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The National Portrait Gallery acknowledges the Traditional Custodians of Country throughout Australia and recognises the continuing connection to lands, waters and communities. We pay our respect to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures and to Elders both past and present.

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by Dr Sarah Engledow, 1 December 2006

Robin Sellick captured a rare moment of quietude from the late conservation star Steve Irwin.

Steve Irwin
Steve Irwin, 2005 Robin Sellick. © Robin Sellick

Steve Irwin (1962-2006) achieved international fame as the ‘Crocodile Hunter’. As a boy, Irwin moved to Queensland with his parents, who started the Queensland Reptile and Fauna Park near Caloundra.

Having helped in the park from an early age, Irwin worked as a crocodile trapper in North Queensland before returning to take it over, renaming it the Australia Zoo in 1992. That year he married. Footage of his croc-trapping honeymoon became the first episode of The Crocodile Hunter, which hatched on American television in 1997 and was soon taken up by the cable giant Animal Planet. In 1999 he made the first of his many appearances on US talk program, the Jay Leno Show. By then, The Crocodile Hunter was broadcast in some 137 countries and Irwin’s catchcry ‘Crikey!’ had become synonymous with Australian zest for life. The feature film Crocodile Hunter: Collision Course (2002) grossed $33 million. In 2002 Irwin founded Wildlife Warriors Worldwide, an international animal conservation fund. Locally, over the next few years, he collaborated with The Wiggles on Wiggly Safari, appeared in advertisements for the Australian Quarantine and Inspection Service, was appointed ambassador for the Ghan, and was nominated for Australian of the Year. Irwin died off the coast of Queensland in August 2006 when the barb of a stingray that he was filming pierced his heart. Prime Minister John Howard offered his family a state funeral, which they declined with grace. It is estimated that more than 300 million people worldwide watched his memorial service, at which John Williamson sang Irwin’s favourite song, ‘True Blue’.

Photographer Robin Sellick (b. 1967) grew up in Broken Hill in regional New South Wales. Receiving a Young Achiever Award and Queen Elizabeth II Silver Jubilee Grant in 1991, he travelled to New York, where he worked as an assistant to many of the leading photographers of the early 1990s, including Annie Leibovitz, Mark Seliger and Mary Ellen Mark. In 1994 he returned to Sydney, readily finding work with major publications including Vogue and Australian Style. Retaining a distinct influence of his early years, during which he was surrounded by bush characters with large personalities, over the course of his career he has tried to craft a style of photography which is intrinsically Australian. He was instrumental in developing a distinctive style of photography for the newly published Who Weekly, and was the first photographer to be commissioned to shoot in Australia for marie claire. His creative use of light quickly came to be seen as a trademark feature of his work. His portraits have appeared on the covers of NME, Q Magazine and German Rolling Stone and continue to be published around the world. The National Portrait Gallery has acquired 13 of his photographs since 2004.

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 picture 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.

Related people

Steve Irwin

Robin Sellick

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