Even as a baby, Bindi Irwin seemed to be leaning forward, giving Australia the thumbs up.
Foreigners have a very specific idea about how Australian kids grow up: with lizards in our beds and kangaroos to ride to school. Bindi Irwin, and later her brother Baby Bob, seemed to live that mythical life at their family’s zoo on the Sunshine Coast.
Named after her father’s favourite crocodile and the family dog, Bindi was born into a family that lived a deeply unique, very public life.
While Australia Zoo had been run by the Irwins for a couple of generations, it wasn’t until Steve Irwin started making wildlife documentaries that the family’s national profile took off. Bindi was just two when she made her debut on one of her dad’s shows, but she soon became a very visual part of the Irwin brand. A confident little girl with her mum’s blunt fringe and her dad’s swagger, she soon had her own TV shows and specials.
Bindi was just eight years old, when Steve Irwin was killed on one of his wildlife adventures, and Bindi took over as the public face of the Irwin brand.
Bindi the Little Girl was very much a part of Australian popular culture in the early 2000s. And like Nikki Webster and Tina Arena before her, our country was not really prepared for our iconic little girls to become teenagers, with all of the awkwardness that comes with that. When these famous little girls grow up, they either fall off our radar or become the butt of cruel jokes. Teenaged Bindi experienced both.
Just a few months ago, Bindi joined the American version of Dancing with the Stars — a TV concept originally from Australia. Week after week, it was her personality as much as her dancing that scored big with the judges and fans.
With the Americans going wild for her, Australians caught up. Suddenly Bindi was back. Our Bindi. We’re watching all of her dances and her moving interviews about her father.
Today, Australians have celebrated with her and her American fans. She’s done a sensational job and deserves every minute.
The moment Bindi took home the prize:
But it’s interesting to reflect that six months ago she probably wouldn’t have had her photo taken on an Australian red carpet – unless it was to mock an outfit choice. Flash-forward to today and she’s leading news bulletins and social media feeds.
After years of hard work in the entertainment industry, it has taken American success to make her Our Bindi again.
It’s something Steve Irwin knew well. For years he was relatively unknown in Australia, but when his overseas profile grew, Australia caught the Irwin Fever. American success made him an Australian superstar.
Think too about Jarryd Hayne. Certainly, he was popular in NRL circles before he went to the US, but the day he ran on for the San Francisco 49ers, he became red hot Australian property. People in Australia who had never taken an interest in NRL were suddenly talking about Jarryd Hayne’s amazing story.
For actors, sports stars and musicians – conquering the US is still considered The Big One. When Americans love our exports, then they become so much more popular at home. No longer a daggy local soapy star or an Australian Idol contestant, if America loves you, you are finally hot property. It seems so counter-intuitive, but to mangle a famous tune: If you can make it there, you can make it here.
Is it that Americans are much better at spotting and celebrating Australian talent than we are? Or is this just another manifestation of our seemingly unparalleled ability to cut down Tall Poppies?
We don’t like getting beaten by America in any competition – and yet we seem happy to let them beat us to recognising our brightest stars.
The US shouldn’t have to show us how to celebrate our own people – and it should never have taken an American talent show to bring Bindi Irwin back into our hearts.