Real Life Horror: The Port Arthur Massacre

The Port Arthur massacre of 28–29 April 1996 was a mass shooting in which 35 people were killed and 23 wounded in Port Arthur, Tasmania.

Martin Bryant was born on May 17, 1967, in Tasmania, Australia. He was the first son of Maurice and Carleen Bryant. Although the family home was located at 65 Augusta Road in Lenah Valley, Tasmania, Bryant spent some of his childhood at their beach home in Carnarvon Bay. In a 2011 interview, his mother recalled that while Bryant was very young, she would often find his toys broken and that he was an “annoying” and “different” child. A psychologist’s view was that Bryant would never hold down a job as he would aggravate people to such an extent that he would always be in trouble. Locals recall abnormal behaviour by Bryant, such as pulling the snorkel from another boy while diving and cutting down trees on a neighbour’s property. He was described by teachers as being distant from reality and unemotional. At school Bryant was a disruptive and sometimes violent child who suffered severe bullying by other children. After he was suspended from New Town Primary School in 1977, psychological assessments noted his torturing of animals. Bryant returned to school the following year with improved behaviour; however, he persisted in teasing younger children. He was transferred to a special education unit at New Town High School in 1980, where he deteriorated both academically and behaviourally throughout his remaining school years.

Descriptions of Bryant’s behaviour as an adolescent show that he continued to be disturbed and outlined the possibility of an intellectual disability. When leaving school in 1983, he was assessed for a disability pension by a psychiatrist who wrote: “Cannot read or write. Does a bit of gardening and watches TV … Only his parents’ efforts prevent further deterioration. Could be schizophrenic and parents face a bleak future with him.” Bryant received a disability pension, though he also worked as a handyman and gardener. In an examination after the massacre, forensic psychiatrist Ian Joblin found Bryant to be borderline mentally disabled, with an I.Q. of 66, equivalent to an 11-year-old.

While awaiting trial, Bryant was examined by court-appointed psychiatrist Ian Sale, who was of the opinion that Bryant “could be regarded as having shown a mixture of conduct disorder, attention deficit hyperactivity and a condition known as Asperger syndrome”. Psychiatrist Paul Mullen, hired at the request of Bryant’s legal counsel, found that Bryant was socially and intellectually impaired. Furthermore, finding that he did not display signs of schizophrenia or a mood disorder, Mullen concluded, “Though Mr Bryant was clearly a distressed and disturbed young man, he was not mentally ill.” Bryant was eventually diagnosed with Asperger syndrome while incarcerated at Risdon Prison.

In early 1987, when Bryant was 19, he met 54-year-old Helen Mary Elizabeth Harvey, heiress to a share in the Tattersall’s lottery fortune, while looking for new customers for his lawnmowing service. Harvey, who lived with her mother Hilza, befriended Bryant, who became a regular visitor to her neglected mansion at 30 Clare Street, New Town, and assisted with tasks such as feeding the fourteen dogs living inside the house and the forty cats living inside her garage. In June 1990, someone reported Harvey to the health authorities, and medics found both Harvey and her mother in need of urgent hospital treatment. Hilza Harvey died several weeks later at the age of 79. A clean up order was placed on the mansion, and Bryant’s father took long-service leave to assist in cleaning the interior. Harvey now invited Bryant to live with her in the mansion, and they began spending large amounts of money, which included the purchase of more than thirty new cars in less than three years. The couple began to spend most days shopping, usually after having lunch in a local restaurant. Around this time, Bryant was reassessed for his pension and a note was attached to the paperwork: “Father protects him from any occasion which might upset him as he continually threatens violence … Martin tells me he would like to go around shooting people. It would be unsafe to allow Martin out of his parents’ control”.

In 1991, as a result of no longer being allowed to have animals at the house, Harvey and Bryant moved together onto a 29-hectare (72-acre) farm called Taurusville that she had purchased at 2340 Arthur Highway, Copping, a small township. Neighbours recalled that Bryant always carried an air gun and often fired it at tourists as they stopped to buy apples at a stall on the highway, and that late at night would roam through the surrounding properties firing the gun at dogs when they barked at him. They avoided him “at all costs” despite his attempts to befriend them. On 20 October 1992, Harvey was killed when her car veered to the wrong side of the road and hit an oncoming car directly. Bryant was inside the vehicle at the time of the accident and was hospitalised for seven months with severe neck and back injuries. He was briefly investigated by police for the role he played in the accident, as Bryant had a known habit of lunging for the steering wheel, and Harvey had already had three accidents as a result. She often told people that this was the reason she never drove faster than 60 kilometres an hour (37 mph). Bryant was named the sole beneficiary of Harvey’s will and came into possession of assets totalling more than $550,000. As Bryant had only the “vaguest notions” of financial matters, his mother subsequently applied for and was granted a guardianship order, placing Bryant’s assets under the management of Public Trustees. The order was based on evidence of Bryant’s diminished intellectual capacity.

