Irwin's Dad Says He's Lost His 'Best Mate'

09/06/2006 at 08:40 AM EDT

Irwin's Dad Says He's Lost His 'Best Mate'
Steve Irwin
Justin Sullivan/Getty
Steve Irwin's grief-stricken father, Bob Irwin, making the family's first public comments since the Crocodile Hunter's death, said Wednesday that he has lost "my best mate ever."

"Steve and I weren't like father and son, we never were. We were good mates," the elder Irwin told reporters outside the animal park north of Brisbane made famous on his son's Animal Planet series. "I'm a lucky, lucky guy. I've had the opportunity to have a son like Steve.

"There's never been anybody else that I know of that had the personality Steve had and the strength and the conviction of what he believed in, and his message was conservation."

Steve, 44, was killed on Monday when a stingray's barb pierced his heart while he was filming a documentary off Australia's northeast coast.

It was Bob Irwin – a reptile enthusiast, according to Australia's The Age newspaper – who helped spark Steve's interest in nature. The Irwin family moved to the Queensland Coast in the early 1970s to launch the reptile park that eventually evolved into the Australia Zoo.

"That was when the mateship started," Irwin said. "Right back when he was 6, 7, 8 years old, we used to go out into the bush and not doing anything in particular – just go out into the bush, and it is something I will never forget."

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Asked what he was doing on Monday when he heard the news about his son, Irwin – wearing dark sunglasses and the same type of khaki shirt and shorts that Steve always sported – said, "This may sound really, really weird, but the moment I heard the news I was about to bury a cow that had died calving."

He added, "Both of us over the years have had some very close shaves. We made jokes of it. That's not to say that we were careless, but we treated it like it was just part of the job. Steve knew the risks involved with the type of work he was doing, and he wouldn't have wanted it any other way."

Of the family his son left behind, Irwin said that Steve's wife, Terri, is "holding up very well, considering. She's extremely concerned for her children Bindi and Robert, obviously, and that's the reason I ask the media to give them a break, for the children's sake."

Terri Irwin was traveling in Tasmania when tragedy struck. On Tuesday, The Age reports, she personally addressed the staff at the Australia Zoo. "It was about five o'clock yesterday afternoon," Michael Hornby, executive manager of Wildlife Warriors, a conservation charity set up by Steve, told the paper. "Terri just made an announcement on the internal radio system across the zoo to say how grateful she was for support from the staff and that was about it. Obviously, she was very distraught when she made that message."

According to Bob Irwin, Terri will decide upon funeral plans for her late husband. The Australian government has offered a state funeral, but Irwin said, "the state funeral would be refused because he is an ordinary guy, he is just an ordinary bloke and he wants to be remembered as an ordinary bloke."

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