More than a decade af­ter Steve Ir­win’s tragic death, his fam­ily open up about life af­ter loss and how they’re car­ry­ing on the Crocodile Hunter’s legacy

WHO - - Front Page - By Emily Strohm

For as long as Bindi Ir­win can re­mem­ber, she’s wanted to be like her dad. As the old­est child of Crocodile Hunter star Steve Ir­win and his wife, Terri, she got plenty of in­spi­ra­tion in her early years. “When I was lit­tle, I loved watch­ing my dad feed the crocs,” she says. “I had to be right there next to him help­ing, and if I couldn’t, I would just cry.” Ea­ger to ap­pease her, “Dad would hold me in one arm and feed the crocs with his other,” says Bindi. “They’d al­most bite the but­tons off his shirt, but it was so fun!” But as she grew taller, her legs dan­gled a lit­tle too close to the rep­tiles’ teeth for Steve’s com­fort. “He could no longer feed them, hold me and keep me alive all at the same time,” she says with a smile. So the fam­ily came up with a com­pro­mise. “Mum started let­ting me have my lunch in the en­clo­sure. I would eat my lit­tle salmon sand­wich and just watch Dad. Think­ing back, those re­ally are my fond­est mem­o­ries.”

At the fam­ily’s home at the Aus­tralia Zoo in Queens­land, Bindi, 20, and her younger brother Robert, 15, are still feed­ing the croc­o­diles. But the ab­sence of their fa­ther re­mains pro­foundly painful. Af­ter rising to in­ter­na­tional fame on his wildlife doc­u­men­tary tele­vi­sion se­ries The Crocodile Hunter, Steve was work­ing on an un­der­wa­ter film ti­tled Ocean’s Dead­li­est when he was at­tacked by a stingray and died on Sept. 4, 2006, at age 44. Bindi was just 8 years old; Robert was only 2. The news came as a shock around the world. “I re­mem­ber peo­ple com­ing up to me and say­ing, ‘I’m sorry for your loss, sweet­heart. Time heals all wounds.’ But that’s just not true,” says Bindi. “It’s like los­ing a part of your heart, and when you’ve lost that, you never get it back.”

Faced with the daunt­ing task of run­ning the zoo and rais­ing two young chil­dren alone, Terri, now 54, per­se­vered. In­stead of “wal­low­ing in grief,” ev­ery evening the fam­ily would go around the ta­ble and share their favourite part of the day. “Some­times it was as sim­ple as a cup of tea or a hot shower,

and some­times you’re just grasp­ing for a good part be­cause you’re so in­cred­i­bly sad,” Terri says. Slowly they be­gan to fo­cus on pos­i­tive ways to move for­ward. Still, “it was a lit­tle bit ter­ri­fy­ing to have to step up and take the till,” she re­calls, “but I thought about it and said, ‘Let’s carry on as if Steve was still here’.” And carry on they have. The fam­ily is ded­i­cated more than ever to con­tin­u­ing Steve’s mis­sion. In ad­di­tion to ex­pand­ing the zoo and trav­el­ling the world to spread the mes­sage of their con­ser­va­tion non­profit, Wildlife War­riors, the Irwins made their long-awaited re­turn to tele­vi­sion in Oc­to­ber. Their new An­i­mal Planet se­ries Crikey! It’s the Irwins fol­lows their life at home at the zoo where they live and work. “Since we were tiny, [the zoo has] been a part of who we are,” says Bindi, who, of course, is snug­gling one of the many koalas liv­ing there. “Our house is right in the mid­dle – we have croc­o­diles on one side and tigers on the other.” Robert has em­braced the unique­ness of liv­ing side by side with so many ex­otic crea­tures as well. “Af­ter school I’ll go around on my scooter and jump in with the tor­toises to say g’day or wran­gle some snakes,” he says. “Ev­ery day is a new ad­ven­ture.” And the Irwins make no apolo­gies for their affin­ity for khaki. “It’s not just a colour, it’s an at­ti­tude,” Bindi quips.