After Harvey’s death, Bryant’s father Maurice looked after the Copping farm. Bryant returned to the family home to convalesce after leaving hospital. Maurice had been prescribed antidepressants and had discreetly transferred his joint bank account and utilities into his wife’s name. Two months later, on 14 August 1993, a visitor looking for Maurice at the Copping property found a note saying “call the police” pinned to the door and found several thousand dollars in his car. The rates officer at the time found no reason to suspect criminal intent, and sent council members and police to quell the stresses put forward by letters sent to the local council chambers. Police searched the property for Maurice without success. Divers were called in to search the four dams on the property, and on 16 August, his body was found in the dam closest to the farmhouse with a diving weight belt around his neck. Police described the death as “unnatural”, and it was ruled a suicide. Bryant inherited the proceeds of his father’s superannuation fund, valued at $250,000.

Bryant sold the Copping farm for $143,000 and kept the New Town mansion. While living at Copping, the white overalls he habitually wore were replaced with clothing more in line with Harvey’s financial status. Now that he was alone, Bryant’s dress became more bizarre; he often wore a grey linen suit, cravat, lizard-skin shoes and a Panama hat while carrying a briefcase during the day, telling anyone who would listen that he had a well-paying career. He often wore an electric-blue suit with flared trousers and a ruffled shirt to the restaurant he frequented. The restaurant owner recalled: “It was horrible. Everyone was laughing at him, even the customers. I really felt suddenly quite sorry for him. I realised this guy didn’t really have any friends”.

With both his father and Harvey dead, Bryant became increasingly lonely. From 1993 to late 1995, he visited various overseas countries fourteen times and a summary of his domestic airline travel filled three pages. Bryant hated the destinations he travelled to, as he found that people there avoided him just as they did in Tasmania. He enjoyed the flights, as he could speak to the people sitting adjacent to him who had no choice but to be polite. He later took great joy in describing some of the more successful conversations he had with fellow passengers. In late 1995, Bryant became suicidal after deciding he had “had enough”. He stated, “I just felt more people were against me. When I tried to be friendly toward them, they just walked away”. Although he had previously been little more than a social drinker, Bryant’s alcohol consumption increased and, although he had not consumed any alcohol on that day, had especially escalated in the six months prior to the Port Arthur massacre. His average daily consumption was estimated at half a bottle of Sambuca and a bottle of Baileys Irish Cream, supplemented with port wine and other sweet alcoholic drinks. According to Bryant, he thought the plan for Port Arthur may have first occurred to him four to twelve weeks before the event.

Bryant has provided conflicting and confused accounts of what led him to kill thirty-five people at the Port Arthur site on 28 April 1996. It could have been his desire for attention, as he allegedly told a next-door neighbour, “I’ll do something that will make everyone remember me.” Bryant’s defence psychiatrist Paul Mullen, former chief of forensic psychiatry at Monash University, said, “He followed Dunblane. His planning started with Dunblane. Before that he was thinking about suicide, but Dunblane and the early portrayal of the killer, Thomas Hamilton, changed everything.” Bryant’s first victims, David and Noelene Martin, owned the bed and breakfast guest house called Seascape. The Martins had bought the bed and breakfast that Bryant’s father had wanted to buy, and his father had complained to him on numerous occasions of the damage done to Bryant’s family because of that purchase. Bryant apparently believed the Martins had deliberately bought the property to hurt his family and blamed the Martins for the depression that led to his father’s death. He fatally shot the Martins in the guest house before travelling to the Port Arthur site.

