Steve Irwin, the world-famous wildlife advocate, was nominated for Australian of the Year, but the decision was overturned at the last minute, and the award was given to cricketer Steve Waugh.
Former Olympian Lisa Curry, who was chair of the National Australia Day Council at the time in 2004, made the shocking disclosure in her memoir.
Mr Irwin, the much-loved “Crocodile Hunter,” was pictured cradling his then-baby son Robert while feeding a croc at the Irwin family’s Australia Zoo, prompting a media and public backlash.
The council, which bestows Australia’s highest honour and had already informed Mr Irwin that he would be the recipient, decided to change course in the hope that he would be able to nominate again in a few years.
Mr Irwin was tragically attacked by a ray in 2006, and tragedy intervened before that could happen.
Ms Curry said she would make a different conclusion today – and that if it were feasible, she would give Mr Irwin the prise posthumously – in an exclusive interview with the Saturday Telegraph.
“It was such a shemozzle that should never have happened,’’ she said. “Today, I would have just said ‘no, we are going ahead with it’.
“Sometimes you do things to please people, to please the media or the public, and these days I’d go ‘No. This is what we are doing. The person deserves it and it’s going to stand.”