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The Early Years
The early years of the Beerwah Reptile Park were total wildlife experiences, so many that my memory will be recalling them till the day I die. Too many phenomenal wildlife experiences to ever remember and record in the rest of my life—but I'll give it a go anyway.
reptiles) in Australia and revered throughout the world as a legend for catching highly venomous snakes, with nothing more than his bare hands and sharp reflexes. I used to watch in awe, in an adrenaline-filled stare, as Dad captured fierce snakes—taipans, browns, tigers, and death adders—the most venomous snakes in the world—in wilderness, rural, and urban areas all over Australia.
natural, God-given ability, which unbeknownst to me, was also in my veins, heart, and soul. By staring at and mimicking my dad, my own instinctive ability with snakes and virtually all wildlife began to develop. Little did I know that my dad was my mentor, and all those early years when I was a kid, he and Mum were gearing me up to become a wildlife guru like them.
was a pioneer in Australian history. She was the Mother Teresa of wildlife rehabilitation. Way back in the late sixties and early seventies, very little to nothing was known about caring for or raising orphaned kangaroos, wallabies, koalas, wombats, platypuses, snakes, and lizards. This was unknown territory that my mum pioneered with brilliance and innovation. She developed pouches for kangaroo babies, known as joeys. She developed formulas and nursing techniques for orphaned koalas, and raised Sugar Gliders when scientists were still endeavoring to work out what they were. My mum was Mother Nature. Crikey, I love my mum and I am so sorry I can't write every single detail and element of my love for her and the greatness of her work. To this day, I miss her so much, the pain is so strong, I can barely keep pen on paper. I'll swallow, I'll push back the tears, and continue.
maternity ward fair smack-dab in the middle of the Beerwah Reptile Park. It was nothing for us kids to be sharing our house with orphaned joey red and grey kangaroos who'd stayed in their dead mothers' pouches after they'd been killed on the road. Luckily enough we always stopped to check on the road-killed mothers, and other good Samaritans were constantly bringing joeys they'd found in to us. There'd be three orphaned Sugar Gliders and a couple of ringtail or brushtail possums that would need feeding and a play at night, koala joeys that Mum was raising because dogs had killed their mummas, six baby birds, untold amounts of other orphans, babies, and injured Australian animals constantly sharing our house. What a wild menagerie and an exceptional household to be raised in. Imagine the skills and hands-on experience I was getting as a child—soaking up all this pioneering, virtually unteachable, incredibly important information that could only be learned by living in my mum's rehabilitation world—a wildlife orphanage.
my dad and mum and, of course, fate. My destiny—my path in this life, in this world—was chosen for me. All I had to do was walk the path and live my life. I became the man I was always meant to be. Thanks Dad and thank you, Mum, I love you dearly.
entire lives were dedicated to one all-important common goal: the Beerwah Reptile Park and wildlife conservation. Each and every day we strove for excellence and innovation in educating people about our precious Australian wildlife.
herpetologist, pioneering venomous snake and crocodile capture techniques. Before I was ten, Dad was spending more and more time teaching me how to jump and restrain crocodiles, and deal with the world's deadliest snakes without causing them stress and at the same time minimizing the chances of being bitten.
the Queensland National Parks and Wildlife Service and a local farmer to catch and relocate a small colony of freshwater crocs at the Leichhardt River System in the Gulf of Carpentaria, North Queensland.
saltwater crocodile, and the less aggressive freshwater crocodile. Saltwater crocodiles always command respect as they are the "Kings of the North," and can grow to lengths in excess of twenty feet. The freshwater crocodile rarely grows more than ten feet. Commonly known as "freshies," they are considered harmless to humans if left alone. However, they are very powerful, compact crocs with rows of needle-sharp teeth, and if molested can cause nasty injuries.
isolated waterhole; it was to be drained out and filled in. Our method of capture was one I still use to this day—spotlighting at night out of a small aluminium dinghy then jumping on the crocs.
