Authors: Steve Irwin,Terri Irwin
The incredible life and adventures of Steve
and Terri Irwin
Penguin Books Australia Ltd
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Originally published by Penguin Books (NZ) Ltd
Published by Dutton, a member of Penguin Putnam Inc. 2001
This edition published by Penguin Books Australia Ltd 2001
Copyright © Steve and Terri Irwin 1997, 2001
The moral right of the author has been asserted
All rights reserved. Without limiting the rights under copyright reserved above, no part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in or introduced into a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means (electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise), without the prior written permission of both the copyright owner and the above publisher of this book.
National Library of Australia
The crocodile hunter : the incredible life and adventures
of Steve and Terri Irwin.
1. Irwin, Terri. 2. Irwin, Steve. 3. Herpetologists -
Australia - Biography. 4. Crocodiles. 5. Dangerous
animals. I. Irwin, Terri. II. Title.
The Dream Begins
he Irwin crocodile story begins with my parents, Bob and Lyn Irwin. Keen naturalists and herpetologists, they had three children: Joy, myself, and Mandy. I was to grow up following in my father’s footsteps. In November 1970, when Bob, Lyn, and I were on a field trip to catch snakes in southeast Queensland, my parents purchased the property that was to become Australia Zoo.
My dad, Robert Eric Irwin, was born and raised in the state of Victoria in the Dandenong Ranges by his mum, my grandma, during the Depression. His dad and his grandfather (Ronald and George Joseph Irwin) both died while fighting in Southeast Asia against the Japanese during World War II.
It’s a very Australian tradition to shorten people’s names or adopt a nickname, so my dad was always affectionately known as Bob. He grew up during very, very rough times. His mum, Marjorie Irwin, had lost her husband and father-in-law to the war, and had virtually no money while trying to raise her two sons. She was made of the right stuff and struggled through those tough times, raising Bob up to be a fine young man, an exceptional plumber, and a lover of the Australian bush and its reptiles.
Mum and Dad, young lovers.
My mum, Lynette Leslie Irwin, was raised by my nanna and pa, Vesta and Frank Hakainsson, in the town of Boronia near where Bob lived. Pa also served during World War II, and as luck would have it, he was injured and returned home to his family. Lyn, as she was affectionately known, grew up to become a maternity nurse with a passion for sick and orphaned wildlife.
Bob and Lyn were friends as kids, and their friendship developed into love as teenagers—they were destined to spend their lives together. They married when Dad was twenty and Mum was eighteen years old, and they started a family straightaway. Dad continued as a very successful plumber and their business flourished. The whole time, Dad’s passion for reptiles was accelerating at an alarming rate. He was nurturing an ever-increasing collection of snakes in our family home at Essendon, south of Melbourne, the capital of Victoria.
On my sixth birthday I was given a gift from my dad and mum that was to be the start of our animal collection fauna park. I was totally excited to receive a twelve-foot scrub python, although the difference in our sizes meant that I couldn’t in fact play with it, or I might have become its next meal! My snake’s name was Fred and I loved him dearly, despite the drawbacks attached, with him seeing me as a potential food source.
Our menagerie grew over the next two years. Dad and I were passionate about catching snakes and lizards. I remember a classic encounter with a brown snake that was to become an important member of our family. Dad and a seven-year-old Steve were in the bush in northern Victoria searching for snakes and as we traveled along a granite boulder-encrusted creek, I pretended I was in the army. Stalking a preoccupied Dad was always great: he would be the enemy and I’d grab a well-shaped stick or branch, which would be my submachine gun or .303. This particular afternoon I’d scampered up some boulders and set up in an ambush position. As I took aim with my “gun” I noticed a nearly seven-foot brown snake tongue-flicking my foot. Wearing only plastic sandals, the flesh of my feet was totally exposed. After a few moments of tongue-flicking, which is the snake’s method of smelling, the huge brown decided I wasn’t edible, nor was I an immediate threat. It started to retreat down a rabbit burrow where it would certainly have disappeared, but without any hesitation, I pinned it with my foot about mid-body so it couldn’t escape. It hissed in anger.
I’ve got one, I’ve got one, Dad!” I yelled out.
“Where are you?”
“Dad! Dad! Quick! I’ve got a brown snake!” I shouted.
Several minutes lapsed and then I could see Dadrunning for all he was worth up the boulders. I could feel the pride and adrenaline building. Not even watching the snake, I shouted down to him.
“I’ve got a big brown snake!”
