Bob Irwin was born in Melbourne, Victoria. He married Lyn, a maternity nurse who died in a single automobile accident in 2000. Together, they had three children, a daughter, Joy, son Stephen (Steve) (who died in 2006), and second daughter, Mandy. While Irwin made a living as a plumber, and Lyn as a maternity nurse, the family's consuming passion was rescuing and rehabilitating local wildlife. Steve Irwin, the couple's middle child, would not only come to fulfill the roles of curator and director of the Beerwah Reptile Park, but also produce and star in his highly popular educational documentary series, The Crocodile Hunter. Steve would enlarge the park to its present size of 72 acres (29 ha) and rename the park the Australia Zoo.
Steve Irwin wrote on his website:
What a childhood! My mum was the Mother Teresa of wildlife rehabilitation. Our house was a giant maternity ward fair smack-dab in the middle of the Beerwah Reptile Park. It was nothing for us kids to be sharing our house with orphaned joey kangaroos, sugar gliders, ringtail or brushtail possums, koala joeys, baby birds and untold amounts of other injured Australian animals. What a wild menagerie, and an exceptional household to be raised in.
Steve Irwin died in 2006. While filming a documentary, he swam too close to a stingray, which pierced his heart with its barb, and Steve died from his injuries and blood loss.
Irwin has since remarried to Judy, and was Queensland's Grandfather of the Year in 2008. Bob and Judy live on a rural property near Kingaroy, from where Bob continues to campaign for wildlife and environmental conservation through his foundation Bob Irwin Wildlife & Conservation Foundation Inc.
Irwin was a successful plumber from Melbourne who, in addition, had also spent time building sheds and houses. His career in animal conservation began in 1970, when Irwin moved his family from Essendon, located west of Melbourne, Australia, to Queensland.
He had decided to turn his love for animals from a hobby into a career and purchased 4 acres (16,000 m2) of land to construct a wildlife refuge. As a builder, Irwin personally turned his hand to building and designing the Beerwah Reptile Park. Irwin dedicated so much time to constructing the Reptile Park and the enclosures that, for the first years in their new life of exhibiting native fauna, the Irwins lived in an old RV caravan. Irwin would build a shed, and then the Irwin house, which the Irwin family and Bob Irwin lived in until Bob gave the wildlife park to son, Steve Irwin.
"The family home was itself a mini zoo and wildlife hospital," said son, Steve Irwin, on his website, "With makeshift marsupial 'pouches' slung over the backs of chairs and snakes stashed everywhere. Later, the park would be significantly expanded to cover 72 acres (29 ha)."
Irwin's memoir, The Last Crocodile Hunter: A Father and Son Legacy, was released on 25 October 2016.
On 2 March 2008, it was announced that Bob Irwin had resigned from Australia Zoo in order to "keep his son's dream alive". He thanked all the zoo staff for all their support with the notable exception of his daughter-in-law, Terri Irwin, with whom, according to zoo staff and volunteers, Irwin had an ongoing feud over treatment of staff, management of Wildlife Warriors and the commercial direction of the world-famous attraction.
Irwin also resigned from his role as manager of Ironbark Station at Blackbutt where he lived, moving to a new 240-hectare (590-acre) property surrounded by forest and national park between Kingaroy and Murgon where he would continue his son's conservation work.
Irwin's foresight and innovation in captive care, breeding, and handling of native Australian animals set a new benchmark for wildlife welfare in Australia. Irwin was noted in the conservation sector for utilizing non-violent capture techniques which were then largely unemployed, such as proximity lassoing, hooding, trapping, and netting instead of the more common tranquilizers, chains, or other potentially harmful methods. Irwin would also come to strike bargains with the government, catching problematic or intruding crocodiles in Queensland and in return bringing them to the Reptile Park. Irwin, later aided by son Steve, personally caught and raised every crocodile in the Reptile Park, ultimately tallying over 100 crocodiles.
On 1 July 2011, Bob Irwin announced he was considering challenging Labor incumbent Kate Jones and Liberal National Party leader Campbell Newman for the seat of Ashgrove in Brisbane. On 5 September 2011, it was reported that Irwin had become disenchanted with politics and felt he could best carry on his passion for animal conservation and fight against the coal seam gas industry from outside of the political arena.
On 12 April 2011, Bob Irwin was arrested and charged for contravening police direction as part of his actions against the Queensland Gas Company. He faced court in May 2011.