of, if I’m ever eaten by a shark or a croc, it would be a shame if it wasn’t caught on tape. Well Steve, there’s no worries there mate.
According to the Discovery Channel, for which Steve was filming a show for when he died, the entire incident was caught on tape. I have pondered whether or not I could bring myself to watch it if it is released. The rubber-necker in me says yes. But the young tyke in me, the one who spent cold Sunday mornings, sipping hot Milo and watching Steve wrestle with fifteen foot crocs is not so keen. I want to remember Steve in a positive light.
For all the jokes about his Khaki styled wardrobe, his amazingly annoying accent and his even more annoying catchphrases Steve was, and forever will be one of the world’s most famous and well loved Australians. He had an abnormal fear of parrots, tremendous love for all animals and especially his family, and was a truthful and positive role model for people everywhere.
Crikey mate. Crikey indeed.