The Original Wildlife Warrior
At 74 years of age, Bob Irwin is a man of retirement age. But instead, he’s chasing lizards under trees, jumping off moving vehicles and more determined than ever to leave behind a legacy for the future generation. I recently spent a few days with Bob down in Broken Hill picking his brain on all things conservation and his hope for the future.
I couldn’t help but initially treat Bob as fragile as my own grandad. Only a few years younger at 74 years old, I expect Bob to be less agile, to grow tired after a day in the outback heat and maybe to retire back to base for an afternoon nap. Let’s just say I was very wrong. Up at the crack of dawn every morning, more excited than a kid at Christmas to sight some particular reptiles he had hoped to see. Day after day, he stood up there, on the back of our moving vehicle looking for signs of anything that slithered or burrowed out of sight. He was off the truck like a flash the second he saw it. By the end of the day, I was absolutely buggered, and it seemed Bob had more energy than me. I am 28 years old. My 74 year old friend had worn me out.
When I first set my eyes out on this arid property, I saw little. But Bob saw a lot. I love my wildlife, but ordinarily the big kind. The kind you can cuddle. It was through my time with Bob that I realised that for someone who loves wildlife, I actually rarely take time to have a look at the things staring me right in the face. The type of finch flitting by, the grip on the geckos hands, or the way that spider is waiting in its web. He knew every reptile by name, he knew how it incubated its eggs down to the day it would take to hatch. I was overwhelmed by the wealth of knowledge that exists in his brain, and I wished it could somehow be bottled. Bob and I had worked together on a number of conservation causes, but never had I been in the heartland of reptiles. Bob was in his element. Within hours, I was calling out for the ute to halt because I too had seen the tail of something slithering away. Getting a taste of Bob’s passion, I started to worry about the future leaders, realising that it won’t be long before Bob is no longer able to do the things he does, and when this happens who would take his place. Thankfully by the end of our time together, I had quickly learnt that Bob won’t be wearing out anytime soon. In fact, it’s probably safe to say that he’s running on pure passion and enthusiasm. And it’s hard for that passion not to rub off in his presence, it’s most definitely contagious. I have never experienced anything quite like it.
Bob’s a man that has every reason to throw in the towel and have a pretty grim outlook on life. After losing his son, his wife, and some close friends recently, where most of us would have given up, he instead has put his energies into helping those less fortunate than him- the animals. He travels non-stop, at his own expense, visiting grassroots wildlife groups and helping out with wildlife issues that need help, mentoring or support. He has dedicated his life to doing so, and he is hands on at every level. When I starting spending time working with Bob, this is what surprised me the most. Here’s a man of retirement age, who doesn’t think twice when he’s asked for help on the other side of the country. The reason we were down in Broken Hill on this particular trip, he’d done just that. He was asked for his advice on a conservation property in the NSW outback, and he was on the road 2 days later. He drove, 27 hours from his home in Queensland, and was there as fast as his little legs (and they are little) could carry him. Refusing to take the offer of accommodation, he insisted he set up camp on the property and cook on his camp oven. He wanted to get out there amongst it.
I have never met someone with more passion than he, even for the tiniest lizard. When we set out one afternoon to dig up some ant burrows, he apologised for digging up their home. “Sorry little guys, I feel really bad about this”, he said before gently lifting up the first layer of earth. He has a heart of gold, and I only wish he could see that he’s one of our last important role models for wildlife in Australia. I know his army of supporters would back me up in saying that he is an inspirational figure. He has inspired myself with my own fight for wildlife, and he has an encyclopaedia of knowledge in that brain of his that money cannot buy. It was my time in Broken Hill with Bob that really got me thinking about the need to somehow extract his knowledge and bottle it for the next generation. He is an absolute asset, I only wished that somehow his knowledge could live on forever in some big way.
Bob is one of those people who instantly makes you feel warm, that is a rarity and a true trait of a leader in conservation. Someone doing this, not for the notoriety, but for his genuine compassion he has for the cause at hand. If we take away the fact that he’s Steve Irwin’s Dad, he’s just a genuinely good bloke who can connect with nature. I can’t help but think that it’s time Bob is acknowledged for the work he has done, and continues to do on his own accord. Yes he’s the man who inspired his son to do the things he did, he’s the man who built up Australia’s most famous wildlife park….but in my eyes, he’s just Bob. And when he’s no longer walking amongst us I worry who there will be to stand up for wildlife the way he does and inspire Australians to protect our natural world.
I want to acknowledge Bob for being just Bob. He’s the man behind so many great things for Australia, behind the scenes. The next time someone asks me, “Who is Bob Irwin?”, I will simply reply, “He is just Bob.” That means more to the every day Australian who thought that they couldn’t do something to make a difference. Just Bob did it, so can you.