moving the colony of freshwater crocs, I'd worked at carefully and quietly idling the boat in the direction of Dad's spotlight and the crocodile's eyeshine. As we got closer and closer, Dad would poise himself at the front of the boat and put his spotlight down as I'd bring mine up. Closer, closer, I'd idle the boat right at the red glowing eyeshine. Just as I'd lose sight of the eyeshine under the front of the boat, Dad would spear himself right on top of the crocodile. Grabbing it around the neck, he'd use his legs and body to restrain the frantic croc. Once it had tired and Dad was in control he'd call to me, "It's comin' in." He'd flip the croc straight into the boat, at which point I'd jump on it with all my weight and hang on. Restraining it on the floor of the boat was wild; I'd get thrashed around all over the paddock but I wouldn't let go. I'd hang on regardless of the consequences because I knew that in a very short time Dad would be back in the boat to help.
stress, then he'd pop them into a bag. We were quite a team the "bring 'em back alive" team.
scanned the waterhole for more eyeshine.
at the croc and idled up closer and closer. Frozen in position, and with eyes as big as dinner plates, I focused on the eyeshine as it grew brighter and brighter. We were within twenty feet of the croc when I twigged: I'm in the wrong position—I should be driving!
"Righto, son, I've got him, down spotlight."
boy." Without a moment's thought I positioned myself in the jumping position.
as my chest landed on its back and my legs wrapped around the base of the tail. With eyes wide open I was being thrashed around in the muddy water. I saw pulses of light as I was rolled over and over. There was no way I was letting go and I hung on for grim death.
started to be felt, I sensed the strength and warmth of my Dad's arm feeling for my body Whoosh! Dad's forearm locked around my side and next thing both croc and I were slammed into the floor of the boat. He pinned both croc and me to the floor with his big calloused hands.
weight of one hand on my back, keeping both croc and me pinned to the floor. He looked down at us and then stopped what he was doing. As I looked up to see what was wrong, I saw his face in the beam. He was shaking his head in disbelief with a grin from ear to ear. I could feel his pride in me although the capture had certainly made him a little nervous. While I was under the water wrestling the croc he could neither see nor feel me. But he never intimated any concern at all. He's one tough old bastard, my dad.
at spearing myself out of the front of a boat, and took this responsibility very seriously.
cricket, I was called up to bat at second drop. I padded up, keen to score a century. Second ball and I was out for a duck. Disappointed and bored with the game, I started searching the nearby creek hoping to find some lizards to chase. Turning over an old sheet of corrugated iron, I spotted a beautiful little gecko. It spotted me and made a run for it. As I pounced and missed the gecko, I felt something soft under my elbow, and then heard a hiss. The hackles on the back of my neck shot up as a huge red-bellied black snake flattened out into the strike position. I had unknowingly landed with all my weight right on top of a now very angry snake. Realizing that my face was well within strike range, I gently lifted my elbow, stopped breathing and braced for a bite to the head. The snake hissed vehemently but allowed me to pull back out of range. Wow! Am I lucky, I thought.
a big red-bellied black. Without thinking twice, I went straight at the snake. It struck and recoiled, ready to strike again. Briefly I pondered how I was going to catch this snake without getting bitten. I went at it again. It struck and glanced off my boot then recoiled back into the strike position. As I backed off, intimidated by the near-miss, the snake decided to make a dash for the long grass. As it slithered off toward the knee-high kikuyu grass, I thrust my hand through the blades of the grass and grabbed its tail. Whoosh! It launched a strike past my nose.
I was careful to keep its body on the ground and allow its front half to get into the grass, just as I'd seen Dad do a million times. Now what, I thought, I've got no bag.
game, came charging up in response to my screams.
piled out on the ground.
which was in my hand, straight at the esky. It bit the esky then struck at me. I swung out of its way with another narrow miss.
the lid and dropped the snake before it climbed off the esky. Then I slammed the lid down.
red-bellied blacks. The biggest problem was getting each one into the esky without the others flying out. A couple of times a snake would come out as I was putting one in. Toward the end of the day I was getting really good at it and had most of both cricket teams around me "ooohing" and "aaahing," scared but enthralled.
