STEVE’S DEATH STILL HAUNTS ME

Ir­win legacy in­spires ocean hunt for new drugs

Sunday Herald Sun - - News - AARON LANGMAID aaron.langmaid@news.com.au THE FES­TI­VAL OF FAIL­URE WILL BE HELD IN BENDIGO ON JULY 20 AND MELBOURNE ON JULY 27

A TOXINOLOGIST who was ad­vis­ing Steve Ir­win the day he was killed by a st­ingray is now cham­pi­oning the use of venom to fight dis­ease.

James Cook Univer­sity pro­fes­sor Jamie Sey­mour blamed him­self for the death of the Croc­o­dile Hunter and al­most quit his ca­reer af­ter Ir­win died more than a decade ago.

“I felt like I failed Steve for years,” Prof Sey­mour said. “I didn’t keep him alive and I thought it was my fault.’’

A lead­ing ex­pert in his field, Prof Sey­mour was con­vinced to con­tinue his role af­ter talk­ing to his chil­dren.

“I had been a mess for months,’’ he said. “Just con­stantly cry­ing and I was ready to quit. I thought, ‘I can’t do this any more’. They said ‘Dad, it wasn’t your fault’. They knew how much I en­joyed the job.’’

He even­tu­ally re­turned to the fore­front of venom re­search, help­ing to iden­tify com­pounds that could be used for ev­ery­thing from chronic pain to can­cer. One project in­volves stun­ning the hu­man heart with box jel­ly­fish toxin to lengthen trans­plant time be­tween donors and re­cip­i­ents.

Prof Sey­mour said Ir­win’s legacy in con­ser­va­tion also in­spired him to plough on. “He changed the way I looked at things. What still res­onates with me is that Steve was will­ing to por­tray him­self as a real bo­gan just so peo­ple would watch and lis­ten and he could put for­ward his the­o­ries.

“For­get David At­ten­bor­ough and the rest ... no­body did it like Steve.’’

He said he was still haunted by mem­o­ries of the day Ir­win died but it had be­come eas­ier to grap­ple with.

“It’s not some­thing I will ever re­ally get over — but I would be up­set if I did,’’ he said.

In the en­su­ing years, he said, he’d been frus­trated by the opin­ions of “arm­chair ex­perts’’ who claimed Ir­win should never have put him­self in the sit­u­a­tion in the first place.

“It was just an un­for­tu­nate set of cir­cum­stances that came to­gether on that day,’’ Prof Sey­mour said.

“He was out there for the sake of the an­i­mals, to raise the pro­file of con­ser­va­tion ef­forts, not for him­self.”

In the years that have fol­lowed, Prof Sey­mour said, Aus­tralians had be­come too risk-averse and should look to Ir­win as an ex­am­ple.

“We need to put our big boy pants on,’’ he said. “That doesn’t mean you have to start play­ing with snakes and spi­ders. We need to re­dis­cover a healthy re­spect for Aus­tralia’s an­i­mals. It goes back to what Steve was try­ing to do all along.’’

Through his work at James Cook Univer­sity, Prof Sey­mour has stud­ied ev­ery­thing from stone­fish to cone snails. He said com­pounds from box jel­ly­fish had al­ready been found to pos­i­tively af­fect arthri­tis in mice.

He will be a guest speaker at the Fes­ti­val of Fail­ure — a mo­ti­va­tional event ex­plor­ing the fail­ures of some of the most suc­cess­ful Aus­tralians.

Toxinologist Jamie Sey­mour, who was with Steve Ir­win the day he was killed by a st­ingray and now cham­pi­ons the use of venom to fight some of the world’s cru­ellest dis­eases. Pic­ture: EU­GENE HY­LAND

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Australia

© PressReader. All rights reserved.