Many Australians learned of the death of Steve Irwin when they returned to their desks after lunch yesterday. As the news made its way from a remote reef to the mainland and then around the world, websites collapsed, blogs weighed in, Google was flooded, the Irwin entry in Wikipedia was hotly debated, and the reef where Irwin died was pinpointed on Google Earth. By 3pm, the tasteless photoshopped images were already landing in inboxes, perhaps even before Irwin’s wife had been informed of his death. Crikey has put together a working timeline.

Approx 11am: As Irwin is shooting a documentary on dangerous marine life in shallow water at Batt Reef, about 32 nautical miles offshore, he swims above a 2.5m stingray before it turns on him and sends a poisonous barb through his heart. He is pronounced dead at approximately 12pm by Queensland Rescue Service officers.  

Approx 2pm: News.com.au is apparently the first news outlet to break the story. Soon after, thousands of international fans swamp Australian news websites in numbers not seen since the London bombings last year or April’s Beaconsfield mine collapse. 

Approx 2pm: At the same time, Irwin’s Wikipedia entry is updated to include his death, amendments begin as Wikipedians argue with each other over whether the rumour is true or not. 

Approx 2.10pm: Breaking news scrolls across Sky News program.

Approx 2.15pm: News hits Google.

Approx 2.30pm: Internet users checking that the rumour of Irwin’s death is not a hoax send several Australian news sites into meltdown for up to 30 minutes. First site to go down is www.news.com.au, followed by www.ninemsn.com.au. Also struggling to keep up were the Fairfax sites www.smh.com.au and www.theage.com.au.

Approx 2.30pm: ABC Online news includes link to Google Earth pinpointing where Irwin died.

Approx 3.00pm: US TV network CBS posts the news. News is reported promptly on news outlets globally, including the al-Jazeera network and the BBC, where hundreds of reader tributes poured in from Bangalore to Rome.

Approx 4pm: PM pays tribute to Irwin after learning of the death during Question Time. 

Approx 6pm: Blogs like Larvatus Prodeo, The Kill File,  Fop, The Pigs are Flying!, The Corner, National Review Online, and The Huffington Post begin to weigh in.

Approx 6pm: Discovery Communications posts a statement mourning the loss of Irwin.  

6pm: The Irwin story leads the news programs.

6.30pm: Today Tonight and A Current Affair air hastily-put-together tributes. According to Glenn Dyer, ratings were boosted across all channels by the news of Irwin’s death (for further detail, see Media briefs and TV ratings).

Approx 8pm: Tributes pour in to the ABC website from around the world.

Approx 9.30pm: By late last night, almost 700 people, from Mexico to Romania and Norway, had written messages of tribute on The Australian‘s website. 

Approx 9.30pm: Andrew Denton’s Enough Rope replays an old interview with Irwin in tribute.

Approx 10pm: Irwin’s IMDB profile is updated.

12.48am – Crikey reader Kayt Davies writes: “It’s Monday night and my teenager is talking to his friends on msn, he’s connected to about 200 kids, and their respective networks spread wider. Someone suggested putting little reptile emot-icons in their screen names as a mark of respect for Steve. First one, then two followed, then fifteen, and up to fifty in minutes, soon almost all. I wonder how fast this is spreading through the innumerable other branches of Australia’s kids msn chat networks, how many kids will add a reptile to their name as a salute, in their language, to someone they respect.”

This morning: The Oz and The Daily Tele devote their editorials to Irwin, gory death descriptions like The Daily Mail’s UK effort are posted and hyperbolic tributes flood in from around the world, as details of footage of Irwin’s death surface.

Peter Fray

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