Terri can’t imag­ine life with­out Bindi and Robert but ad­mits chil­dren weren’t al­ways on the cards. “When we got mar­ried, Steve said, ‘I’m just an ac­tion man. I don’t know how we would ever have kids.’ And I didn’t feel strongly one way or an­other. But af­ter al­most six years of mar­riage, he burst through the door one evening and said, ‘ We’ve got to have chil­dren! Who do we leave all this to? Who will carry it on?’ I go, ‘Just be­cause you have kids doesn’t mean they’re go­ing to want to do what you do.’ And he said, ‘Oh, they will. They def­i­nitely will’.” Steve’s hunch turned out to be ac­cu­rate. “Ev­ery day we work with the beau­ti­ful an­i­mals at

Aus­tralia Zoo and do the best we pos­si­bly can to en­sure Dad’s dream and goals con­tinue,” says Bindi. In her per­sonal life it’s no sur­prise she chose a part­ner who shares so many of her fa­ther’s qual­i­ties. “He loves wildlife and con­ser­va­tion, and he has this strength,” Bindi says of her boyfriend of five years, Chan­dler Powell. “Which is nec­es­sary when you’re jump­ing on crocs.” A Florida na­tive, Powell, 22, was a pro­fes­sional wake­boarder when he met Bindi in 2013 dur­ing a trip to the zoo. The pair “hit it off right away,” Powell says. While he re­lo­cated from Florida to live with the fam­ily at the zoo, the cou­ple aren’t talk­ing about mar­riage just yet.“We’re re­ally happy at the mo­ment,” he ex­plains. “We just love trav­el­ling to­gether and work­ing in the zoo. We’re en­joy­ing life.” For Terri, find­ing love again isn’t a huge pri­or­ity – but she’s not writ­ing it off com­pletely. “I think it’s re­ally im­por­tant to never say never about any­thing, but I’m re­ally not look­ing,” she says, not­ing that she hasn’t been on a date in 27 years. “I feel like 14 years with Steve was like 400 years of real life. It was the most epic, ad­ven­tur­ous, amaz­ing ex­pe­ri­ence, and I had my hap­pily ever af­ter. I re­ally miss Steve, but I’m not a lonely per­son.” (As for tabloid ru­mours link­ing her to Aussie pal, ac­tor Rus­sell Crowe, Terri has laughed them off, say­ing Crowe is just “a great friend”.)

When it comes to the fam­ily’s fu­ture, one thing is cer­tain: “No mat­ter where we go or what we do, we’ll al­ways come back here,” says Robert. “This is our pas­sion. It’s a part of us, and Aus­tralia Zoo will al­ways be home.” Bindi couldn’t agree more. “I sure hope Dad would be proud. We re­ally do try ev­ery day to make him proud and fol­low in his foot­steps. I hope that some­where he’s out there go­ing, ‘ Yes! You did good’.”

“Peo­ple al­ways ask us, ‘Is there any­thing else you would want to do?’ And it’s never even been a con­sid­er­a­tion,” says Bindi. “This is who we are, what we love and what we do.” Adds Terri: “I’m just re­ally proud of my kids. I feel very blessed that they are happy and healthy. I’ll never take that for granted.” This pic­ture from Aug. 12, 2006 was taken dur­ing the fam­ily’s fi­nal ex­pe­di­tion to­gether, a five-week crocodile re­search trip to Cape York Penin­sula in Queens­land.

“We’ve got­ten so com­fort­able with each other, but ev­ery time I’m with Chan­dler, it’s like the first date,” says Bindi. “To find some­one who is there no mat­ter what and sup­ports you – it’s amaz­ing.” “I never thought I would get mar­ried un­til I met Steve,” says Terri (with Steve in Oc­to­ber 1991). “He com­pletely changed my world.”

“The zoo is a pretty cool place to grow up. I feel re­ally lucky” —Robert Ir­winSteve (hold­ing a new­born Robert on Dec. 4, 2003): “If I could be re­mem­bered for any one thing, I’d like to be re­mem­bered as a good dad.” Bindi and part­ner Derek Hough were (US) Danc­ing with the Stars Sea­son 21 champs in 2015. Robert made his de­but as an an­i­mal ex­pert on The Tonight Show Star­ring Jimmy Fal­lon in Fe­bru­ary 2017. “It’s re­ally fun,” he says. “And back­stage is ab­so­lute may­hem!”

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