The Third Leader: Crikey...

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The Independent Online

Reactions to the death of Steve Irwin, the Australian naturalist known as the Crocodile Hunter, have been mixed. Some have praised his popularising scientific contribution: this, for example, from David Bellamy: "When I heard this morning, I cried - the world really has lost a very, very important natural historian."

Others, including John Howard, the Australian Prime Minister, spoke of the "huge loss" to Australia of a man who projected a familiar image of the country around the world: no-nonsense, fear-free, at ease with, and in charge of, Nature, the great metaphor for a pioneering country seeking to be proud of itself, the new West in the South.

Others, though, allowed their unease at Irwin's broadcasting style to dominate their respects, making clear their purely scientific dislike of his unsophisticated and showy head-in-the-lion's-mouth approach, which they saw as sacrificing rigour and respect for wildlife in the cause of entertaining the voyeur on the couch.

And then there was the less vocal response of those Australians who, on the whole, would prefer their country to conjure thoughts of Carey, Keneally, Sutherland or even Minogue rather than a man in khaki shorts and heavy boots whose favourite word was "crikey".

I myself regret anything that provokes more worry about risk from people who have told us so; and salute bravery with the fervour of the less so. Most of all, though, I am taken by Life's infinite capacity for irony and surprise at the expense of neatness: not killed by a croc, then, but by a freakish piece of bad luck with the supposedly much safer stingray. Crikey, indeed.