“Where?” he replied, struggling for breath.
“I’ve got a big one right here.”
Mum and Dad with my sixth birthday present: Fred, a scrub python. The difference in our sizes, however, meant that I couldn’t in fact play with it!
He couldn’t see my lower body and was now within feet of me.
“Where?” he asked again as he came over the last boulder to my level.
“Here,” I pointed.
The power of his forearm against my shoulder knocked me airborne. I crashed into the unforgiving rock, and my arm went dead from the impact of Dad hitting me. My knees were skinned.
“You bloody idiot!” he screamed at me.
The pain from my injuries disappeared as the pain from his anger crushed me like a bug.
“But Dad,” I whimpered.
My heart was broken, my pride had turned into an overwhelming sense of confusion and embarrassment. Bursting into an uncontrollable state of crying, I ran off down the rocks. I ran and ran, bawling my eyes out. Finally, I had to stop running as I was crying so hard I couldn’t get my breath. I was sobbing so much my breathing was impaired and I didn’t know what to do.
I’ll run away, I thought. That’s it, I’ll run away. If I run away, that’ll show him. I’ll just keep heading up this creek and no one will ever find me.
Pretty soon, the minutes seemed like hours and I’d regained my breath and stopped crying. I’m going to find a cave and live in it forever, I decided.
Looking around, I spotted a huge crack in the rocks and headed toward it, hoping it might lead me to my cave. As I stuck my head inside the cave, I sensed movement. Sure enough, I spotted some beady little eyes staring back at me. Wow! Skinks. Cunninghams skinks. The crack I was now well and truly entrenched in housed several of these beautiful little lizards. My despair waned as enthusiasm and fascination took control of my thoughts once more.
After what seemed to be hours, but was probably only half an hour of coaxing the lizards with strands of grass, I couldn’t dislodge them. They hadn’t budged an inch. The sound of Dad’s car horn echoed through the boulders. It was getting dark.
“Goodbye, little lizards,” I sighed, then took off as fast as my legs could carry me toward the car.
Reaching the car, I jumped in quickly. I was too scared to say anything. I knew Dad’s silence meant he was angry with me. It wasn’t until my late teens that I realized what had happened that day.
Brown snakes are the second most venomous snake in the world. They cause more fatal snakebites in Australia than any other snake. They are considered aggressive and lethal if cornered or molested. Pinning that brown snake in the middle of the body should have cost me a bite, and possibly my life. When Dad looked down, the angry brown snake had been about to bite my foot.
I’d been warned time and time again prior to this incident to never touch a venomous snake. Even at seven years of age I could identify any snake and should have known better. Dad probably saved my life by knocking me over—thank God for his reflexes. This particular snake was one of the first venomous snakes in our menagerie.
One of the early brochures for the Park. After a year of hard work my parents opened what has now become Australia Zoo, which Terri and I operate today.
Dad with a goanna. My parents are both keen naturalists with a particular passion for reptiles and amphibians.
Within a few years our collection of reptiles and other animals had grown to the stage where bedrooms weren’t big enough to house everything. So Dad and Mum made the biggest decision of their lives—to move to the Sunshine Coast and start up a wildlife sanctuary. They chose a beautiful four-acre paddock covered in lush tropical flora in 1970.
It took Dad a solid three years of hard yakka (labor) to establish the foundations of what is now the most popular private zoological facility and park in Australia. I helped him build everything, though I was probably more of a hindrance than a help. But I kept Dad amused. Of course, Dad knew he needed to be enthusiastic about my helping him, as it’s during these younger years that a young fella develops work ethics and skills. I worked hard and was rewarded with field trips.
In those early days Dad and I shared the most marvelous adventures. We’d travel the Aussie outback for weeks at a time, catching crocs, snakes, and lizards for the park. I’d help Mum raise orphan joey kangaroos and wallabies and spend endless nights rehabilitating injured birds and other animals. Our park grew and flourished from the day the gates were opened in 1973, but it never ceases to impress me how our menagerie grew into a zoo. Dad’s dream came true; he’d always wanted his own reptile park in Queensland and it was his hard work and careful planning that made it a reality. The initial name of the park was the Beerwah Reptile Park and our first postcard is a classic reminder of those “good old days.” Dad and Mum started with a piece of dirt and within six months we got the park open.
“We’ll have to learn as we go,” was Dad’s motto. That’s exactly what we did and continue to do.
Mum feeding her orphaned joey swamp wallaby.