The study of wildlife was a household passion. Bob loved all reptiles, even venomous snakes. Lyn took in the injured and orphaned. They made a great team, and Steve was born directly from their example and teaching.
“Whenever we were driving,” Steve told me, “if we saw a kangaroo on the side of the roadway that had been killed by a car, we always stopped.” Mother and son would investigate the dead roo and, if it was female, check its pouch. They rescued dozens, maybe hundreds, of live kangaroo joeys this way, brought them home, and raised them.
“We had snakes and goannas mostly, but also orphaned roo joeys, sugar gliders, and possums,” Steve said about these humble beginnings. “We didn’t have enclosures for crocodiles. That came later, after my parents became sick to death of the hatred they saw directed toward crocs.”
I soon became aware that as much as Steve loved his parents equally, he got different things from each of them. Bob was his hero, his mentor, the man he wanted to become. Bob’s knowledge of reptile--and especially snake--behavior made him an invaluable resource for academics all over the country. The Queensland Museum wanted to investigate the ways of the secretive fierce snake, and Bob shared their passion. When the administrators of the Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service wanted to relocate problem crocodilians, they called Bob.
Meanwhile, Lyn became, in Steve’s words, “the Mother Teresa of animal rescue.” Lyn designed a substitute pouch for orphaned roo and wallaby joeys. She came up with appropriate formulas to feed them too. Lyn created the warm, nurturing environment that made Steve’s dreams, goals, and aspirations real and reachable. Steve was always a boy who loved his mum, and Lyn was the matriarch of the family. While Bob and Steve were fearless around taipans and saltwater crocs, they had the utmost respect for Lyn. She was a pioneering wildlife rehabilitator who set the mark for both Steve and myself.
From the very first, I was welcomed into the Irwin family. The greatest thing was that I felt Lyn and Bob loved me not just because I was married to Steve, but for myself, for who I was. That gave me confidence to feel at home as a new arrival to Australia.