HE was the goofy crocodile hunter who inspired a generation of animal lovers – but this week a poisonous feud between members of Steve Irwin’s family came to light.
Since the presenter’s death aged 44 in 2006, a series of rows have erupted over the alleged “commercialisation” of his legacy, the growing fame of his daughter and rumours of a romance between his wife and best friend.
Earlier this month, Steve’s father Bob Senior, 80, fuelled the flames by saying he didn’t expect to be invited to the wedding of his granddaughter, 21-year-old Bindi.
This week more detail on the family feud emerged when Steve’s older sister, Joy, lifted the lid – saying she was able to speak as a non-disclosure agreement had expired.
Joy said she no longer speaks to Steve’s wife, Terri, and that her husband been physically escorted out of the Irwins’s family zoo where he worked as general manager.
Australia’s first family
Whatever has gone on behind closed doors, the fallouts are a far cry from when Steve, his attractive wife and beautiful children charmed the public on his hit ‘The Crocodile Hunter’ TV show.
During his decade on our screens, the Irwins were Australia’s first family and most recognisable export.
No stranger to danger, the star would famously yell “crikey!” as he wrestled with komodo dragons and black mambas for his show.
Steve’s love of nature came from his father, who set up what is now known as Australia Zoo in Queensland with his first wife Lyn in 1970.
It was here that a young Steve met Terri Raines in 1981, with the couple declaring it love at first sight.
When he was tragically killed after a sting ray stabbed him in the heart while filming on the Great Barrier Reef, the family were united in grief.
Yet just 18 months after his private funeral, tensions were already rising.
In a move that stunned the country, Bob dramatically resigned from the zoo in March 2008.
In a pointed statement, he failed to mention daughter-in-law Terri, now 55, saying: “You may rest assured that Judy [his partner] and I will continue Steve’s dream, with the passion and commitment he would expect.”
‘Tacky’ legacy of Irwin zoo
Rumours emerged of arguments over the zoo’s treatment of staff and concerns over animal welfare – and there were even claims that Bob had been banned from the premises.
After further reports of a “toxic work environment”, the zoo said it has a zero tolerance approach to bullying.
“Bob had already given Steve and Terri 50 per cent of the park when they married, but he wanted it to remain conservation first, tourist attraction second,” a source said to New Idea years later.
“When Steve passed, Terri started focusing more on the commercial side of things, including pushing her kids further into the spotlight.
“She wanted a grand theme park like you see in America, where she’s from. Bob couldn’t stand seeing it becoming so tacky.”
Addressing the claims, a friend close to Terri at the time told Sunshine Daily coast that “she is a good mother, a good community person and has the zoo’s best interest at heart”.
‘Exploitation’ of Bindi’s child fame
Steve’s daughter Bindi became a celebrity in her own right in the years after Steve’s death.
By 2008, the 10-year-old had her own show – Bindi The Jungle Girl- a bizarre fitness DVD complete with dancers and her own range of action dolls.
As the Discovery Channel looked for the next big thing, there were reportedly hopes she could ‘do a High School Musical’, with the group’s chief executive proclaiming: “We think Bindi will be a big, big star”.
Her rapid rise led to a wave of concern from critics and politicians, but Terri brushed it aside.
“Bindi is lucky in that opportunities come in thick and fast – and they are turned down thick and fast,” she told The Times.
“You don’t see Bindi endorsing some fast-food restaurant or a new trendy anything, because she’s a kid.”
Terri herself also faced a backlash as she hit the publicity trail.
A year after his death, she published the memoir, Steve And Me: My Life With The Crocodile Hunter, while hiring an American psychic to contact her husband at the zoo raised eyebrows.
She was also forced to deny a romance with John Stainton, Steve’s best pal and colleague, who witnessed his death.
“Good luck with that,” she told New Idea, saying Steve was a hard act to follow.
An ambitious £47million plan to expand the zoo hit the skids during the financial crisis, but last year a new water park opened and this April a £4million partnership was announced that will allow visitors to camp over in glamping-style accommodation.
Heartbroken by ‘hurtful’ grandad
While Bindi’s fame has never quite eclipsed her father’s, in 2015 she won Dancing with the Stars and this July she announced her engagement to boyfriend Chandler Powell.
With no mention of her grandfather, she said her brother Robert, 15, will walk her down the aisle.
In an interview last year, she revealed her hurt over her treatment by Bob Senior and said she hasn’t received a single gift from him in years.
“’I remember, when I was still quite young, receiving a parcel in the mail from him,” she told Daily Mail Australia.
“I opened it with great joy and anticipation, only to discover he had opened and returned the Christmas presents I had sent him.
“Heartbroken, I began to understand what it meant to have someone close to me hurt me in my time of need.”
Bob is now believed to be living “as a recluse” in a secluded 600-acre property called Camp Chilli, with signs ordering people to stay clear.
Terri, meanwhile, laughed off talk last year that she was dating Russell Crowe, who has been a great supporter of their wildlife reserve, and claimed that Steve remains the only love of her life.
MOST READ IN WORLD NEWS
Brit OAPs stunned as they're jailed for smuggling £1m of cocaine on cruise
Man fighting for life after being soaked in petrol & set on FIRE on doorstep
Contact lenses recalled over fears particles may 'damage surface of your eye'
Amber Rudd is 'preparing to stand as caretaker PM if Boris is toppled by MPs'
Middle-aged woman sent 25,000 ECSTASY pills worth £450k after buying dress online
I PREDICT A RIOT
BoJo's allies warn UK faces RIOTS if Brexit fails, as PM calls for calm
She said: “I haven’t dated anyone in the ten years since we lost Steve just because I feel a connection still with Steve,” she told Access Hollywood.
“You know when you take those vows, and say ‘we’ll be together as long as we both shall live,’ I really don’t think I would’ve married if I hadn’t met Steve.
And he’s very special to me and continues to be.”
As the battle for the crocodile hunter’s legacy continues, one hopes his family can find a way through their troubles.