Steve Irwin died on September 6 2006 when he and a camera man apparently boxed in a stingray which then sank its barb into Irwin's heart. The reaction was global, most of it in praise of the man, some saying that he had pretty much been asking for it.
The news reached our home in Cork of course, and Nina and Sara were put out, and not a little puzzled, by the fact that the Crocodile Hunter they enjoyed watching on TV was dead. 18 months later (on Sunday last) we headed North from Brisbane on the the Bruce Highway, turning off onto the recently renamed Steve Irwin Way to visit Australia Zoo, the home of the Irwin family, and the place where many scenes from the Croc Files were shot. You could hardly tell the poor guy was dead.
Posters and billboards of Steve were everywhere - outside, inside, on the huge 2-level Australia Zoo coaches in the car park. Big cardboard Crikeys all over the shop. The zoo literature made no mention of his death, and of course inside everything was business as usual. I didn't expect black armbands, but the experience was a little eerie none the less.
We spent about 5 hours in the zoo itself, 2 hours of which was taken up by a spectacle in the Crocoseum - a 3000 seater stadium-like structure in the heart of the zoo - where we saw a bird show, snakes, elephants and of course crocodiles. Well, a crocodile. A bloody great saltwater beast that would make you shiver:
The show had a very strong conservationist message in it, as well as pointing out just
how easily the threat of crocodiles is dealt with compared to many other predators. I think this is what Irwin was interested in getting across: they might look like monsters, but they've been around for a very long time, they've earned their place in the ecosystem, and we should give them the respect and protection they're due. And finally we heard phrases like "Steve's memory" and saw a wall of khaki shirts with messages of condolence and support. And in fairness to the Australia Zoo, it was all done in a positive, upbeat way - like applause at an actors funeral.
Other notable sights in the zoo were wombats that actually moved around. We've been to three other places where wombats were potentially available to be seen. In each and every place the said wombat was comatose and arse to the window. In Australia Zoo, the wombats were frolicking with the staff, practically playing catch. I asked a keeper how this was so, and she explained that their wombats were effectively trained to stay awake during the day, and would sleep all night, which struck me as a strange thing for a zoo to do to a nocturnal animal.
Another creature that was more lively here than elsewhere was the koala. These fellas get so little energy from they gum leaves they eat that they can barely stay awake for more than 6 hours a day. They make Giant Pandas look like gym nazis by comparison. But here, our jaws dropped to see koalas moving around trees (despite the fact that there were plenty of perfectly fine leaves to be had where they were) and on one occasion, get down onto the ground and move to a different tree. I suspect genetically modified eucalyptus trees, with caffeine added.
We also had another close look at a kookaburra, and I got a picture to show readers of this blog why having three of them perched at your shoulder and eyeing up your beef lasagne can be a disconcerting experience. Take a look at the bill on this guy:
The girls had a good day out, and learned lots. They dwelt a while on the unfairness of Irwin's sudden death, feeling very sorry for Bindi, his daughter who would be about Nina's age. Life can be desperately unfair, and it's good to learn that early on. It either prepares you for what can be thrown at you, or makes you damn glad of what you have.