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News Source: Sunshine Coast Daily (17th July 2007)
by Kathy Sundstrom
Click image to enlarge

Maroochy Mayor Joe Natoli has gained the blessing of the Irwin family to build a statue of his own in Mooloolaba - a life-size replica of Steven Irwin.

Mr Natoli approached the Irwin family with his idea of honouring Steve with a statue shortly after his tragic death by a stingray barb in September last year.

This week he secured their support with acclaimed South Australian sculptor Sylvio Apponyi commissioned to do the work.

"Sylvio spent three hours on Wednesday talking with Wes (Mannion) and Terri (Irwin) and they had fruitful discussions," he said.

Terri Irwin said yesterday she was "extremely honoured to have Steve acknowledged in this way".

"Steve was a fair-dinkum Australian who was proud to call the Sunshine Coast home. Bindi, Robert and I would like to thank Joe Natoli and everyone in this area for such an amazing tribute," she said.

Australia Zoo marketing manager Natalie Hodgskin believes the statue will be a "fitting tribute to a man who was so passionate about the Sunshine Coast".

"Steve loved to promote the Sunshine Coast on the world stage and his contribution has helped make the Sunshine Coast what it is today," she said.

Mr Natoli said he wanted to honour Steve not just because of his incredible work for wildlife, but because he had been a former Maroochy Council employee.

"Many people don’t know that Steve worked for council for four years. From January 29, 1980, to 1984 he worked as an apprentice diesel fitter at our Nambour Depot."

The depot still has some Steve Irwin graffiti on it that’s never been erased and now never will be.

"The depot still has where he scaled the shed on the day he quit and took a can of grease and painted 'Yahoo' on it. It’s still there 23 years later," Mr Natoli.

"No one had the guts to scale it and clear it off. I sent a photo of it to Bob (Irwin) last year and he thought it was quite amusing."

Mr Natoli said he thought Mooloolaba was the appropriate setting for the statue.

"Initially we thought Nambour as that’s where he worked, but then we decided Mooloolaba would be more appropriate as that is where Australia Zoo has businesses and they have a home across the way at Minyama."

Mr Natoli said he had the full support of Mooloolaba Business and Tourism and divisional councillor Tom Hulett for his statue.

He he would leave the details of the final product up to Mr Apponyi and the Irwin family - but didn’t expect the final product to be bronze.

"It will be a life-size image of Steve, but how it ends up will be up to the Irwins and Salvio.

Mr Natoli said he would fund the sculpture out of his divisional allocation. He had "no idea" how much it would cost. "The final price is not an issue for me – I want it to be significant piece to recognise his tremendous contribution," Mr Natoli said. 

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