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How Steve Irwin's death made the Irwin family "stronger"

In a rare and revealing interview, The Irwins tell Michael Sheather how the tragic loss of husband and father, Steve, still inspires their passion.

By Michael Sheather
Lady Elliot Island, says Bindi Irwin, holds some of her dearest and earliest memories of her father Steve, who tragically died aged just 44 after an encounter with a stingray on the Barrier Reef in 2006.
"This memory is from way before Robert was born," says Bindi, now 20.
"But it's so clear, like it happened just yesterday. I remember coming to Lady Elliot when I was little with Mum and Dad. Dad would go surfing, while Mum and I would sit together on the beach and collect little pieces of coral to spell out our names on the sand," she says.
"One morning, Dad had been out surfing and he came bursting into our little cabin. It was really early, about 5.30 in the morning, which is probably why I remember it so well.
"He said, 'Quick, you guys have got to get up – the sea turtles are about to hatch. I don't know how Dad did it, but he always knew exactly when the sea turtles would hatch. I don't know how but he had that gift. It was the most amazing thing.
"Mum and I stumbled outside, and Dad hustled us down to the beach. We sat down with him on the sand. I was a little cold and Dad put his arm around me. Then, sure enough, the sand started to bubble and shift, and these tiny sea turtles began to dig their way to the surface, dozens and dozens of them.
"Then, because we are who we are, we went into defence mode because we didn't want any of the birds to eat the turtles. Dad, Mum and I spread out our arms, linked them together and hovered over the baby turtles to make sure that they were safe and could reach the water alive.
"We were so worried because we didn't want the seagulls to get them. They were crawling their way to the sea, crawling over pieces of coral. They were so determined and wouldn't let anything stop them. It was just the most wonderful experience."
Terri, Bindi and Robert Irwin. (Image: Corrie Bond/AWW)
The mother-and-daughter duo say they are extremely close. (Image: Corrie Bond/AWW)
Bob and Bindi Irwin say the death of their father has brought them closer. (Image: Corrie Bond/AWW)
It's little wonder that the scene of such a magical experience has become one of the Irwins' favourite destinations.
Inside this highly protected green zone – Lady Elliot Island is a 46-hectare island sanctuary and marine park with more than 1200 species of marine life including manta rays and sea turtles – the Irwins can shrug off their signature khakis and just be themselves.
Here, Terri reveals to The Weekly that the tragic death of her husband Steve, in 2006, drew the family together and made the bonds between them even stronger.
That strength, she says, carried them through many years of grief and laid the foundation for a family tie that is extremely close.
Terri and her daughter are almost always holding hands. (Image: Corrie Bond/AWW)
"We hold hands all the time," says Terri. (Image: Corrie Bond/AWW)
"We are a family who works together, lives together and holidays together – we spend almost every moment in each other's company, whether it's at Australia Zoo or on one of our conservation properties here in Australia or making a documentary somewhere in Africa, so it's vitally important that we have great relationships – and we do," says Terri.
"We communicate well, and I think it's a natural effect of losing Steve. I think we became closer and stronger as a family and we have developed this awareness that allows us to truly value the people closest to us even more than we already did.
"It's sad that it takes a tragedy such as Steve's death to amp that up in your life, but it does make you want to live every day to the fullest and appreciate the people you love. I'm the first to admit that I can be a little overwhelming sometimes, but I have a saying that I think is very true. It's that the meaning of life is unconditional love and that's what we have for each other."
Terri's boyfriend Chandler Powell fits in easily with the family dynamic. (Image: Corrie Bond/AWW)
Happy families. (Image: Corrie Bond/AWW)
During our three days on Lady Elliot Island, the Irwins, accompanied by Chandler Powell, Bindi's boyfriend, reveal themselves to be funny, warm and welcoming.
Robert Irwin and Chandler get on like brothers. Chandler, an American and a former wake boarding champion, is 22, while Robert is 15.
That seven-year age gap is the same gap that separated Steve Irwin from his best friend Wes Mannion.
"We only just figured that out the other day," says Chandler.
"That's pretty freaky. But Robert and I really are like best mates. He's great to be around.
"We both love the outdoors life. In fact, I count myself very lucky. I get to walk side by side with the girl I love. I get to work in a zoo with animals that are just amazing. I'm a lucky guy."
Terri on Lady Elliot Island. (Image: Corrie Bond/AWW)
The family are passionate about the environment and conservation. (Image: Corrie Bond/AWW)
So cute! (Image: Corrie Bond/AWW)
To read more of our exclusive interview with the Irwin family, pick up a copy of the February issue of The Australian Women's Weekly, on sale now.

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