There were two prominent deaths today here in Australia.
Steve Irwin, the crocodile hunter: the loud, boisterous champion of wildlife was killed by a sting ray barb in Queensland. Irwin’s death is tragic: a man “in his prime” killed in a freak accident, leaving behind a wife and two small children. But the nation is feeling this loss too. On MSN’s instant messenger program, people are adding (tu), which codes for a turtle symbol, to their names in his honour. Steve Irwin was a proud ambassador for Australia’s wildlife and did more for conservation than many less interesting, noble organisations. The environment needs more heroes like him.

Of slightly less note (judging by the hits on Google News, at least) is the death of a fine Australian author, Colin Thiele. Thiele was a master of his craft, best known for Storm Boy and The Water Trolley. When I was in Grade Five we studied Storm Boy and the short stories published with it. I cried through Storm Boy and laughed through The Lockout. But the story that affected me the most was The Shell. It’s been a long time since I read it, but if I remember correctly, the story was about a family who go down to the beach. The mother wants a beautiful shell that she can see, and she gets it, but her husband and son are swept out to sea. It was the first time I saw nature as something powerful impossible to bend to human will; fascinating and terrifying. Thiele obviously had a great respect for nature that was totally different from Irwin’s, but in the end, sadly, Irwin proved Thiele’s point.

The world we live in can be frightening and mysterious but I think that approaching it with Irwin’s enthusiasm is important. There are forces in nature that can overwhelm us, but there are also delicate and vulnerable aspects, and they need to be protected.

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