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Steve Irwin
, 2005

by Robin Sellick

inkjet print (sheet: 63.5 cm x 57.6 cm, image: 48.4 cm x 41.5 cm)

Steve Irwin (1962–2006) achieved international fame as the ‘Crocodile Hunter’. As a boy, Irwin moved to Queensland with his parents, who established a reptile park near Caloundra. Irwin trapped crocodiles in North Queensland before returning to take the park over, renaming it the Australia Zoo in 1992. Footage of his adventure honeymoon became the first episode of The Crocodile Hunter, which hatched on US TV in 1997 and was soon bought by cable giant Animal Planet. By 1999 The Crocodile Hunter was broadcast worldwide and Irwin’s catchcry ‘Crikey!’ had become synonymous with Australian zest for life. In 2002, the year his film Crocodile Hunter: Collision Course appeared, Irwin founded Wildlife Warriors Worldwide, an international conservation fund. He died off the coast of Queensland in September 2006 while filming a stingray, the barb of which pierced his heart. His family declined a State funeral, but some 300 million people watched his memorial service.

Photographer Robin Sellick (b. 1967), who grew up in Broken Hill, worked as an assistant to many of the leading US photographers of the early 1990s, including Annie Leibovitz. In 1994 he returned to Sydney to work for publications including Vogue, Who Weekly, Australian Style and marie claire. Since then, his portraits have appeared on the covers of NME, Q Magazine and German Rolling Stone. Sellick took this photograph of Irwin and Siam at the Australia Zoo in late 2005. Constrained for time, as the elephant was due to appear in her daily show in 15 minutes, the photographer coaxed Irwin to drop his trademark exuberance for a shot that showed 'the stuff [he kept] protected'. As the beast grew restless and Irwin became more comfortable with acting straight, Sellick took shot after shot, hoping that one of them would prove to be the one that he sought. Few would have foreseen that opportunities for photographs of the larger-than-life Irwin were running out, or that this image of him, imbued with such an uncharacteristic air of vulnerability, would take on a particular poignancy before a year had passed.

Collection: National Portrait Gallery
Gift of the artist 2006
Accession number: 2006.88