For nearly a decade, The Crocodile Hunter ruled the animal airwaves. Steve Irwin, the “archetypical Australian”, as actor Russell Crowe called him, wrestled crocodiles, wrapped his daughter in snakes and played with poisonous spiders until his death in September 2006.
Daddy cool: Bindi Irwin with her late father Steve.
Three years later, his now 10-year-old daughter Bindi, a television star in her own right, has put together an hour-long documentary for Animal Planet on her relationship with her father, using behind-the-scenes clips and family home videos. My Daddy the Crocodile Hunter will air on 2 June.
Bindi spends much of the show in a warehouse illuminated by huge family portraits, repeating, “I was never at risk”, “My dad taught me so much”, “He always kept me at a safe distance”. Bindi seems to be doing her 10-year-old best to quell past controversies (lest you forgot the most sensational, Irwin dangled his one-month-old son in front of an adult crocodile).
But the point of Irwin’s life and Bindi’s heritage is just that: It was controversial. Perhaps Irwin did provoke animals. Perhaps he did put his own children at risk. But the sensationalism also allowed the Irwins to build a huge interest in animal conservation. Even Irwin’s loudest critics cannot deny the money raised for research and the education of untold millions.
And Bindi was at the centre of an amazing world, with parents who obviously doted on her. They even managed to make the sometimes-unsettling reality of stage parents (Bindi has been part of several of her parents’ shows pretty much since her birth) seem simply another lesson in wildlife: Here’s how you pick up a scorpion; here’s how you talk to a journalist.
In the documentary, we watch Bindi as a baby cruise through the Everglades in Florida, learn to walk in the Outback of Australia and start filming her own television show Bindi the Jungle Girl. Through it all, her father is a larger-than-life presence—keeping a team of film-makers laughing, his wife blushing from passionate kisses, and crowds cheering his antics with the crocodiles. It’s a bittersweet look back on an incredible life and it’s tragic it didn’t last longer.
My only serious complaint with the show is that it chooses not to use Irwin’s death as a lesson. Perhaps they left it out as a topic too big for a children-centric show to tackle. But the whole documentary, which pays homage to a man who was killed—and they never mention that he died—forget the circumstances of his death. They could have warned children of the dangers of provoking animals. They could have acknowledged that it’s slightly creepy to be sitting in a darkened warehouse with larger-than-life photographs of your dead father.
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Perhaps parents could anyway use the show to discuss death and responsibility towards animals with their children.
By the end of the documentary, I was torn between wishing I could have grown up at the Australia Zoo and wishing Irwin had managed to escape death. Especially during a final scene that catches Bindi saying, “That’s my daddy all right.” And Irwin says, “That’s my girl!”
Animal Planet will broadcast My Daddy the Crocodile Hunter on 2 June at 9pm.