As a kid I went through a stage where I wanted to be a herpetologist. I had a pet pink-tongue skink and a freshwater turtle. I loved carpet snakes and green frogs and could spend hours fossicking around rocky outcrops. I liked the bush and nature in general. Birds, wallabies...any kind of Australian wildlife and landscape. My heros were Harry Butler and Steve Parish. Heh, I remember a camping trip once when a young carpet snake I found in my sleeping bag left half a dozen tiny needle-sharp teeth in my thumb as I tried doing my best Harry Butler routine with him.
But in my late teens and early twenties through university, the hooks of my passion for all things wild somehow worked their way loose. Pragmatism set in. Or was it laziness? I didn't lose the attraction entirely, but I just thought that I needed to go off and get higher education rather than "play with animals". I reasoned that it was alright to keep my interest as an interest, but it was never going to pay the bills or would be a hard road to hoe through life. I lost or, and here is the real rub, perhaps never had enough of, the passion and drive needed to make a career out of "being Harry Butler".
By the time Steve Irwin came on the scene, I'd grown up and matured. Stumbled into becoming a forest soil scientist, a part of the system. Some of my colleagues were professional biologists, perhaps what I should have been if I'd remained true to the original cry of my heart. These people were passionate about their specialities, but they were also coolly professional. They handled frogs or owls or bats every day. And I'd handled plenty of critters myself. To people like us, Steve Irwin came across as a bit of a lair. He was over the top and a ham. His style on TV just seemed so cheesy and exaggerated. To your typical laconic Australian, it was total affectation. But, as time went by, it became apparent that, you know, it wasn't. He really was that mad!
So while a part of me, maybe some of it rooted in jealousy, never took him completely seriously, I had certainly come to respect him. Sure he was an entertainer, and his movie was almost a self-parody, and i enjoyed it for what it was. And one thing it showed out was that he didn't take himself seriously, but he was completely serious about the animals and conservation in general. You only have to read this interview circa just after his rise to international fame, to realize that. And thus, even though I knew he was way out there, I trusted it for being genuine and not just a big put-on for the cameras. And when this knowledge and understanding sinks in, that he really is like that, all the time, then it hits you; this guy is a maniac, a passionate, bundle of energy. I mean he is really, really alive!
...only, now he's not. And it just seems so hard to believe. It really shocked me when I heard and the feeling hasn't left me over the last 24 hours. You think, why? Why did he have to go out like that? I mean, of course the reason is obvious...freakishly bad luck! These things happen. Just like picking up and infection, or being hit by a bus. And incredibly, against the odds, it happened to him.
But then it's the reaction. Why does his death seem so much more of a loss than the countless thousands of other worthy lives whose passing is reported each day in the newspaper? Why should he, this boof-headed Aussie bogan made good, cause such a world-wide outpouring of shock and grief? I guess it will be different things for different people. I mean, I hardly watched any of his shows. When all is said and done, I think the thing about him that I respected and admired so much, and I guess loved, was his genuineness, his passion, and his sheer bloody aliveness. How he kept that, I'll never know, I can only dream about it and envy it.
All any of us can ever hope for is to leave a mark. And he surely did that. Good on ya Steve.