It’s not every day that you discover a man so devoted to the conservation of wildlife, namely crocodiles, to whom so few accolades have been given. It was his son Steve Irwin who shone and took to the spotlight giving his dad a place just out of reach of the cameras, a place Bob was much more comfortable with. The Bob Irwin you come to know in his book “The Last Crocodile Hunter, A Father and Son Legacy” written with Amanda French, is unassuming yet unwavering in his convictions which took him far in life. Not a perfect man by any means but one who finds peace among animals rather than in the middle of a (human) crowd.
It’s a life not without tragedy including the loss of all his worldly possessions (p136-137) before the tragic loss of his beloved wife and his famous son.
Bob’s first career was as a plumber; inspired by his loving step-father who had a trade of his own. Then when his dad got into building septic tanks (p22/294) Bob became enthusiastic about that. He loved the physical aspect of that work, the digging. (Now, one cannot get any more physical than jumping onto the backs of crocodiles; a ‘saltie‘# weighs well over 2000 pounds but more on that later.)
As his dad retired from plumbing Bob discovered that his interest had waned, too. He knew that he was not so much driven to be a plumber as he had looked for an excuse to spend time with his dad.
Ultimately Bob and Lyn’s decision to ‘follow their dream’ (p35/294 Adobe) and their passions in life led to them packing up their young family (daughters Joy, Mandy & son Steve) and moving from Melbourne to Queensland, Australia.
Even still, crocodiles ain’t pretty.* So devoting one’s life to the reptiles takes a special man (and woman as his wife Lyn (Lynette Leslie Hakainsson Irwin) was very much a part of the animal caring bit only more with the injured and orphaned wildlife than the ‘salties’ .) Bob Irwin was up to the task. He was not one to walk away from a hard day’s work.
Their new life would revolve around reptiles with their family business becoming the Beerwah Reptile Park (opened on 3 June 1970). It was a laborious venture (building a wildlife park from scratch including a home for the family) which led to their involvement with the Queensland Parks and Wildlife Services when Bob was asked to catch ‘freshies‘ freshwater crocodiles for a government relocation program. Monty was their first ‘saltie‘. (p73/294) He was only 2 ½ feet long when re-homed to their reptile park.
It is not difficult to see how a man who had such a close relationship with his father could become a loving father himself. As a child Steve (Stephen Robert Irwin born 22 February 1962, incidentally on his mother’s 20th birthday) was guided by Bob on their routine trips out into the Australian bush, both led by their love of wildlife and reptiles, in particular.
As the boy grew into a man the knowledge gained from crocodile hunting had now evolved into the father taking lessons from his son and that is just how Bob liked it. For Steve, a naturally gregarious child, would soon make connections that would forever change his life and give voice to wildlife conservation with his never-waning enthusiasm for the conservation of crocodiles. Crocks Rule!
The most touching parts of the book, which we highly recommend, were the more personal reflections (apart from the more logistical dynamics of the activity of crocodile hunting itself which tends to drag the storyline but what would one expect from a book entitled The Last Crocodile Hunter 🙂 ); when Bob recalls his last day with his son before Steve Irwin’s untimely death (on 4 September 2006 while diving in Queensland) and ironically in the Epilogue when Amanda French shares her thoughts at the end of a three week exploratory trip with Bob to Koolatah Station, Cape York, Australia in September 2015.
But more personal about his extended family Bob does not get, (p279/294 Adobe) especially about his daughter-in-law Terri Raines Irwin, or his well-known grandchildren Bindi Irwin Powell & Robert Clarence Irwin (who continue to run the Australia Zoo formerly known as the Beerwah Reptile Park founded by Bob & Lyn). Bob Irwin: “And while I haven’t seen them now for a number of years, I will always feel proud standing on the sidelines and watching them succeed at whatever path they choose to follow.” (p279/294 Adobe)
It seems Bob would rather take the high road.
*For those of you who lived in Orlando, Florida in the late 1970s and into the 1980s the catchphrase, ‘tires ain’t pretty,’ from the Allied Discount Tire commercials, has definitely become a part of our pop culture.
Images: CC Flickr by matt quest Newspaper Headlines ‘Steve (Irwin) You Were One of a Kind’; by Lock the Gate, Robert Irwin at Environmental Protest closeup & pic 2 & by Gregory Moine Australia Saltwater Crocodile ‘Saltie’; book cover from the Adobe edition
Source: “The Last Crocodile Hunter, A Father and Son Legacy” by Bob Irwin with Amanda French
Note: citations are from the Adobe digital edition (294 pages)