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Steve Irwin gives us something bigger

By James Rose - posted Monday, 25 September 2006

I've been living on the Sunshine Coast for two years, and I've never been to Steve Irwin's Australia Zoo, even though it’s just down the road. My wife and I have spoken about it and thought it would be nice when our daughter is maybe just a little older. I am here in my home office listening to the radio broadcast of Steve Irwin's memorial. I have been amazed by the public response, but then again, there's something very understandable about that, and the death of the Crocodile Hunter is only part of the story.

I can understand his family and friends, colleagues and supporters grieving over Irwin's untimely death. When anyone dies, there's always a vacuum left behind in the lives of those who remain that he or she has touched. But, when it was announced there would be a memorial for Irwin, thousands camped outside Australia Zoo in the hope of getting tickets. Many of them were children. There is something going on here.

Let's leave the Sunshine Coast for a moment and go to Lebanon. We've seen pictures and heard of the horrors of a war that need never have been, lives destroyed that had no reason to be. Move to Darfur in western Sudan where innocent families are awaiting genocide as the military forces arraigned against them gather. Look at the children and their parents shivering at the entrance to Australia Zoo waiting for tickets and make the connection.


The point is that when people like Steve Irwin die unexpectedly, those who knew of him are shocked into grieving. And the shock is that great that the grieving rages like a bushfire and comes to incorporate a kind of global sorrow. For all those in Lebanon, Darfur, North Korea, for all that suffering in the world out there, those of us who are touched by Steve Irwin's death cannot escape their pain.

If nothing else Steve Irwin has become a symbol of global suffering. For all those kids who lose their dads, for all those wives who lose their men, for all those parents, friends, hero lovers and anyone with any modicum of humanity, Steve Irwin's death has become a pointer, a signpost, a tearing band-aid across the skin of the soul, without warning and without logic.

The truth is that Steve Irwin was a goose. He was also a great man. Much like many of us in our own way. He was a bloke, a human being who did some dopey things, who offended people, but who lived through his heart, loved his family and did what he thought was right. He was a devoted family man who feared leaving his kids without a dad. All dads can relate to that.

Ultimately, you can't knock that.

This is where all our pain as human beings in a confusing and frightening world comes out, because we are rarely permitted the chance of feeling our own fears, acknowledging our own anguish.

Now we can gather and feel a collective feeling, tap into a community sorrow and through that feel ourselves as humans. Through that we can find ways to appreciate the joys of life: love even more those who share our lives; attempt to comprehend the savage unfairness of it all; the sadness that runs through us all like a weave in a cloth; and understand perhaps much of what makes us who we are and how we can become better people - not in the image of someone else like Steve Irwin perhaps, but through the energy he created and through the legacy he left in our community and in our lives.


Steve Irwin may well have been a great conservationist, a savvy businessman, a beaut dad and husband. I must admit I don't know enough about him to judge. Anyway, history will put all that into perspective. But, on this day his passing has given me a greater sense of life, a greater love for my family, a recognition that our world is actually smaller and simpler than I sometimes admit, and the chance to be part of a community emotion which we so rarely have the opportunity to be part of.

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About the Author

James Rose is founder of the The Kick Project, an Australian football and development-based not-for-profit.

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