Steve was born into wildlife, growing up on the Queensland’s Sunshine Coast and helping his parents at the ‘Beerwah Reptile and Fauna Park’. Established in 1970, this two acre wildlife park was home to native wildlife such as Lace Monitors, Tiger Snakes, Freshwater Crocodiles, Magpie Geese and kangaroos. Many of the kangaroos were lined up in homemade pouches and cared for by Steve’s mum, Lyn. She was an extraordinary wildlife rehabilitator and was quite skilled in nursing injured and orphaned animals and sending them back to the wild.
As a child Steve’s hero was his dad. Steve wanted to make his father proud and demonstrated and uncanny gift with wildlife from a very young age. He would go on field trips with his father right through the seventies, helping to relocate problem crocodiles, study snakes in Queensland’s deserts and assist the university with bird surveys as he was incredibly skilled at climbing trees.
By the 1980s Steve was kicking goals on his own. The wildlife park had expanded to four acres, had two full-time staff and was called the ‘Queensland Reptile and Fauna Park’. Steve was enlisted by the Queensland Government to help with crocodiles by volunteering for the East-Coast Crocodile Management Program and captured well over 100 crocodiles, which were relocated or housed at the family’s newly established Crocodile Environmental Park.
In 1991, Steve took over the management of the small wildlife park and met an American tourist, Terri Raines, who he married in 1992.
Terri was visiting the wildlife park from her home in Eugene Oregon when she met Steve. It was love at first sight. Terri was 27 years-old and Steve was 29. They were engaged on 2 February 1992, when Terri came back to Australia to see Steve again.
Terri worked in the family construction business from 1979 until she took over the running of the company in 1984. In 1986 Terri started a wildlife rehabilitation facility called ‘Cougar Country’ specialising in predatory mammals. This work was influenced by Terri’s dad, Clarence, who would bring home wildlife he found injured on Oregon’s highways. In 1989 Terri took on more work as a Veterinary Technician at an emergency veterinary hospital.
Her life changed dramatically when, on 4 June 1992, she married Steve and began a life of adventure.
Instead of a honeymoon, the couple took the chance to embark on a crocodile rescue mission and film the project for a wildlife documentary. The Crocodile Hunter documentary series had begun. Steve and Terri would film over 150 episodes of Crocodile Hunter, Croc Diaries, Croc Files, New Breed Vets, Ghosts of War and Bindi: The Jungle Girl. These programs are now seen by 142 countries and 500 million viewers worldwide.
The 1990s brought many changes. Steve’s parents retired and moved to Rosedale, Queensland. Steve and Terri changed the name of their now growing wildlife park to ‘Australia Zoo’. As filming generated extra funds, Steve and Terri agreed to put all money raised from filming and merchandise back into conservation. Their philosophy was that the Zoo animals came first, the Zoo team came second, and the Zoo visitors came third. With happy, healthy animals it seemed everyone came first. Steve also asked Terri to promise him one thing: if anything ever happened to him, she would make sure the Zoo would carry on. Today Australia Zoo encompasses 1500 acres and employs over 600 staff.
In 1998 Steve and Terri were blessed with their first child. Bindi was born in Buderim, Queensland on 24 July. Steve named her after one of his favourite crocodiles. “Bindi” is also an Aboriginal word meaning ‘young girl’.
Tragically, Steve lost his mother in the year 2000. She was killed in an automobile accident and died instantly. In 2004 Steve dedicated the Australia Zoo Wildlife Hospital to her memory.
Steve and Terri had a perfect little girl and now hoped for a son. On 1 December 2003, Robert Clarence Irwin was born. He was named after Steve’s dad and Terri’s dad. Robert is the mirror image of his father and is crazy about reptiles!
In a day that will live in infamy, we lost Steve in an accident while he was snorkelling on the Great Barrier Reef. Hit in the chest by a Stingray’s barb, Steve died 4 September 2006. The world mourned with us. We must continue Steve’s important work. We must stand with Terri, Bindi and Robert to honour the greatest Wildlife Warrior that ever lived.