By crikey, is Steve Irwin the new Paul Hogan? Are Australians’ image about to be put to the test yet again? TV’s most successful Aussie conservationist tells it like it is, reports fellow Aussie Paul Fischer from Los Angeles.
The last thing that rambunctious Steve Irwin, aka the television star affectionately known as the ‘Crocodile Hunter’ cares about is image. Not his own, nor the obvious criticism that Irwin’s image of the Australian male is somewhat stereotypical.
“I’ve never thought that, mate, never procrastinated. You know what? I’m too busy for all of that. I don’t stop and dwell on ANYTHING,” Irwin insists. “I’m a wildlife warrior through and through and I KNOW what I’ve gotta do, I’m very proud of what I do and I’ll die doin’ it. And basically, mate, I don’t give a rip what anybody thinks; I DO NOT CARE. I’ve got a message that’s goin’ out to 500,000,000 people right now, this moment on the television, and crikey, who knows how many people will watch the movie. I’ve got more important things to think about than what others think of me.” Oh, and while he appears to be a typical Aussie, there’s one thing that sets him apart from your average Australian bloke. “I don’t drink and isn’t that what Australians are known for,” he laughingly questions.
40-year old Irwin, who with American wife Terri, live and work in Queensland’s Sunshine State, in the 251-acre Australia Zoo amidst some 700 wild animals. Irwin never knew that this son of animal naturalists would one day share his passion for conservation with the world, but others did. “First off, mate, bein’ a bloke from the bush, I never knew I’d ever get this far, but certainly my mum and dad knew that I was going to go to the top of the heap,” Irwin explains in true, laconic style. “To be truthful I’m a little stunned that it’s been this fast.” This ‘bloke from the bush’ who was born in Victoria, shared the love for animals all his life, stemming from being raised at the Queensland Reptile and Fauna Park where he still lives. There, he partook in daily duties of animal feeding and care. He quickly established himself with the Queensland’s government on the process of the country’s Crocodile Relocation Program, in which the reptiles could be transferred and relocated to proper localities in the most absolute humane, non-tranquilizing manner. He frequently implements the non-tranquilizing factor in his television show “Croc Files” (1999). To date, Steve can claim that he has never been bitten by a venomous snake, despite his bare-hand handling of some of the most deadliest snakes in the world. Steve has been married to fellow naturalist, Terri Irwin (Baines) since 1992. She joins him in his adventures and efforts in almost every episode of his show – and now the movie Collision Course, a project, Irwin says, that has stemmed from his passion with animal conservation. “I mean this is all the product of 10 years hard work; we’ve been at it since 1992, and we’ve been planning the movie since 1995.
Irwin is no movie star, he insists, and has no illusions as such. The only reason, he says, that he wanted to take his irreverent adventures to the big screen, “was that we wanted to take the message of conservation FURTHER and beyond where anyone had ever been before,” Irwin says with clear passion. “We wanted to take conservation to the sandpits, to the playgrounds, to schools, hospitals and now to the cinema, which to me, is the pinnacle of success to conservation.” It was Hollywood superstar Bruce Willis who finally offered the Australian some sound advice. “Listen, if you guys have got a message, take it to the big screen; it’s the most powerful thing.” Far from the film being a mere extension of his television show, Crocodile Hunter – Collision Course Steve Irwin has avoided the death-roll and nabbed another feisty croc, hoping to save it from poachers. What Steve doesn’t know is that the croc has innocently swallowed a top secret U.S. satellite beacon, and the poachers are actually American special agents sent to retrieve it! Yet, despite a high calibre cast of Australians including the likes of David Wenham and Babe’s Magda Szubanski, Steve and his wife rarely worked directly with most of the film’s actors. “The way that the script was written, we didn’t see a script, and our position in the movie is being seen in a wildlife documentary, is rescuing dangerous wildlife, so our interaction with the other actors was really minimal.”
Steve has been fighting for animal conservation now for over a decade and remains fiercely optimistic. “What I’m currently seeing with my own eyes is fantastic, mate. I think global awareness in terms of conservation is really starting to come into the fore of people’s brains, rather than the arse. That’s exciting, and I’m seeing quite a massive global push towards wildlife conservation.” And Irwin hopes that this movie will further aid his cause. “If this movie’s a huge success it will be a great coup for conservation, because every cent that Terri and I earn from the ‘Crocodile Hunter’ goes straight into conservation,” which Irwin is very proud of, he adds. But beyond that, says Irwin, the movie “will be great for the whole world because the movie’s other exciting message, mate, is to do with family,” Irwin says. “My mum used to complain, years ago, about people sitting around the idiot box watching different shows. NOW, for the first time in a long time, the whole family, from little toddlers to the kids to teenagers and mums and dads, and by crikey even great grandpa and grandma, can sit down and watch this flick, and be totally excited and have more fun than you can have in two hours anywhere.” Strewth, an endorsement if ever there was one! While the movie will have its glitzy Hollywood premiere, Steve’s proudest moment, he says, will be when the movie premieres in Australia, a premiere, he boyishly exclaims, “will be bigger than Ben Hur and being Australian through and through I’m gonna be proud to stand up and introduce the movie to Australia.”
As for the future, one thing you won’t see, is Steve Irwin, Hollywood movie star. “That’s of no interest to me. We didn’t really act in this movie and we’re not Hollywood actors. Blokes like Bruce Willis, Matt Damon and Will Smith are the real Hollywood stars and by crikey, it’s a tough job they do and they can have it.” While those stars have their stun doubles to do the dangerous work, with Steve Irwin, what you see is what you get, and by crikey, this down-to-earth ‘crocodile hunter’ wouldn’t want it any other way.