Some of the boys dobbed me in to the bus driver.
fear in his voice.
(The red-bellied black snake is, in fact, very venomous and a bite could be fatal.) I said defensively, "Yes, sir, it's OK, they can't get out. I'll hold them till we get to my place."
arrived back in no time. Excited, my cricket team and the bus driver escorted me into the Park where we met my dad.
endangered everyone's lives. I hate snakes. He's banned from my bus." The bus driver continued to carry on.
my bum so hard I dropped the esky.
adrenaline of the capture and forgotten about the possible consequences of dealing with such a potentially dangerous animal. Funny thing, I wasn't too scared of dying from black snake envenomation, but I was shaking in my boots at the thought of losing Dad's pride in me, the bloke I respect and admire the most, the bloke responsible for the person I am today. It was another lesson well learned.
walked on. He is my hero, my legend, my mentor, my best friend, and my father. All I've ever wanted to be is my dad, and every day in some way I mimic him, and grew up knowing that one day I was going to be just like him.
At the time I couldn't quite understand that he was teaching me and saving my life—it felt more like I was just constantly in trouble. Throughout my boyhood, teenage and young adult life, my dad was very careful to nurture my instincts. He spotted natural instincts in me when I was very young and helped me to harness these innate powers.
Growing up at the Park there was never a dull moment. I was surrounded by the best of friends, mates for life. My favorite and longtime companions were Curley, Egg Head, and Brolly, and playing armies with them was always great fun (and instrumental in my development of camouflage techniques as a boy). I always won the battles despite gunshot wounds and injuries sustained during hand-to-hand combat with dozens of enemy forces. My mates and I stuck together and we conquered all.
thought she was an emu, Egg Head was an emu who thought he was a human, and Brolly was a brolga who thought he was the "ants pants," a real aristocrat who quickly tired of our imaginary games.
Brolly wouldn't come over to our side, he would be the enemy. Together we'd stalk, shoot, throw grenades, and fight hand-to-hand.
living daylights out of Brolly. Brolly would respond by stabbing us with his scissor-like beak.
into the ground by Egg Head, who often seemed to lose the plot, kicking and trampling all of us. Then throwing his little head into the air, he'd run, run, run for no apparent reason, stop, roll on his back, and kick his legs in the air. I guess it's an emu thing.
within seconds would have eaten up all my marbles. At first this was really annoying, but I quickly worked out that within a week he'd poo them all out. So I simply hosed the poo with water and regained my much-treasured marbles.
behavior were more worrying. One day I heard Dad shouting, "You stupid bird brain, get out of it!" Egg Head had snuck up and was eating Dad's nice shiny nails. That same day we had to catch and restrain our poor old emu when he stuck his whole head into a can of paint! An emu with a "Mission Brown" — painted head looks pretty funny, but it wasn't funny trying to hold him down and wipe it off, his eyes and beak sticking together as the paint dried. It was a traumatic experience but by the next day Egg Head had forgotten all about it and was keen to play armies again.
I grew up with a very strong sporting background—swimming, playing football, cricket, and soccer and, later in life, surfing. Dad had been in the Australian badminton team and one day I decided to build a badminton court, Dad helping to put up the net and to mark out the boundaries with sand. Problem was, Brolly considered the sand pile as his. He would dance on his sand pile for hours, showing off to anyone or anything in the vicinity.
that this meant "no way" in brolga lingo but, determined, I gathered a bucketful of sand and started to mark out the boundaries. Brolly was very unhappy with this and stood in my path with his wings spread aggressively.
chase the shuttlecock and stab the net."
what I said, moved aside, and turned his back on me. "Thank you, you're such a clever bird," I remarked, but no sooner had I tipped out a handful of sand when, whammo, everything went black. The defiant Brolly had waited for his moment and then pecked me on the top of the head so hard it had knocked me down and out.
my vision, the first thing I saw was Brolly dancing and flicking sand out of the bucket, obviously very proud of his win. I picked myself up off the ground and went running to Mum, blood streaming through my hair and down my face.
sent me on my way, as only a mother could.
you?" she explained.