The events of this day were pieced together after investigation by police, then presented in court on 19 November 1996. Bryant awoke at 06:00, notable to his family as he was not known to do so due to a lack of commitments. Two hours later, his girlfriend left the house to visit her parents. According to the home security system, Bryant left the house at 09:47. Bryant travelled to Forcett, arriving some time around 11:00 a.m. He continued to Port Arthur and was seen driving into Seascape down the Arthur Highway around 11:45 a.m. He stopped at the Seascape guest accommodation site that his father had wanted to purchase, owned by David and Noelene Martin. Bryant went inside and fired several shots, then gagged and stabbed David Martin. Witnesses testified to different numbers of shots fired at this time. It was stated in court that it was believed that this was the time that Bryant killed the Martins, his first two victims. A couple stopped at Seascape and Bryant met them outside. When they asked if they could have a look at the accommodation, Bryant told them that they could not because his parents were away and his girlfriend was inside. His demeanour was described as quite rude and the couple felt uncomfortable. They left at about 12:35 p.m.

Bryant drove to Port Arthur, taking the keys to the Seascape properties after locking the doors. Bryant stopped at a car which had pulled over due to overheating and talked with two people there. He suggested that they come to the Port Arthur café for some coffee later. He travelled past the Port Arthur historic site towards a Palmer’s Lookout Road property owned by the Martins, where he came across Roger Larner. Larner had met him on some occasions more than 15 years previously. Bryant told Larner he had been surfing and had bought a property called Fogg Lodge and was now looking to buy some cattle from Larner. Bryant also made several comments about buying the Martins’ place next door. He asked if Marian Larner was home and asked if he could continue down the driveway of the farm to see her. Larner said OK but told Bryant he would come also. “Bryant then responded that he might go to Nubeena first” and he was going to return in the afternoon.

At around 1:10 p.m., Bryant paid the entry fee for the site and proceeded to park near the Broad Arrow Café, near the water’s edge. The site security manager told him to park with the other cars because that area was reserved for camper-vans and the car park was busy that day. Bryant moved his car to another area and sat in his car for a few minutes. He then moved his car back near the water, outside the café. The security manager saw him go up to the café carrying a “sports-type bag” and a video camera, but ignored him. Bryant went into the café and purchased a meal, which he ate on the deck outside. He attempted to start conversations with people about the lack of “WASPs” (White Anglo-Saxon Protestants) in the area and there not being as many Japanese tourists as usual. He appeared nervous and “quite regularly” looked back to the car-park and into the café. Bryant finished his meal and returned his tray to the café. He put his bag down on a table and pulled out of it a Colt AR-15 SP1 Carbine with a Colt scope and one 30-round magazine attached. It is believed the Colt magazine was partially emptied from the shootings at Seascape. The café was very small, and was particularly busy that day as many people waited for the next ferry. Bryant pointed his rifle to the table beside him, fatally shooting Moh Yee (William) Ng and Sou Leng Chung, who were visiting from Malaysia. Bryant then fired a shot at Mick Sargent, grazing his scalp and knocking him to the floor. He then fatally shot Sargent’s girlfriend, 21-year-old Kate Elizabeth Scott, hitting her in the back of the head.

A 28-year-old New Zealand winemaker, Jason Winter, had been helping the busy café staff. As Bryant turned towards Winter’s wife Joanne and their 15-month-old son Mitchell, Winter threw a serving tray at Bryant in an attempt to distract him. Joanne Winter’s father pushed his daughter and grandson to the floor and under the table. 44-year-old Anthony Nightingale stood up after the sound of the first shots. Nightingale yelled “No, not here!” as Bryant pointed the weapon at him. As Nightingale leaned forward, he was fatally shot through the neck and spine. Bryant fired one shot that killed Kevin Vincent Sharp, 68. He then fired another shot at Walter Bennett, 66, which passed through his body and struck Raymond John Sharp, 67, Kevin Sharp’s brother, killing both. The three had their backs towards Bryant, and were unaware what was happening . The shots were all at close range. Gerald Broome, Gaye Fidler and her husband John Fidley were all struck by bullet fragments, but survived. Bryant then turned towards Tony and Sarah Kistan and Andrew Mills. Andrew Mills was shot in the head. Tony Kistan was also shot from about two metres away, also in the head, but had managed to push his wife away prior to being shot. Sarah Kistan was apparently not seen by Bryant, as she was under the table by that time. Thelma Walker and Pamela Law were injured by fragments before being dragged to the ground by their friend, Peter Crosswell, as the three sheltered underneath the table. Also injured by fragments from these shots was Patricia Barker.

