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Monday, October 02, 2006

Steve Irwin

I was killing time, waiting for a Blue Mountains train in Penrith, the last link with Sydney’s Western suburbs before the mountains. I was feeling some what gloomy, I could not attend the funeral of John/Cummo Cummins, my old BLF Comrade, president of the Victorian Construction Division of the Construction Forestry Mining and Energy Union, in my hometown Melbourne, due to family commitments,(three thousand people attended Cummo’s funeral).

And the news came over the radio on my phone, about Steve Irwin’s death. I was in a record shop and asked the man behind the counter what he thought of Steve Irwin, he replied,” Not much.” I told him that Irwin had been killed by a stingray of Port Douglas. “What?” he said in amazement. What? Is a probably a good term about Irwin’s watery demise. The way the media has treated his killing. The fact that his death was reported internationally before his wife was informed, she was bushwalking in Tasmania and within an hour, his autographed t-shirts were selling on E-bay for $500 says much about the society we live in.

Don’t get me wrong, every life is precious and no one deserves a death like that, there have been only four deaths by sting rays in Australia, seventeen all up over the world.

But where did the media start and finish with Irwin? He had appeared on the Simpsons and South Park. In fact as an Australian I didn’t know about the Crocodile Man till I saw him on South Park, with his cartoon image grabbing a big crocodile and saying,” I’ve got my thumb stuck up this crocodile’s butt and its really pissed off.” US TV talk show host Jay Leno said of Irwin, “…that he was the best ambassador Australia ever had.” A few media commentators said he was the real Crocodile Dundee. One was Germaine Greer, she wrote in Britain’s Guardian

Irwin was the real Crocodile Dundee, a great Australian, an ambassador for wildlife, a global phenomenon, a superhuman generator of merchandise, books, interactive video-games and action figures. The only creatures he couldn't dominate were parrots. A parrot once did its best to rip his nose off his face. Parrots are a lot smarter than crocodiles.”


I finally got round to reading her whole article, one of the best things she’s written in a long time, but then there was the timing of her article, immediately after his death. I’ve no doubt she was chasing a headline and she certainly got that.

Germaine has been vilified by many media “experts” for comparing Irwin to a modern day lion tamer. And honestly most people I’ve spoken to have been put off and bored witless by the saturation media coverage over his life and death. Yes, little kids have been affected by the man in khaki that danced with the Wiggles. And he was far more popular in the United States and Europe than he was in Australia. He even admitted this and put it down to our cultural cringe.

Going to work a couple of days after his death, I rung up Sydney’s Radio Vega Breakfast show and defended Germaine’s right to say what she said, but also made the point that it was wrong to speak ill of the dead. Saying that though, I also expressed my cringe about Irwin’s opposition to hazard reduction burns by bushfire agencies to reduce the fuel load before the bushfire season starts. And his praise of John Howard as a “great world leader” after Green senators Bob Brown and Kerry Nettle made their protest against George W. Bush in the Australian parliament in 2003.

And Irwin was a great fan of Howard’s Work Choice legislation and a strong advocate of the notorious anti-worker Australian Workplace Agreements, notably at his zoo. He was savagely anti-union, in saying that though, I’ve heard of an e-mail doing the rounds with a stingray superimposed on a picture of last years massive November 15 Melbourne rally against Howard’s attacks on workers rights. I haven’t seen it but I think it’s in bad taste. But it doesn’t compare with the experience we’ve had to endure with brain dead outpourings about him in the media.

It’s fair to say he was a conservationist. He did buy tracks of native bush that he kept in pristine condition and built his wildlife foundation, but can anyone tell me or anyone else when spoke out against Greenhouse and Climate Change? Its one thing to be an environmentalist, but you need to be more that in the times that we live in.

John/Togs Tognolini

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