Brolly and I were mates again. I continue to respect an animal's space and belongings. Such trials and tribulations from those early years are now fond memories, forming lessons and experiences that in one way or another I utilize in everyday life, and which make me the bloke I am.
By 1980, the Beerwah Reptile Park had grown at an incredible rate and was upgraded to the Queensland Reptile and Fauna Park. We were a zoological facility like no other in the world. Our collection of beautiful Australian animals was made up of orphans that had been raised as my brothers and sisters, and reptiles that people despised were loved and welcomed into our family.
rescuing, saving, and protecting all of Australia's wildlife, that a huge decision was about to be made.
had lost his water hole, and the bulldozers were moving in. We were skirting the muddy banks, almost giving up hope of finding the poor little blighter. Something urged me to dive my hands into the mud to catch a yabby (a type of freshwater crayfish), and as I grabbed the yabby, it hit me. I looked down into the greasy mud and saw movement. With the yabby still firmly clamped on my fingers, I reached into the mud and there she was—the most beautiful animal on earth, a very young female platypus. She was gorgeous.
a new water hole where she would be safe from bulldozers forever, Dad discussed his huge decision with me.
North Queensland. They couldn't stand it any longer. They decided now was the time to rescue crocs that were deemed dangerous and were to be eliminated. Their belief and aim was a massive move to boost conservation and education about crocodiles, to help crocodiles in need of new territories, and to educate people about the beauty of the greatest reptilian predator in the world.
crocodiles that were deemed dangerous. He fired up his busted old backhoe and started digging water holes. We were building the Crocodile Environmental Park. To this day we're still building it—it will never be finished. The Queensland Reptile and Fauna Park was not about catching a bunch of crocodiles and sticking them in cages for people to look at. No way—never. Not on your life.
be shot or killed. We love crocs, always have and always will. Our passion for crocs is perpetual, and over these early years, Dad and myself rescued hundreds. All of the animals you see in our zoo needed our help, especially our crocs.
Excerpted from The Crocodile Hunter by Steve & Terri Irwin. Copyright © 2001 by Steve and Terri Irwin. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
|I||The Early Years||8|
|II||The Acco Encounter||25|
|III||Out West, a Wide Brown Land||37|
|V||To the Top||67|
|VI||The American Invasion||74|
|VII||On the Road||94|
|VIII||God's Twenty Acres||135|
|XI||Saving the World from Beerwah||188|
Barnes & Noble.com: I must say that it is wonderful to read the autobiography of two people who love their lives and their work so much. Steve, I was especially touched by your love of your parents and how you just naturally took up their life's dream as your own.
Steve Irwin: Well, I didn't really have a choice, I was born into it. You know, all I ever wanted to be was my dad -- he's my hero, my icon, my legend. Dad is actually a renowned herpetologist, and my mum was one of the finest wildlife rehabilitators in Australia. I got a scrub python for my sixth birthday, jumped my first croc at just nine years of age, and my childhood friends had scales, sharp teeth, or feathers. Mum and Dad instilled their love and passion for wildlife in me, and I just followed in their footsteps. Terri and I are now passing on our love and passion for wildlife to our beautiful daughter, Bindi, and we can already see she has a gift with animals, especially snakes.
B&N.com: The way people view nature and wild animals is constantly evolving. I am especially interested in how animals that were considered bad have gotten better publicity in recent years and are now considered good. Wolves are the most dramatic example of this and probably the most successful so far, with with calendars showing cute wolf cubs, and so on. Frankly, I'm rather fond of bats, and there is a campaign going on to encourage people to put up bat houses as they would bird houses. Do you feel like you are making progress with changing the popular image of crocodiles?
Steve and Terri Irwin: You know, our motto is "conservation through exciting education," and it is our mission to show people the beauty of all animals, even those that were once considered evil ugly monsters. People want to save things that they love, so we show a side of crocodiles that people haven't seen -- they are passionate lovers and very protective, caring mothers, they will actually die defending their young. If we can show people that crocodiles -- along with all animals -- have a place in our world, then we have done our job. When we started our television series, The Crocodile Hunter, on Animal Planet, we had to change people's attitudes to watching wildlife documentaries. We threw away the tripod and the long telephoto lenses and got right in there with the animals -- where they live. We made watching wildlife programs exciting and at the same time got our message across.
