Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Farewell to Crocodile Hunter

As expected, there was one empty seat at Irwin's personal stadium - the one set aside for the late and hugely popular "Crocodile Hunter" himself. On the stage sat Irwin's widow, American-born Terri, and their two children, Bindi, 8, and Bob, 2 - all dressed in Irwin's favored khaki outfit. It was their first public appearance since Irwin's death.

"Please do not grieve for Steve, he's at peace now," said Steve's father, Bob Irwin. "Grieve for the animals. They have lost the best friend they ever had, and so have I."

Later, Bindi Irwin told the crowd at the ceremony that she had the "best daddy in the world."

"I will miss him every day," she said.

Flags on the Sydney Harbor Bridge flew Wednesday at half-staff, and giant television screens were set up in Irwin's home state of Queensland for people to watch the service. Three of Australia's main television networks carried the hour-long ceremony, which was made available to U.S. and international networks and which family officials said could be watched by as many as 300 million people.

One of Irwin's favorite Australian country singers, John Williamson, sang one of the naturalist's favorite songs, "True Blue."

At the end of the ceremony, Irwin's utility vechicle, packed with camping gear and his favorite surfboard, was driven from the stadium - through an honor guard of Australia Zoo employees - to an encore singing of "True Blue."

After the truck left the stadium, a group of employees spelled out Irwin's catchword "Crikey" in yellow flowers on the ground.

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