Newspaper article The Morning Bulletin (Rockhampton, Australia)

HOW STEVE IRWIN STILL INSPIRES PASSION TO SAVE WILDLIFE Mate Conserves Irwin Legacy

Newspaper article The Morning Bulletin (Rockhampton, Australia)

HOW STEVE IRWIN STILL INSPIRES PASSION TO SAVE WILDLIFE Mate Conserves Irwin Legacy

Article excerpt

Byline: Julie Gatehouse

BOB Irwin is not a man who sits still.

He's 71 and recovering from a heart attack, but smoko is the only time that his wife Judy sees him rest between dawn and dusk on their 250-hectare private wildlife sanctuary in the South Burnett.

Even his favourite steak-and-chips meal can't put any meat on the bones of his wiry frame, usually clad in khaki shirt (buttons undone) and workman's boots.

"That's exactly how he's always been," says long-time mate Tony Frisby, "and that's where his son got it from".

Tony, 45, befriended a surfer known as Stevo on the Sunshine Coast in the 1970s.

"Stevo was constantly on the go, and it usually involved animals," says the former bricklayer and boxer who's now managing parks at Yeppoon.

"Going on a camping trip meant charging through the scrub looking for rare reptiles. Hanging out at his parents' park meant coaxing crocs into ponds. I wasn't too keen on the sea snakes and sharks when we were diving and surfing, though. Then there was fishing, footy, socialising Co and actual work, of course."

Tony became one of the early curators at the fledgling reptile and fauna park started by Bob and his late wife Lyn Irwin at Beerwah

He remembers ruminating with Steve about future success.

"I told him the place would be bigger than the Big Pineapple," Tony recalls in his recent book, My Mate Steve Irwin: Life Before the Crocodile Hunter.

The comment drew laughs at book signings because that humble "place" is now the hugely popular Australia Zoo, owned by Steve's wife Terri Irwin and his two children, Bindi and Robert. It has certainly eclipsed the Big Pineapple as a tourist attraction.

Since leaving the zoo in 2008, Bob has been busy turning his property into a fauna and flora refuge.

A typical day might involve fencing, labouring, digging a dam Co or saving Judy from two large brown snakes heading for the veranda. (He ended up grabbing one in each hand to relocate them.)

On a community level, Bob's conservation campaigning is relentless but not often in the public eye.

He travels the state to research issues or advocate on behalf of those who can't Co animals that are vulnerable, endangered or plain misunderstood.

He has recently been in North Queensland for cassowaries and dugong, Hervey Bay for dingoes and whales, and will be on the Gold Coast next week for wombats. Bob slams the greed of the kangaroo industry and the cruelty of international whaling and is fighting for conservation to be a key priority in the future development of regional Queensland.

"My son's love for animals and this beautiful country inspired the people around him long before he was on TV," says Bob.

"To be a beautiful country again, to stop losing species, we need more people showing their passion for wildlife. …

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