Bryant moved just a few metres and began shooting at the table where Graham Colyer, Carolyn Loughton and her daughter Sarah were seated. Colyer was shot in the jaw. Sarah Loughton ran towards her mother, who had been moving between tables. Carolyn Loughton threw herself on top of her daughter. Bryant shot Carolyn Loughton in the back; her eardrum was ruptured by the muzzle blast from the gun going off beside her ear. Despite her efforts, Sarah had been fatally shot in the head. Bryant pivoted around and fatally shot Mervyn Howard. The bullet passed through him, through a window of the café, and hit a table on the outside balcony. Bryant then fatally shot Mervyn Howard’s wife, Mary Howard in the head and neck. Bryant was near the exit, preventing others from attempting to run past him and escape. Bryant moved across the café towards the gift shop area. As Bryant moved, Robert Elliott stood up. He was shot in the arm and head, though survived his injuries. From the first shot, all of these events took approximately fifteen seconds, during which Bryant fired seventeen shots, killed twelve people, and wounded ten more.

Bryant moved towards the gift shop area, giving many people time to hide under tables and behind shop displays. He fatally shot the two local women who worked in the gift shop: 17-year-old Nicole Burgess, in the head, and 26-year-old Elizabeth Howard, in the arm and chest. Coralee Lever and Vera Jary hid behind a hessian (burlap) screen with others. Lever’s husband Dennis was fatally shot in the head. Pauline Masters, Vera Jary’s husband Ron, and Peter and Carolyn Nash had attempted to escape through a locked door but could not open it. Peter Nash lay down on top of his wife to hide her from the gunman. Gwen Neander, trying to make it to the door, was shot in the head and killed. Bryant saw movement in the café and moved near the front door. He shot at a table and hit Peter Crosswell, who was hiding under it, in the buttock. Jason Winter, hiding in the gift shop, thought Bryant had left the building and made a comment about it to people near him before moving out into the open. Bryant saw him, with Winter stating “No, no” just prior to being shot, the bullet hitting his hand, neck and chest. Winter was then fatally shot in the head. Fragments from those shots struck American tourist Dennis Olson, who had been hiding with his wife Mary and Winter. Dennis Olson suffered fragment injuries to his hand, scalp, eye and chest, but survived. It is not immediately clear what happened next, although at some point, Bryant reloaded his weapon. Bryant walked back to the café and then returned to the gift shop, where he fatally shot Ronald Jary, Peter Nash, and Pauline Masters. He did not see Carolyn Nash, who was lying under her husband. Bryant aimed his gun at an unidentified Asian man, but the rifle’s magazine was empty. Bryant then moved to the gift shop counter, where he reloaded his rifle, leaving an empty magazine on the service counter, and left the building. Bryant killed eight people after moving to the gift shop, and wounded two others. In the café and gift shop combined, he fired twenty-nine shots, killed twenty people, and wounded twelve more.

During the café shooting, some staff members had been able to escape through the kitchen and alerted people outside. There were a number of coaches outside with lines of people, many of whom began to hide in the buses or in nearby buildings. Others did not understand the situation or were unsure where to go. Some people believed there was some sort of historical re-enactment happening, and moved towards the area. Ashley John Law, a site employee, was moving people away from the café into the information centre when Bryant fired at him from 50–100 metres away, missing. Bryant then moved towards the coaches. One of the coach drivers, Royce Thompson, was shot in the back as he was moving along the passengers’ side of a coach. He fell to the ground and was able to crawl under the bus, but later died of his wounds. Brigid Cook was trying to guide people down between the buses and along the jetty area to cover. Bryant moved to the front of this bus and walked across to the next coach. People had quickly moved from this coach towards the back end, in an attempt to seek cover. As Bryant walked around it, he saw people trying to hide and shot at them. Brigid Cook was shot in the right thigh, causing the bone to fragment, the bullet lodging there. A coach driver, Ian McElwee, was hit by fragments of Cook’s bone. Both were able to escape and survived.

Bryant then quickly moved around another coach and fired at another group of people. Winifred Aplin, running to get to cover behind another coach, was fatally shot in the side. Another bullet grazed Yvonne Lockley’s cheek, but she was able to enter one of the coaches to hide, and survived. Some people then started moving away from the car park towards the jetty. However, someone shouted that Bryant was heading that way, so they doubled back around the coaches to where Brigid Cook had been shot. Bryant then moved to where Janet and Neville Quin, who owned a wildlife park on the east coast of Tasmania, were beginning to move away from the buses. Bryant shot Janet Quin in the back, where she fell, unable to move, near Royce Thompson. Bryant then continued along the car park as people tried to escape along the shore. Doug Hutchinson was attempting to get into a coach when he was shot in the arm. Hutchinson ran around the front of the coach, and then along the shore to the jetty and hid.

