Inside Irwin family's bush retreat
TERRI Irwin looks relaxed.
Through the window of her south-western Queensland conservation property she can see a dozen or so emus sauntering around in the front yard.
She and Bindi laugh at the curious antics of the birds that look like dinosaurs and act like they are in a soap box show, and call it "our own emu TV".
"It's our escape... it's healing to come up here," she says.
"Here" is 84,000 acres of land which is fast regaining its biodiversity with many different species of flora and fauna becoming re-established after years of broad-scale clearing by farmers.
Officially, the name of the Westbore property is Mourachan, but Terri calls it Paradise.
More than 10 years have passed since Steve and Terri drove into this semi-arid region known as the Brigalow Belt and set up camp with Bindi near one of the many dams and waterholes.
"Steve had a hunch, a gut feeling, that the rare woma python may be there."
So they bought the first of many properties in the area - 20,000 acres - when it was $24 an acre.
It was the start of a dream: a plan to conserve the diversity of the semi-arid ecosystems and wildlife, a safe haven where native animals could re-establish populations.
Terri and the Australia Zoo staff ensure the dream continues today, as does the planning, but there is no getting around the fact that it is without Steve.
"Yeah, we talk about Steve. There are good days and bad days," Terri confides.
"Robert had a hard time, even out here, and I think somewhere he must remember being out here with Steve because all of a sudden he, he's just done, and for an hour he's just inconsolable.
"But that's fine. I think it's okay to miss your dad and cry when you miss someone... do the what ifs, if onlys...
"You know, it's really hard and it's not (that) you are a better or worse person. You are who you are because of what happens to you in your life and it's just the way it is.
"And teaching Bindi and Robert that there is no right or wrong way for grieving so long as it's not hurting you or someone else.
"I still have a few of Steve's clothes in the wardrobe out here... y'know, sometimes people need to put everything away; sometimes people don't need to."
As if on cue, a khaki-clad Robert Irwin pops his head in the door.
Ranger Barry Lyon, who manages the Steve Irwin Wildlife Reserve in North Queensland, is here with the family and his wife Shelley, who is also Robert's teacher.
Barry has offered to drive Robert, the family and PhD student Melissa Bruton, who is from Yandina, out to Thomby Dam to look for animals.
Robert is first to get into the truck but a flannelette-wearing Bindi is out first to open one of the many gates to our destination.
"Thanks, Boo," says ranger Barry as we head off down the track.
"You're welcome, Ranger Barry," she replies.
Black rain clouds that emptied themselves over the conservation property, dousing the area and all its wildlife with some well-needed rain, have dissipated.
Ranger Barry drives slowly.
"I can't believe how much it has changed," Terri says.
She describes how a land of dust and scrub is now becoming a land of trees, poplar box, acacias and grass.
The land recovering is how Steve envisioned it so many years ago.
There are photo capture sites which are documenting the regeneration to show the healing as a time lapse.
Ranger Barry slows down as a mob of eastern grey kangaroos check us out then effortlessly bound their way across the fields and tracks in front of us.
It is a wondrous sight. There is lots of oohing and aahing as our national emblem puts on a display in its natural habitat. The passion is palpable and contagious.
Our plan to reach the dam is challenged somewhat when a large fallen acacia tree blocks our path.
Ranger Barry is hesitant to use the snatch strap on Terri's newish 4WD (he prefers a different brand of 4WD) and some light-hearted humour begins toward Barry.
Barry, who sleeps in a tent in the North Queensland Wildlife Reserve and here at Mourachan ("don't sleep very well inside Nic, I prefer the tent"), is heading off to Hollywood soon with the family.
Bindi is making guest appearances in some children's shows there and the family stays together - always.
So of course, after he has dragged the tree off the track and cut off a branch, which Robert keeps, with the saw on his utility knife, Terri emerges from the 4WD with a blade that looks a foot long ...
Everybody cracks up, even Barry, when Terri quips: "That's not a knife Barry. This is a knife."
We all start wondering and talking about how Barry will cope living in a unit in Hollywood, and life in general there, while his wife keeps Robert schooled.
Later that night over dinner, Terri talks about the importance of conservation in everybody's lives and getting the message out that no matter how small a measure, everybody can help.
"Mainstream media is where we must get the message out. It doesn't have to be published in a scientific journal; it has to be in the newspapers people pick up.
"If we don't get people excited about what's happening out here (regenerating ecosystems at Mourachan), get them curious about our world and the animals that live here with us, then we won't have a planet to be excited about."
After dinner, PhD student Melissa Bruton begins her almost daily tracking routine of the 12 woma pythons she has located in the area.
Terri's original plan was to release one of them, Big Bobby, who fell sick recently and was brought back to health by Australia Zoo staff, but the cold and wet conditions are not suitable.
Recorded data over the past few months will give valuable insight into the woma pythons and their habitat.
The next day is considerably warmer than before but a frost has frozen the windscreen wipers of the 4WD.
Everyone is still wearing three layers of clothes except Robert, who, hands in pockets, is in the trademark shorts and short sleeve shirts his father made a fashion item.
"I'm not cold," he says, and after Terri feels his arms - just checking - he is allowed to search for lizards with Ranger Barry.
They lift up sheets, enter unused old long-drop dunnies and uncover some bynoe's geckos.
He dives in when he spots one, then caressingly replaces it where he found it.
Small steps on the land.
I ask if he can tell me something about them and he impeccably does a piece to video camera telling me about their tails without missing a beat.
Passion is in the blood of all the Irwins.
One of Steve's dreams was to open up an African section in the Australia Zoo and the seeds planted more than 10 years ago have now come to fruition with the opening of Africa today.
As Terri describes how invaluable Africa will be to the legacy of Steve Irwin, and how hard managers and staff have worked to bring forward the opening date, we can hear Robert on his little motorbike going up and down one of the tracks.
She has a peek to watch him and Barry as Robert slows down to pass some of the ever-present emus.
Terri confirms that yes, in the plains where the cheetahs and rhinos and giraffes now roam at the zoo, Steve used to tie a teddy bear of Bindi's to the back of the bike and race up and down to keep the cheetahs active.
One day they were a little too fast and clipped the toy, which jammed into the spokes of the back wheel, sending Steve head over heels off the bike.
All was well though; he got up. The toy was sutured back to health on the operating table by some of the staff and given back to Bindi.
And the cheetahs?
Well, even to this day, Terri says they prick their ears and heads up when a motorbike enters the compound.
One can't help but wonder how emotional today will be for the Irwins, their family and friends, and perhaps a few cheetahs, when the new section of the zoo is opened.
The cameras will be there filming every moment, every smile and perhaps a tear or two.
As Terri says, whatever happens is okay, "we just want to honour him, not so much because of him but of what he stood for".
Or as his seven-year-old Robert succinctly puts it, "every day is an adventure... "
Rest assured this remarkable family will adapt easily from bush to city to help conserve our planet.
TERRI'S TOP TIPS TO SAVE THE PLANET
How you can help:
1. Put a pond in your garden. Introduce frogs.
2. Put a bird bath in your garden.
3. Feed the wildlife. Don't listen to those who say otherwise.
4. Get a bat box.
5. Plant native trees if you can. Birdwing butterfly vine.
And be careful of your waste and how you recycle. For example, snap t-bones in half before disposing so monitors/goannas in particular don't get them stuck in their throat.