04 September 2006

A Good, Friendly, Big-Hearted Bloke Has Died

I interrupt my somewhat dismal vacation stretch to comment on the untimely death of a great educator and TV personality, 'The Crocodile Hunter' Steve Irwin. I'm sorry to admit I was in his area of Brisbane in January (well stranded would be the more correct term), but never made the short distance onward to Australia Zoo or to see him. As entertaining as he was on TV here thousands of miles and a hemisphere away, I can only imagine now how he must have been in person. Despite the criticisms laid against him as an over-the-top 'wildlife warrior' and for the possible recklessness in his animal-handling, the deluge of condolences and all-around reports of him being a honest man, faithful husband, and dedicated father speak volumes in his defence otherwise. (And, to rub salt into the wound, this fated man died the day after Australians celebrated Father's Day on Sunday...a day apparently he did not celebrate with his children and wife as they were on holiday in Tasmania, and he was working in northern Queensland.) For reasons I don't even know how to explain, my spirit aches at this untimely loss and my heartfelt condolences go to his family.

I think of all the adults he touched, but especially the children: my dear friend's eldest daughter lived to watch his show, be like him, learn from him, and has dutifully promised for years now that she will take over his job at the Australia Zoo someday. Unfortunately, 'someday' came far too soon for any of us. He was only 44, I'm 36, 'my' beloved Rachel is approximately the age of Steve's daughter (8). (And a girl, too, folks! In the US of A, a girl wants to learn everything she can about animals and be a zoo vet! Just when I had given up every last hope on the American education system...but wait, maybe that's Mr. Irwin's influence, too.) Unexpected death is always tough to explain and accept among the grown-ups; explaining the whys of something so freakish to a child who adored this man is something altogether far more difficult. The challenge now is to keep that desire and drive in her going until her 'someday' does arrive...and until she can truly understand and accomplish all that her hero wanted his viewers so desperately to learn. If it's true God shuts a door only to open a window, it's important for all of us adults help his legion of child devotees find and get through that window. May all of his wonderful training and enthusiasm not go to waste.

Folks, if I've said it once, I've said it a million times: that man truly represents/represented Australia. I don't care what his job was, or how enthusiastic he was, or even that he appeared invincible. In the end, he was just a regular bloke, like so many of them, believe it or not. Almost to a person, the Australians I have met and come to know are every inch that he was, if not more... always willing or even volunteering to help, friendly to a fault, strong-willed but equally strong-minded, believe your handshake is your word, protective of their women and children, proud of their accomplishments but never rest on their laurels, mentally always two or three steps ahead of everyone else, and with hearts as big as the oceans that surround them. If Mr. Irwin did absolutely nothing else, he showed the world what our Great Southern Land neighbours truly are: gems of this human species, a species of people and tradition far too close to extinction itself.

While "Waltzing Matilda" is the unofficial theme of Australia and a sentimental favourite of mine on many levels, I have never thought it portrayed its fine citizens in a good light (lyrics and history of "Waltzing Matilda"), and, as a result, will not dedicate it to Mr. Irwin here. Instead, I leave you with the wonderfully penned song by the original "The Boy From Oz" Peter Allen, entitled "I Still Call Australia Home". Nothing sounds quite 'right' as a dedication to the great Croc Hunter...nothing is as proud, nothing is as big, nothing is as exuberant as its intended audience...so unfortunately this will have to do. No matter what, you hate to see the good ones go.

God Bless, mate, God Bless. Good onya, for you did a fine job while here.

(I've chosen to feature a home video from just some regular blokes on the sea...full of sun, surf, wind, friends, good times, catching marlin, and sailing alongside some beautiful dolphins, from YouTube. While Qantas did a more 'upscale' commercial of this song some years back with the Australian Boys and Girls Choirs, this video features Peter Allen's wonderful rendition...and I think speaks more to Mr. Irwin's loves, intentions and memory.)

"I Still Call Australia Home"

By Peter Allen

I've been to cities that never close down
from New York to Rio and old London town,
but no matter how far or how wide I roam
I still call Australia home.

I'm always traveling, I love being free,
and so I keep leaving the sun and the sea,
but my heart lies waiting over the foam.
I still call Australia home.

All the sons and daughters spinning 'round the world,
away from their family and friends,
but as the world gets older and colder,
it's good to know where your journey ends.

But someday we'll all be together once more
when all of the ships come back to the shore.
Then I realise something I've always known.
I still call Australia home.

Lyrics from Lyriki

1 comment:

wr said...


this is a wonderful eulogy. i was waiting for your blog, knowing you would be able to find the words that escape me.