Bryant then went to his vehicle, which was just past the coaches, and changed to a self loading rifle. He fired at Denise Cromer, who was near the penitentiary ruins. Gravel flew up in front of her as the bullets hit the ground. Bryant then got in his car and sat there for a few moments before getting out again and going back to the coaches. Some people were taking cover behind cars in the car park, but they were still visible to Bryant. When they realised Bryant had seen them, they ran into the bush. He fired several shots, all of which missed. Bryant moved back to the buses where Janet Quin lay injured from the earlier shot. He then fatally shot her in the back. Bryant then went onto one of the coaches and fatally shot Elva Gaylard in the arm and chest. At an adjacent coach, Gordon Francis saw what happened and moved down the aisle to try to shut the door of the coach he was on. He was seen by Bryant and shot from the opposite coach. He survived, but needed four major operations. Neville Quin, husband of Janet, had escaped to the jetty area, but returned to look for his wife. He had been forced to leave her earlier after Bryant shot her. Bryant exited the coach and, spotting Quin, chased him around the coaches. Bryant fired at him at least twice before Quin ran onto a coach. Bryant entered the coach and pointed the gun at Neville Quin’s face, saying, “No one gets away from me”. Quin ducked when he realised Bryant was about to pull the trigger. The bullet missed his head but hit his neck, momentarily paralysing him. Neville Quin was taken away by helicopter and survived. Bryant fired at James Balasko, a U.S. citizen, hitting a nearby car. Balasko had been attempting to film the shooter. Many people, unable to use their parked cars, hid along Jetty Road. At this time, Bryant had killed 26 people and injured 18.

Bryant then got back into his car and left the car park. Witnesses say he was sounding the horn and waving as he drove. Bryant drove along Jetty Road towards the toll booth where people were running away. Bryant passed by at least two people. Ahead of him were Nanette Mikac and her children, Madeline, 3, and Alannah, 6. Nanette was carrying Madeline, and Alannah was running slightly ahead. By this point, they had run approximately 600 metres from the car park. Bryant opened his door and slowed down. Mikac moved towards the car, apparently thinking he was offering help. Bryant stepped out of the car, and told Nanette Mikac’s to get on her knees. She did so, and Bryant fatally shot her in the temple. He then fatally shot Madeline and Alannah. Bryant drove up to the toll booth, where there were several vehicles, and blocked a 1980 BMW 7 Series owned by Mary Rose Nixon. Inside were Nixon, driver Russell James Pollard and passengers Helene and Robert Graham Salzmann. An argument with Robert Salzmann ensued, and Bryant took out his rifle and fatally shot him. Pollard emerged from the BMW and moved towards Bryant before being fatally shot in the chest. Bryant then moved to the BMW and fatally shot Nixon and Helene Salzmann before removing them from the car. Bryant transferred ammunition, handcuffs, the AR-15 rifle and a fuel container to the BMW. Another car then came towards the toll booth and Bryant shot at it. The driver, Graham Sutherland, was hit with glass, but quickly reversed back up the road and left to alert a nearby service station as to what was happening. Bryant then got into the BMW, leaving behind his Volvo 244, including his Daewoo shotgun and hundreds of rounds of ammunition. At this point, Bryant had killed 33 and injured 19.

Bryant drove up to the service station and cut off a white Toyota Corolla that was attempting to exit onto the highway. Glenn Pears was driving, with girlfriend Zoe Hall in the passenger seat. Bryant quickly exited the car with his rifle in hand and tried to pull Hall from the car. Pears got out of the car and approached Bryant. Bryant pointed the gun at Pears and pushed him backwards, eventually directing him into the now open boot of the BMW, locking Pears inside. Bryant then moved back to the passenger side of the Corolla as Hall attempted to climb over to the driver’s seat. Bryant raised his rifle and fired three shots, killing her. Many people around the service station witnessed this and hid. The service station attendant told everyone to lie down and he locked the main doors. He grabbed his rifle, but by the time he could retrieve some ammunition and load his gun, Bryant had left in the BMW. A police officer arrived several minutes later and then set out in pursuit of Bryant. Zoe Hall was the 34th victim killed.

