Former Olympian Lisa Curry’s new memoir has revealed how crocodile hunter Steve Irwin lost the title of Australian of the Year over a controversial photo, with the Aussie swimmer expressing her regret over a “shemozzle that should never have happened”.

Curry was chair of the National Australia Day council in 2004,  when the decision to bestow the title on Irwin was overturned at the last minute and cricket star Steve Waugh received it instead.

The switch came amid outcry over a photograph of Irwin holding his then-baby Robert while feeding a crocodile at the family-run Australia Zoo in early 2004.

Despite telling Irwin he would be the recipient of the award, the council made the call in the belief that he could nominate again in a few years’ time – with no-one imagining Irwin would be fatally stung just two years later.

Speaking to News Corp papers, Curry said she would have made a different decision if faced with it today, and that she would award Irwin the award posthumously if that were possible.

“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’.”

The 59-year-old opened up about the controversy – and her life as an Olympian, motherhood and her relationships – in her memoir, Lisa: 60 years of Love, Life & Loss.

Amid never-before-told stories from her life and career Curry also wrote about the death of her daughter, Jaimi, and how she struggled with her grief in the years after.

As for the Steve Irwin “shemozzle”, Curry wrote that despite him losing out on the award, she wants his family to know he will always be a “worthy recipient”.

“Steve was aware that he’d won because, in those days, it was my job to ring the recipients and let them know,” she wrote.

“It was so hard to make a decision to take away somebody’s award, which they’d won fair and square.

“After speaking with Steve, it was agreed he would withdraw his nomination. He could renominate another year. Steve Waugh ended up winning it that year and he was a very good Australian of the Year for 2004. I don’t know whether he knew that Steve Irwin had been the first choice.

“I want (Steve’s) family to know that he was, and always will be, a worthy recipient of that award.”

To read the full Saturday Telegraph story, click here.

Images: @lisacurry (Instagram) / Getty Images

This article first appeared on OverSixty.