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CROC HUNTER HONOURED
News Source: The Courier-Mail (20th November 2007)
by Glenis Green
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And a hug for a much missed dad. 

IT was the moment to make any heart ache.

Just after the unveiling of a life-size statue of Crocodile Hunter Steve Irwin and his family yesterday, when the cameras stopped flashing, three-year-old Robert Irwin clambered onto the plinth and spread his little arms around the waist of his father's craggy likeness.

With his head pressed into the unyielding folds of the familiar khaki shirt now cast in bronze, the littlest Irwin hugged and squeezed.

It was not noticed by many in the huge crowd which gathered to watch the statue's unveiling at Australia Zoo on the Sunshine Coast to commemorate the first Steve Irwin Day.

But his mother Terri Irwin, fighting laryngitis, looked as if she was holding back a tear as she quietly called him down to join daughter Bindi, 9, and Irwin's best mate and zoo director Wes Mannion and Irwin's father Robert for the walk to the Crocoseum and the day's celebrations.

As she wrote in the book My Steve which she launched for Australian readers at the zoo yesterday: "Robert is like a pitiful puppy and still waits patiently for his daddy to come home from heaven.

"I hadn't been prepared for how devastated Robert would be. Some nights he sits in the bathtub and cries. 'I want my daddy', he says, over and over. It absolutely tears my heart out."

But yesterday's special day – almost 15 months since Irwin was fatally wounded by a stingray barb to his heart while filming off Cairns – was carefully stage-managed as one of celebrations of the wildlife warrior's life and his conservation work.

More than 6000 fans packed the Crocoseum to see Bindi and the Crocmen perform the world premiere of two catchy new songs - this time with rap overtones - saluting her late father as well as the threats facing animals around the world.

Olivia Newton-John, whom Terri introduced as a "good friend" - also sang, along with rocker Jimmy Barnes.

The day was just how Irwin would have liked it – pure theatre from his family's walk down the green carpet surrounded by a guard of honour of Australian wildlife to the a capella strains of a khaki choir, to swooping wild birds, slithering snakes, leaping crocodiles and the launch of a new croc-wise message.

There was even a sign that Bindi could have some competition for the spotlight in the future with little Robert and his best mate Riley (Mannion's son) premiering in a cute mini-documentary which showed them running the zoo.


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