Steve lives!

“I always had the impression that he was all a big bluff and a publicity hound.”

“A lunatic!”

“Rolling of the eyes and changing channels.”

“All of us thought he was over the top.”

“I gave him more respect as I got to know him better and found out everything he did.”

“I liked that he was honestly and unashamedly who he was, it is often not the case, quite a rare trait.”

“I think the zoo was the money source for his more important work, buying up land to preserve wildlife for the future. ”

“He was good!”

“He knew what he wanted and he knew how to get it.”

“The only image I have of him was his persona in TV. Which was larger than life and a great ambassador for animals enthusiasm and care for Australian wild life. I personally find this almost a charicature but the public needed this to accept the message. I believe … that he has bought and set up a number of properties as sanctuaries. I think the Zoo and the hospital are excellent and have done a great deal to support and promote our wildlife to our public.”

(Opinions of some of my friends when asked what they thought of Steve Irwin)

I too have been a bit cynical about the Steve Irwin phenomenon, until I actually went to Australia Zoo a few weeks ago. He was apparently big in the States, but not so much here. Whenever I saw him on TV (rarely, not because he wasn’t on, but because I didn’t watch), he seemed a bit over the top, with his exaggerated ‘ocker’ accent and behaviour.

But I was saddened when he died. He was apparently the genuine article – what you saw was what you got. No flies on Steve. (Strine seems to arise naturally when thinking of Steve – he’s even mentioned in this page on strine.) It didn’t seem fair that someone with such a passion for his animals, nature education and conservation should be snuffed out so easily. Fortunately his family, friends and staff are just as passionate and are carrying on the work. I had put on my stingray necklace that morning, but fortunately realised the gaffe in time, and took it off.

It’s a huge place, 29 hectares (72 acres), and very well-organised and pleasant to be in. The staff are approachable and interact well with the public. You can walk your feet off for 6 hours (as we did) or catch a shuttle train with driver who will give commentary. There’s also the option of a VIP visit, where you can pay for a personal, chauferred buggy for 5 hours – this would have been a good option to get lots of information. Maybe next time.

The place was packed with visitors – NSW and Qld school holidays. I know it’s cheating to photograph animals in captivity, but some would take a lot of effort to photograph in the wild. Take your own food – it’s expensive! For the shoppers, there are several merchandise stores.

I’ll start off with Australian crocodiles and lizards, since Steve was probably most famous for his interest in them.

The saltwater crocodile (Crocodylus porosus) is the one painted with the aggressive reputation. This aspect is played up in the wildlife documentaries I’ve seen about crocs. I certainly wouldn’t want to get too close. The stories of the few humans who have been attacked and have survived to tell the tale are certainly harrowing. Crocodiles have been on the planet in pretty much the same form for something like 200 million years, so their anatomy and way of life obviously work! Just keep away the Handbag Hunters.

Scrappa, son of Aggro - oh dear, those names!

Crocs are reported to have been seen at over 7 metres  long, but the biggies have been hunted to death. Who knows, there may be one or two left.

Artist impression of what a 7 metre croc would look like - statue at Australia Zoo

Freshwater crocodiles (Crocodylus johnsoni) are estuarine, much smaller than salties, and don’t have the human-munching reputation. I still wouldn’t swim in the same water with one, though. This is the Johnson River crocodile mentioned in the Australian song by Bill Scot, “Hey Rain”, as “living in me fridge” during a Big Wet.

Freshwater crocodiles at Australia Zoo

There were lots and lots of crocs on display, the salties always solo. One advantage of the visitors’s fascination with crocs and the Irwins was that we suddenly found ourselves abandoned when everyone else went to the midday croc-feeding event, hosted by Terri, Bindi and Bob. Bliss!

Other Australian lizards on display included our largest monitor, the perentie (Varanus giganteus) …

Gorgeous skin patterns on the perentie

… the eastern water dragon (Physignathus lesueurii) – we get these at our place …

Eastern water dragon

and we also get these, the southern angle-headed dragon (Hypsilurus spinipes) …

Southern angle-headed dragon

Smaller lizards included the blue-tongue (Tiliqua scincoides scincoides) …

Blue-tongued lizard, with admirers

Finally, the most fearsome of all …


In the shops, you can buy, among many other things, a T-shirt emblazoned with “Steve lives!” and the Terri Irwin “Cougar” clothing range (groan). They stock SeaShepherd merchandise too (yay! – SeaShepherd named one of their ships after Steve, after all).

I’ll cover some of the many snakes in Australia Zoo in a separate post.

He did so much. He could have done so much more. I’m so sorry you’ve gone, Steve.

To paraphrase a “true blue” Australian song …

And his ghost may be heard as you pass by a crocodile:

“Who’ll come a-waltzing a reptile with me?”

This entry was posted in Animals on land, Travels and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Steve lives!

  1. Rebecca says:

    I was in college (university to you) when he died – when I got up in the morning and walked into our common area one of my roommates immediately told me, it was literally the first thing I heard that day. All the zoology students, of which I was one, were in shock.

  2. Oh yes, he was quite popular in the States, altho as you suggested, kinda as an over-the-top caricature–he was a favorite target of imitators (even within my daughter’s Girl Scout troop– crikey!). I think most Americans loved both that accent and over-enthusiasm! Anyway, I’m happy to see your post about him and his Zoo. Thanks!

  3. Kathy says:

    I think Steve was amazing. His showmanship was unique. I could not help
    but like his wonderful childlike curiosity. His enthusiasm was infectious. I always felt I was on the adventure with him, so much that when I last visited croc infested waters in FNQ a
    few years back, I had a nagging notion that a big croc could jump out and get us in the boat!

  4. Pingback: Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary (part 2) | A-roving I will go

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