WHERE were you when Steve Irwin died?

It is a question many people, not only on the Sunshine Coast but elsewhere in Australia and overseas, can answer.

The death of Steve Irwin on September 4, 2006, hit the public like the death of Elvis or Princess Diana.

It was not possible, was it? Not possible to believe that such a larger-than-life character could be gone.

As news filtered through, journalists headed to Australia Zoo at Beerwah seeking official comment and to capture the public reaction.

"I know that's what people are saying but I don't actually believe it. It can't be right," a visitor told the Daily as she left the zoo.

HAPPIER TIMES: Bindy, Steve and Terri Irwin play with two Bengal tiger cubs at Australia Zoo in 2003 and (right) coverage of the tragedy in the Daily.
HAPPIER TIMES: Bindy, Steve and Terri Irwin play with two Bengal tiger cubs at Australia Zoo in 2003 and (right) coverage of the tragedy in the Daily. David Thomas

The sheer randomness of the Crocodile Hunter's death made it even more incomprehensible.

Steve, 44, had been filming for a television program when a stingray flicked a barb which pierced his heart.

His wife, Terri, was bushwalking in Tasmania when she got the news and immediately flew home with their children, Bindi and Robert, then aged eight and three.

The public's initial disbelief soon gave way to an outpouring of grief never before seen on the Coast and unlikely to be seen again.

A shrine of flowers, photographs and cards grew outside the Zoo as fans and followers reeling from the tragedy paid their respects.

Children, Hollywood actors, politicians, academics - everyone had something to say about the local bloke who had become an international name simply through his love of animals, his passion for wildlife, and the uninhibited way he embraced life itself.

The Daily was inundated with messages for the Irwin family, devoting whole pages to notes and letters.

"He's a bloody legend who unfortunately cannot be replaced," wrote Andrew Collins of Sippy Downs. "I cry for no reason throughout the day," wrote Jessica of Buderim. "Steve was my hero," wrote Dylan from California. "God must have a huge croc problem up in heaven that couldn't be solved any other way," wrote Melody from Texas.

Authorities paid tribute to Steve for putting the Coast on the world map and said his passing had left a void that Australian tourism would find hard to fill.

Public discussion turned to how to acknowledge his passing and there was talk of a state funeral.

In the end, his family opted for a private funeral but scheduled a public memorial service at the Zoo on September 20.

Three thousands tickets were made available.

People queued overnight and the tickets were gone within minutes.

The Daily published a special tribute to Steve Irwin in the days after his death and later, a 16-page tribute.



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