The Life of Irwin

The Life of Irwin

Robert Irwin on how his photography book keeps late father Steve Irwin’s legacy alive

When we think of Irwin, the man who won The Land of the Green, we may think of the gentle giant from “Happy Feet,” the conservationist for The Night Angel and the hero of “Fantasia.” But there’s much more to Irwin than just that, with a career extending into the late 1990s, when he was diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor, and through the last few years of his life when it was discovered that his father, Stephen, had fought cancer but survived.

Irwin grew up in the small village of Tullymore, Queensland, and was an only child. It was during his schooling years at Tullymore School, attended by his parents and two siblings, that Irwin would meet the man who would give him the life he’s come to know.

The first person Irwin met was his father, who was also the only child of his parents’ marriage. Irwin’s mother, Pat, had already had three children by her first marriage before meeting Stephen after being on the point of dumping the former husband. Stephen had come into Irwin’s life after his mother had found a picture of him with a man other than his father, and he had never gotten over the shock when Irwin showed his mother the picture. A few years later, Stephen brought his youngest daughter, Sarah, home to live with his family and Irwin was just a year old. Pat Irwin was soon pregnant, having gotten herself pregnant twice by other men in an effort to protect her children from her husband. Stephen was a very proud man, and he wanted to see Irwin grow up to be like him, which he did. The family settled in Brisbane.

Stephen’s older brother, Gary, was a hard working businessman who worked with his brother at the car factory before eventually becoming Director of the company. They lived with her parents at the old family home, which is now a museum. Irwin attended Brisbane Grammar School, which is close by. To his memory, Irwin would tell that schoolmates that he had to sit in the school assembly because he was “lucky he was the only person in the school to not be in a wheelchair.” He was good at school, winning the Australian Schoolboy Swimming Championship in 1990

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