INTERVIEW - TERRI IRWIN
News Source: Kids On The Coast, page 14-15, March/April 2005
Motherhood, martial arts, Mexican food, mud & more…
Let’s just say there’s a lot more to Terri Irwin than being one half of the world’s most famous wildlife preservation couple, as Kids On The Coast found out recently!
Sometimes truth is stranger than fiction. Take the case of Terri Irwin, who’s on a fantastic journey which isn’t about to slow down anytime soon! It all started in 1991, when a chance visit to Steve Irwin’s than-struggling 4-acre reptile park brought her face to face with her future husband. “Steve has the ‘x-factor’,” says Terri, who says she found him “intriguing and amazing” right from the word go. It turned out her prediction that he’d be bigger than Crocodile Dundee, which at the time made him laugh, was absolutely correct, and together they’ve made their vision of helping wildlife conservation around the world into a reality.
There have been plenty of changes along the way – for example, their award-winning tourist attraction, Australia Zoo, now employs over 420 people, instead of just four. And although the Irwins never set out to be “celebrities” as such, the success of The Crocodile Hunter’s television specials have brought fame in all its guises. Sometimes the results are amazing, for example when a man emerged from the jungle in a remote corner of the globe and excitedly pointed to ‘Crocodile Man’. Then there’s the ultimate in bizarre: having your own Action Dolls: “Bindi has a couple of these Steve and Terri dolls,” confides Terri, “and she’ll have them out playing and talking to them, saying ‘okay Mummy and Daddy, now you have to go to bed and go to sleep’ and then she pretends to be us saying “No, no, we don’t want to go to bed’…that’s a bit surreal!”
Although Terri herself grew up in Oregon, USA, her kids are definitely dinkum Aussies (after all, they live at Australia Zoo!) She loves the fact that the kids are surrounded not only by wildlife but by visitors from around the world. “My kids don’t really distinguish between old, young, disabled, skin colour, language – everything is normal to them. Just today we’re been talking to people from Beijing, Malaysia, everywhere…it’s incredible.” The world doesn’t just come to the Irwin’s place; they go out and meet it head on. As much as possible they travel as a family but that’s not always practical. “We made a deal that one of us would always be at home with the kids if the other one had to be away filming,” she says. “And now (having two children) we’re travelling less than we were. But she says as well as being a “tremendous adventure”, the experiences gained by travelling give kids (and adults) a good grasp of the realities of life.
The Irwins also get behind local fundraising issues, not only supporting good causes but continuing to teach their kids about why, for example, providing proper services for disadvantaged people in the community is important. Terri and Steve are also currently working to save Sumatran tigers, set up an international crocodile rescue foundation and a koala hospital, protect more Australian wildlife habitats from cleared for development, provide humanitarian aid to various countries, and more.
In between saving the world, Terri Irwin’s a mum like any other. At 40, she’s finding getting up twice a night to 12-montyh-old Robert pretty exhausting, and laughingly admits “I’m not that good at the whole baby thing, so I knew that for me it would be easier to have a bigger age gap between Bindi and another child!” She says that she’s found some aspects of having a second child easier, some parts “more challenging” but both kids are happy and healthy and “it’s all good”.
Terri firmly believes in teaching her kids that “there’s not such thing as failure, only varying degrees of success.” She knows that when they grow up they may have to face some tough situations in order to protect endangered wildlife, so she’s teaching them resilience from an early age: “If you fall off you bike, you dust yourself off and get back on again.”
The junior Irwins are already getting used to life in the wild. Recently Terri and Steve were in Cape York fitting satellite tracking devices to crocodiles (which required Terri to lie on top of a restrained crocodile to help keep it still) when Robert started crying for a feed. “Someone had to take my place on the croc, “ she remembers. ”I was covered in mangrove mud and here’s this beautiful clean baby being carried in a backpack by one of our assistants – I had to work out how to feed him without getting mud all over him!”
Meanwhile Bindi is rapidly developing into a miniature Crocodile Hunter. “Every year she’s becoming more passionate about wildlife,” says Terri with a mix of pride and wonder. She says Bindi is already involved in handling animals and helping with research, and if she sees something like a product made from kangaroo skin she’ll politely ask for the store manager and calmly explain why she won’t shop there anymore.
Although a woman of considerable talents and abilities who was involved in wildlife conservation long before she met Steve Irwin, Terri is still though of by some people as just “Mrs. Crocodile Hunter”. Terri says this doesn’t really bother her although there’s a running joke about Steve being “her co-star”. She admits she did think it was ridiculous in the early days when she and Steve would both be holding down a crocodile only to be asked afterwards “don’t you worry about your husband?”, as if she herself was inconsequential.
But the Irwins have managed to successfully combine love and working together because of their genuine mutual respect. “We work very well together,” says Terri who says Steve is “very easygoing”. Maybe he’s worried Terri’s going to get him a headlock – just kidding, but it’s true that she’s secretly fond of something called mixed martial arts fighting. Apparently it’s a combination of boxing and wrestling, and not only is it a handy form of self-defence but keeps her in shape for wrangling crocodiles. “It’s a bit the same… you have to get down low and distribute your weight evenly,” she says, with the kind of enthusiasm most people would reserve for talking about, say, chocolate cake, rather than big reptiles with sharp teeth.
Terri also loves Mexican food – her sister runs a Mexican restaurant back home in Oregon – and when she’s got a bit of free time on the coast, she likes to have meal out at Terrace Seafood in Maleny or Ragoli’s in Beerwah, but says she’s “just as likely to stop by the BP for a cooked chook”.
But there’s one thing she’ll never eat: Australia wildlife. She’s horrified by the trend towards restaurants serving up emu, crocodile and kangaroo meat and likewise abhors the use of skin and fur for making shoes and clothing. And she says all of us, even our kids, can help make the world a better place: “Imagine if every kid was like Bindi (and asked shops and restaurants to stop consuming wildlife)… it would be huge.”
Recalling a boy who donated his pocket money to help the zoo, Terri makes an important point. “We’re all connected, “she says. “Everyone needs to help each other – get motivated about a particular charity, develop that connection, get involved and do something.” Terri Irwin inspires all of us to do just that.