Bob Irwin breaks his silence on Crocodile Hunter's death
STEVE Irwin's father Bob has broken his silence in an interview to share the heartbreak of losing a son, his struggles to adjust and how a team of former Australia Zoo staff propped up the 76-year-old through his toughest times.
The Australia Zoo foundation members of the crocodile team have broken their silence of losing Steve in Monday night's episode of Australian Story on ABC.
Bob reveals how he was angry and saddened when cameraman Justin Lyons gave a graphic account of Steve's final moments on morning television last year.
He said it interfered with his grieving process.
"I personally felt very sad and, to a degree, angry about what Justin had to say," Bob said.
"For those of us trying to get on with our lives, it wasn't something that helped us by any means."
Bob tells the program he buried himself in physical work and took a step back from the zoo to because he didn't want "anything to do with people".
The program offers a rare insight into how Bob coped with Steve's death and where his former croc team is today.
Nearly a decade has passed since Steve's untimely death. The Crocodile Hunter was fatally attacked by a stingray in 2006 while shooting a documentary.
Steve's good mate, protege and croc team member Briano Coulter was there that day.
He has never spoken publicly of those moments. And that was the unspoken pact between all of Steve's croc team.
Briano provided a special insight into what Steve was like not just as a boss, but as a friend in the half-hour ABC program.
He spent a majority of the program expressing how grateful and honoured he was to be part of Steve's team and the difficulty to move on after his mate's death.
"I suppose the best way you can describe it is we are moving forward without a map," Briano said.
"Steve was such a phenomenal force you knew which direction you were going, now it seems for myself-and a lot of people-we are moving forward but a bit lost from time to time."
The program offered a rare insight into how Bob Irwin coped with his son's death.
"Once we lost Steve those were difficult times and a lot of it all I wanted to forget, I suppose," Bob said.
"I basically buried myself in physical work, I didn't want anything to do with people.
"I had things to get sorted out in my own head and that took a long time to get those sorted out.
"I didn't want to be like a hermit because that wasn't doing me any good."
The program incorporated archive footage of the days when Beerwah's Australia Zoo was known as the Queensland Reptile Park. A young Steve, excited, passionate and a typical Sunshine Coast bloke.
There are quick glimpses of his widow Terri, daughter Bindi and son Robert, but the family declined to take part.
The program showed the 'to and fro' in the former handlers' minds on whether to pick up the phone and re-connect with Bob, or risk churning up painful wounds.
Veteran journalist Ray Martin, who had met Irwin several times at Channel Nine, remembers him being star-struck after spotting Mike Munro in the corridor.
"I had to tell him, 'You're bigger than all of us put together'," Ray Martin recalls. "He was a star in 130 countries."
Briano explained how fame was just not for Steve- it was all about conservation to him.
"Having seen Steve go from a big personality to a few documentaries to a worldwide phenomenon, I'd seen that whole transformation and me personally, I'd never want fame," he said.
"He had to be careful about where he went and what he did, I saw him withdraw.
"There was a stage there where he would come into the zoo and come in total disguise so he wouldn't be recognised.
"He'd have this large floppy hat fake teeth, you know, Hawaiian shirt."
"He could have been driving luxury cars of living the high life, but he didn't.
"Part of the reason Steve worked as hard as what he did was he always sort of sought his dad's approval, but everything Steve did, his dad just loved him for it."
Steve's former PA Nicole Byrne said it had been difficult to open up about how Steve's death affected her life.
"I do think about Steve every day, because I see him, and and think about him every single animal encounter I have, he's there," she said.
"I haven't opened up about the effect of Steve's death on me to anyone, not even to my husband, because of who Steve was.
"The world was on fire and the world wanted to know anything and everything about Steve at that time and I just kept everything bottled in."
The program uses file footage of the special memorial at Australia Zoo after Steve's death. The pain on his colleague's faces was clear.
Briano said he offered to tell Bob the full details of what happened on the reef the day Steve died. He declined and that sealed the unspoken pact between staff.
Former Australia Zoo staff member Amanda French tells the program she stared at the zoo a month after Steve's death.
She described Bob's withdrawal from the zoo.
"Bob was always there in the background and I'd often see him there watching Bindi's shows and all of sudden he wasn't there anymore," Amanda said.
"Until we heard from the horse's mouth that there was some sort of break in the family, that's when we all started to know there was a different direction for the zoo."
The program did not elaborate on the rift between Bob and Terri.
Briano said there was a huge downturn of visitors to the zoo following Steve's death.
The elite Australia Zoo croc team recount their days during research trios to North Queensland.
It's up north where some of them rekindle their friendship with Bob before the program ends with a full reunion by the camp fire.
Bob sums up his son's legacy perfectly.
"Steve is with me," he said.
"I don't really think that Steve himself understood what influence he had right around the world.
"He wasn't shy in showing he had for the animals.
"What he stood for and what he was able to achieve means just as much know as when he was physically here, that's what I believe."
"It's nice to be able to know I can leave this physical world now knowing that it's in good hands.
"Because there's so many people that have been inspired and will continue to be inspired by Steve, it's absolutely amazing."