Thursday, 4 September 2014

Remembering a True Blue Hero

Tiredness does strange things to the mind: for instance, I was sat staring into space after a shattering day and suddenly I did what can only be described as a triple take. The sun was trickling through, making a dappled sort of pattern on bright green ferns, and just in front of it, on a iron gate, ringed tail hanging down from a brown body, was what I thought was a monkey. It was, in fact, a rather odd looking cat, but I did begin to wonder. It was certainly time for a cup of tea! But thinking about animals in odd places reminded me of a time when animals were everything

Today, September 4th, is not a day I easily forget. It's a bit like someone's birthday - you know it's coming up. Eight years ago today, the world lost an incredible man: a wildlife warrior of the highest calibre, Steve Irwin.

It feels almost childlike to say it, but he was my hero. I couldn't get enough of his wildlife programmes as a youngster. He was a man who was passionate about conservation and preservation - crucial things if we are to sustain any sort of existence, really. He was crazy and wild, running about in khaki and jumping on crocodiles - I suspect the Aussie's groaned at this national export. Crocodile Dundee and Fosters was bad enough, but now this? For me, it endeared me to a nation that I have since fallen in love with.

Family tribute at Australia Zoo
I was in my first week of college, brand new to life away from home and learning responsibility, when I heard the news. We had an 8am Anthropology lecture, and my professor said far too casually that Steve Irwin had died. I didn't want to believe it, but with a sinking heart, I knew it had to be true. After class I ran home and switched on the news; and there, sure enough, was the headline. He had been killed by a sting ray, of all animals. I rang my mum of course, for what else do you do when you are unreasonably sad? I had never met him; didn't know him personally; and yet I cried such tears and felt such loss. Still do, in fact. Why should such a good man, doing so much for animals and our earth be taken away?

And why was he my hero? Well, it was not simply because he was a wildlife warrior, championing for animal's protection at every breath, but he was also a teacher, explaining the how and why. A world away, these magnificent animals existed - the dangerous, the cuddly, the beautiful ones, all in a mind boggling harmony. It was utterly fascinating, and whenever a new episode came out, I was sat glued to the television.

He was also a man who showed his emotions, not afraid to cry or show fear, or to be off the wall enthusiastic. He bled real blood and broke real bones in front of the camera; he took real risks. He was a man who lived. I suppose it all captured my imagination. He had a rather wonderful message to the world that reads: "If we can teach people about wildlife, they will be touched. Share my wildlife with me. Because humans want to save things that they love." What a terrific role model.

Steve Irwin was a huge part of the lives of my generation; I think he took the world by storm - and surprise! He was just a true blue Aussie bloke that believed passionately in wildlife conservation, and he touched so many people through the work that he did. Sure, he was over the top, but his message was clear: we need to look after our world.

Only a small example of the tributes to Steve at Australia Zoo
I went to Oz like I always dreamt; made my way to what had once been a small flora and fauna park in southern Queensland, now a major site called Australia Zoo; I spent an entire day admiring my hero's life's work and crying at the sheer amount of tributes to him that had been left outside the zoo upon the news of his death. He was not just my hero; no, he was the animal's hero, the world's hero.

One that is, by crikey, sorely missed.