The Irwin family has been left reeling this week after Bindi Irwin accused her grandfather Bob Irwin of “psychological abuse”.
The whole thing kicked off on Sunday when Bindi posted snaps of the “three most incredible fathers in [her] life,”: her late father Steve, her husband, Chandler Powell, and her father-in-law in tribute for the US Father’s Day, celebrated on June 20.
When a commenter asked why she chose to leave Steve’s father–Bindi’s grandfather–out of the mix, Bindi didn’t hold back.
In an uncharacteristically candid and lengthy response, Bindi wrote that although she wished her “entire family” could spend time with her three-month-old daughter Grace, her “grandfather Bob [had] shown no interest in spending time with [her] or [her] family”.
“Publicly he continues to claim that he wants to spend time with us while privately my entire life has been psychological abuse from him,” she said, noting that he had “returned gifts” she’d sent, after opening them.
“From the time I was a little girl he has ignored me, preferring to spend time doing anything else rather than being with me,” she wrote. “He has never said a single kind word to me personally.”
Bindi went on to say that although it “breaks [her] heart” to not have a relationship with her grandfather, “it is not healthy to engage in an abusive relationship”.
Noting that mother Terri Irwin “still writes to him… with no response”, Bindi added: “We have also been his financial support since 1992 when he retired from Australia Zoo, sending him funds every week.
“We built him a house on a beautiful property and will always do our best to ensure his well-being. I want Bob’s happiness in life but I cannot be victim to his mental abuse anymore.
“I hope everyone remembers to be kind to one another but most of all care for your own mental health. I have struggled with this relationship my entire life and it brings me enormous pain. I have to choose to care for my own mental health now.”
Although this kind of public denouncement is rare for Bindi, this isn’t the first we’ve heard of her immediate family’s estrangement from Bob, which dates back to March 2008, when Bob Irwin left Australia Zoo just 18 months after Steve’s death.
Rumour has it that Bob and Terri had a falling out over the direction the zoo was going after Steve’s death, and although Australia Zoo denied there was any rift within the family, Bob all confirmed it in a 2008 interview with Australian Story.
“I just felt that it was better for everybody concerned if I left Australia Zoo and Judy and I and all our friends were able to continue Steve’s work the way I believe it should be done,” he said.
“The problem I had was that the management and I didn’t agree on certain aspects of Australia Zoo after Steve’s passing… because most times I went into Australia Zoo, I would have a different sort of opinion with somebody… or I may have an idea and it would not be listened to.”
In 2015, Bindi revealed on the Australian Academy of Cinema and Television Arts Awards (AACTA) red carpet that she had not spoken to Bob since 2008.
“Everyone deals with grief differently. When my dad passed away, he [Bob] chose to distance himself from everything that Dad loved the most,” she said.
“At the moment we are really just respecting his wishes because he hasn’t had anything to do with us for a long time, and he decided to take his own path. That’s important, so good for him.”
As her Facebook post made waves among fans and the media alike, however, family members and people who know Bob have been rushing to defend him.
Steve’s younger sister and Bob’s daughter Mandy Johnstone told the Daily Telegraph: “the whole situation sucks”.
“Dad is the most amazing father, grandfather and great grandfather,” she said, adding: “He always said to watch out for humans, they’re the ones that can be nasty. Stephen said the same. Why can’t people just leave him alone and let him live his life.”
Mandy’s step-daughter, Bethany Wheeler, agreed with her step-mum. In her own lengthy Facebook post, Bethany wrote that “the time [had] come to speak up”.
“I read some absolutely appalling comments by Bindi today!” she exclaimed, encouraging people to share the post.
Bethany said that the family “have all been silent and… have all felt sick reading the lies for too long”.
Of Bob, who she calls “Poppy”, Bethany had this to say: “Poppy is the most genuinely beautiful human on this planet and has NEVER spoken out or put down anybody!!
“He is a man who sits silently and battles his demons alone, in what is great sadness.
“He doesn’t retaliate, only prays for his grandchildren’s safety and good lives,” she wrote, adding that she’d “been given absolute love, respect, support and encouragement” from him, calling him an inspiration.
“My sisters and brothers will happily back me up when I say that Bob Irwin is a passive and beautiful human and these lies need to stop,” she added, concluding: “I love you Poppy more then you’ll ever know.”
Another granddaughter, Toni Johnstone also disputed Bindi’s version of events, calling it “far from the truth”.
“Poppy is the most caring, loving, beautiful soul and I am so incredibly lucky to have him as my grandfather,” she said.
“The fact that Bindi could write such horrible things about him and think that anyone would believe them just puzzles me.”
Entertainment Reporter Peter Ford told Sunrise that when he reached out to Bob and his wife Judy over the weekend, Judy was “shellshocked” by the allegations.
“They’re not on social media, so they were not aware of what was going on at all, I think they were pretty shocked and devastated,” he said. “That’s just the feeling I got. They didn’t say that to me and they did not come back and offer any kind of reply or response.”
Amanda French, who co-wrote Bob’s 2016 autobiography The Last Crocodile Hunter, confirmed in a Facebook post that Bob had been “devastated to his core” by the news.
“Unbeknownst to you, and what you know, he is suffering deeply for the loss of his family … He has done all he knows how to do and that is bury his head in the sand because that’s how he copes,” she wrote, adding: “This should be a private matter not written about on Facebook”.
As people rushed to Bob’s defence, Bindi posted a cryptic quote to her Instagram that said “I don’t think people realise how much strength it takes to pull yourself out of a dark place mentally. So if you’ve done that today, or any day, I’m proud of you.”
Shortly thereafter, Bindi announced she was taking a social media break to focus on spending time with her daughter.
Thanking her followers for their support, Bindi wrote that she feels “tremendously grateful” to be able to share her life and work with her fans, but that she needed “some time to focus on the happiness that is [her] family (both human and animal)”.
She went on to say that she’d “Recently… had many people reaching out to share their own stories of working hard to protect their mental health” and thanked them for “sharing and speaking [their] truth”.
“To my friends who are dealing with depression, anxiety and other battles every day – I see you,” she wrote. “These issues are very real and deserve to be discussed and addressed.
“Surround yourself with the light of people who genuinely care about you and will support you during the good times and the hard times.”
Imploring people to make use of the helplines available, she finished: “Mental health deserves more understanding and support instead of being dismissed or patronised. You are absolutely worthy of love and kindness.”
If you or anyone you know is struggling and needs support, call Kids Helpline on 1800 55 1800 or Lifeline on 13 11 14, both of which provide trained counsellors you can talk with 24/7. You can also speak with someone confidentially at Headspace by calling 1800 650 890 or chat online here. If you are in immediate danger, call 000.