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When the phone rings, I can't help but think of the man who always answered the call


As the world gathers in Glasgow to face the climate change challenge, we remember the Queenslander who sadly can’t be there to share his unique love of the planet, writes Rebecca Levingston

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When I hear a phone ringing at work, I always think, this could be it – this could be the big breaking story of the day! Sometimes it is… even when I don’t immediately know it.

I answered a lot of odd calls when I first started as a producer. One I will never forget because it changed the world. Some remain strange and funny memories.

Years ago, a lady called the talkback line to ask how to remove dead frog smell from the seal of a drink bottle. I wish I was making this up. It was during a segment where people would call in with domestic conundrums and our resident cleaning genius would respond. Her home remedies became legendary in the world of local radio.

One afternoon a listener called with a sandpit situation that involved a lost water bottle and an amphibian who chose a bad place to sleep. Strange as it was, I put her to air and I’m pretty sure the remedy had something do with bicarb soda and vinegar.

I remember the first time a celebrity called into a show I was hosting. It was Powderfinger. Literally, the whole band were in a minibus on their way to a gig and I was doing a tribute to them because they’d announced they were hanging up their instruments and doing a final farewell tour.

Cogsy the drummer was the one who called I think – it’s a bit of a blur because I was so thrilled at thought of them listening to all the music memories listeners were sharing. My happiness indeed.

Occasionally the voice at the other end of the line delivers news you wish wasn’t true.

I recall one quiet afternoon answering a call that I’ll never forget. It was the fourth of September 2006. The phone flashed and I answered. A lady told me there had been an accident and it had something to do with a boat. Steve Irwin, the Crocodile Hunter was on board. She said she’d heard it was serious.

My body went cold with adrenalin. I ran into my boss’s office and told him. It didn’t take long for the devastating news to be confirmed. Steve Irwin had died. It was so terribly sad and very quickly people started calling in to express their disbelief and grief. The phones lit up and I thought they’d never stop.

I’ve been thinking about Steve Irwin again this week because I wonder what he might say about the climate talks happening in Glasgow. A straight talking Aussie might’ve gone down well at COP26.

What would Steve have made of Greta Thunberg? Would Steve have driven an electric vehicle? You know Leonardo Di Caprio would’ve wanted a picture with him.

I never met the Croc Hunter, but I went to Australia Zoo once for work when John Howard came to Queensland to make an announcement as Prime Minister. I remember the contrast of Howard’s pressed white shirt and Irwin’s khaki kit. Steve was exactly the same in real life as he was on TV.

Years after Steve passed away, I spent a morning with Terri Irwin on air and she was delightful. Warm, curious and kind. She had grit and grace in equal measure. I asked her about crocodiles, conservation and falling in love with a man the world will never forget. She adored him and kept his memory very much alive for his children.

How gorgeous now to see Bindi with her beloved and her bub in the grounds of the zoo Steve called home.

Next Monday is Steve Irwin Day. It’s an annual international event that honours the legacy of the Crocodile Hunter.

Crikey, what the world would give for genuine passion and honesty from a bloke in public life in 2021.

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