B&N.com: You engage the public with the exciting, adventurous aspects of your work. However, it is clear that conservation of wildlife is the paramount concern. I so agree that wildlife needs to be saved -- equally for them and for our own emotional and spiritual health. You must see all the time how affected people are by wildlife.
SI/TI: We get hundreds of emails from all over the world every day from people telling us how their attitude towards snakes or crocodiles has changed or how much our shows have inspired their children to want to become involved in wildlife conservation. It's proof that we are making a difference, and it is beautiful to see wildlife conservation becoming such an important global issue. We still have a long way to go, and we now plan to take our conservation message into the movies.
Posted February 3, 2002
Anyone who loves the outdoors and wildlife will cherish this book. While most of us are very good about helping animals survive who are attractive and appealing, such as dolphins, whales, and bald eagles, who looks out for the potentially dangerous and frightening such as venomous snakes and crocodiles? Enter Steve and Terri Irwin, and before them Steve¿s parents, Bob and Lyn. The Crocodile Hunter is a story of living with passion for and helping the unappreciated, and often feared, animals of the wild. The book begins with Steve recollections of growing up to save crocodiles and capturing animals to rescue or to study them (and later releasing them to the wild). The description is simple, unassuming, and utterly irresistible! As a young adult, Steve meets his future wife, and zoo partner, Terri, and the two of them alternate as narrators in the book¿s second half. The Irwin family stands for providing for animals that need help or refuge, educating the public about the needs of animals and how to live with them, and advancing knowledge about animal species. The center of this commitment is Australia Zoo in Queensland, which the family has founded and developed over two generations. Their work is captured in dozens of documentaries, many of which are described in The Crocodile Hunter. Although you will learn a lot about crocodiles in this book, you will learn even more about the great Australian Outback, and the ways that humans and predatory animals come into conflict in ways that are good for neither. The book is loaded with color photographs taken candidly outdoors that capture the incredible adventure that the Irwins have lived. The tone is very much like what you might expect sitting around a campfire at night sharing stories about great adventures you have experienced. I came away very impressed with Terri for taking on the challenges of a new continent and a new set of animals to help after her work with cougars in Oregon. Their experiences as related in The Crocodile Hunter reminded me of the letters of Dr. Jane Goodall in describing her work with chimpanzees in Africa. I also wondered what more each of us can do to help preserve the habitats that allow the rare species of the world to flourish. Donald Mitchell, co-author of The 2,000 Percent Solution and The Irresistible Growth Enterprise
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Posted February 2, 2007
i'm a super big fan of the crocodile hunter! I LOVE HIM! some day i hope to work for him since his death i was a little out of it. i still act the same- i draw him,think about him, dream about him. i always think that he's watching over me he's in my heart-right where he belongs. i love Terri Irwin too and his daughter Bindi is so cute! I LOVE THE CROCODILE HUNTER!Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted April 2, 2004
This book was remarkable in the way it was presented.Steve and Terri Irwin get a strong conservation message across while giving an indepth look at their life behind and in front of the cameras.This is a must read book for anyone,trust me you will love it.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted July 21, 2002
Posted April 10, 2002
I LOVE THIS BOOK! I COULDN'T PUT IT DOWN! I MUST HAVE READ IT AT LEAST 10 OR MORE TIMES! IF YOU CAN'T LIVE WITH OUT WATCHING THE CROCODILE HUNTER ON TV LIKE ME THEN THIS IS THE BOOK FOR YOU! IT IS A WONDERFUL STORY ABOUT STEVE AND TERRI IRWIN AND THERE WONDERFUL DAUGHTER BINDI! I LOVE THIS BOOK AND I WOULD TELL ANYONE TO BUY THIS BOOK! BUY THE BOOK! TRUST ME YOU WILL LOVE IT!Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted June 25, 2011
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