Ian Kiernan Remembered As Passionate, A 'Top Bloke', And 'On Right Side Of History'

Clean Up Australia founder Ian Kiernan is being remembered as an environmental pioneer, a "top bloke", and as someone who made a real difference to the world.

The lifelong environmentalist died age 78, after being diagnosed with cancer this August.

"His passion for our oceans, which started all of this for him, and Australia's coastal lifestyle in particular, is something I think struck a real chord with all Australians," said Prime Minister Scott Morrison, who said he'd met Kiernan on a number of occasions throughout his long life.

"I think what Ian did more than anything else was just tap us all on the shoulder and say hey, we've got to take care of this. This is our responsibility to do this. it's not government's, it's ours as Australians, it's our beautiful Australia and it's our job to keep it that way.

"For that, I want to say thank you, and I want to say thank you for what you've done for our country. And to his friends and family and loved ones, we express our deepest sympathies and condolences."

Ian Kiernan in Sydney in April 1995. Photo: Getty.

Labor's Tony Burke spoke of a similar sentiment, adding that he'll miss Kiernan's "leadership, strength and good humour".

"He made us realise the connections between local population and the health of our oceans and marine life," said Burke. "He was strong, principled, and on the right side of history."

Kiernan's spirit and many contributions to public life were remembered on Twitter, including the time he wrestled with an armed man who attempted to shoot at Prince Charles.

READ MORE: There Was No Finer Australian Than Ian Kiernan

"As I took him down, I saw that he'd dropped the firearm, so I thought 'well that's gone, but he might have a knife', so I cranked up the headlock a bit more," Kiernan later told Network Ten .

"I didn't think about it. I just knew we had to get this bloke, and we got him."

Journalist and comedian Craig Reucassel, who documented Australia's garbage problem with his three-part documentary series War on Waste, remembered Kiernan as a "pioneer".

The passionate sailor began his campaign to clean up Australia 30 years ago, after sailing through the Sargasso Sea and finding it teeming with rubbish.

He thought he'd get together with friends and organise a community clean up of Sydney Harbour, but some 40,000 people turned up and pulled 5,000 tonnes of rubbish from the water and shore.

In 1993, his 'simple idea' went global, and at its peak, more than 130 countries worldwide participated in the annual clean up day.

He received a Medal of the Order of Australia (OAM) in 1991, with the honour being upgraded to an Officer of the Order (AO) four years later. And in 1994, he was awarded the Australian of the Year.

"Fondly nicknamed by Phillip Adams, 'The Greatest Garbo since Greta', Ian Kiernan's greatest legacy is the creation of an informed, concerned, committed, and involved community -- sharing his passion for the safeguarding of our most precious asset, the environment," Clean Up Australia said.

"As we celebrate the 30th Anniversary of Ian's vision we will ask communities to band together in his honour, proud of what has been achieved, determined to continue his works."

Contact the author: abrucesmith@networkten.com.au

Lead photo: AAP