As Bryant drove down to Seascape, he shot at a red Ford Falcon coming the other way, smashing its front windscreen. Upon arriving at Seascape, he got out of his car. A Holden Frontera 4WD vehicle then approached Seascape along the road. Those in the vehicle saw Bryant with his gun, but believed him to be rabbit hunting and slowed down as they passed him. Bryant fired into the car; the first bullet hit the bonnet and broke the throttle cable. He fired at least twice more into the car as it passed, breaking the windows. One bullet hit the driver, Linda White, in the arm. Another vehicle then drove down the road, carrying four people. It was not until they were almost adjacent to Bryant that they realised he was carrying a gun. Bryant shot at the car, smashing the windscreen. Douglas Horner was wounded by pieces of the windscreen. The car proceeded ahead where White and Wanders tried to get in, but Horner did not realise the situation and drove on. When they saw that White had been shot, they came back and picked them up. Both parties then continued down to a local establishment called the Fox and Hound, where they called police. Yet another car drove past and Bryant shot at it, hitting the passenger, Susan Williams, in the hand. The driver, Simon Williams, was struck by fragments. The driver of another approaching vehicle saw this and reversed back up the road. Bryant also fired at this car, hitting it but not injuring anyone. Bryant then got back into the BMW and drove down the Seascape driveway to the house. Sometime after he stopped, Bryant removed Pears from the boot and handcuffed him to a stair rail within the house. At some point, he also set the BMW on fire. He is believed to have arrived at the house by about 2:00 p.m.

Bryant was captured the following morning, when a fire started in the guest house, presumably set by Bryant. Bryant taunted police to “come and get him”, but the police, believing the hostage was already dead, decided that the fire would eventually bring Bryant out. Bryant eventually ran out of the house with his clothes on fire, suffering burns to his back and buttocks. He was arrested and taken to Royal Hobart Hospital, where he was treated and kept under heavy guard. It was discovered that Glenn Pears had been shot during or before the standoff and had died before the fire. The remains of the Martins were also found. It was also determined they had been shot, and that Noelene Martin had suffered blunt-force trauma. They both died before the fire; witness accounts of the gunfire, as presented to the Supreme Court of Tasmania, place the time of death of David and Noelene Martin as being approximately noon on 28 April. One weapon was found burnt in the house, and the other on the roof of the adjacent building where police believed they had seen Bryant the night before. Both weapons had suffered from massive chamber blast pressure, possibly from the heat of the house fire.

Bryant was judged fit to stand trial, which was scheduled to begin on 7 November 1996. He initially pleaded not guilty but was persuaded by his court-appointed lawyer, John Avery, and the prosecution to plead guilty to all charges. Two weeks later, Hobart Supreme Court Judge William Cox gave Bryant thirty-five life sentences, plus 1,652 years in prison, without the possibility of parole, all of which is to be served concurrently; this life sentence being applied is “for the term of [his] natural life.” In a police interview, Bryant admitted to having carjacked the BMW, but claimed it only had three occupants and denied shooting any person. He also claimed he did not take the BMW from the vicinity of the toll booth and that his hostage was taken from the BMW. He said that he thought the man he took hostage must have died in the boot when the car exploded. He did not distinguish between the car fire and the later house fire. Such discrepancies raise speculations that Bryant was either lying during the police interview or was mentally incapable of recalling events accurately. Bryant also claimed that the guns found by police were not his but admitted to owning the shotgun that was found with his passport back in his own car near the toll booth.

For the first eight months of his imprisonment, Bryant was held in a purpose-built special suicide-prevention cell in almost complete solitary confinement. He remained in protective custody for his own safety until 13 November 2006, when he was moved into Hobart’s Wilfred Lopes Centre, a secure mental health unit run by the Tasmanian Department of Health and Human Services. The 35-bed unit for inmates with serious mental illness is staffed with doctors, nurses and other support workers. Inmates are not locked down and can come and go from their cells. Exterior security at the facility is provided by a three-wall perimeter patrolled by private contract guards. On 25 March 2007, Bryant attempted to end his life by slashing his wrist with a razor blade. On 27 March, he cut his throat with another razor blade and was hospitalised briefly. As of 2021, Bryant is housed in the maximum-security Risdon Prison near Hobart.

Newspaper coverage immediately after the Port Arthur massacre raised serious questions about journalistic practices, and criticism was directed toward Australian media. Photographs of Bryant published in The Australian had his eyes digitally manipulated with the effect of making him appear deranged and “glaring”. Despite criticism, the manipulated photographs continued to be used in media reporting a decade later. There were also questions as to how the photos had been obtained. The Tasmanian director of public prosecutions warned the media that the coverage compromised Bryant’s right to a fair trial and writs were issued against The Australian, the Hobart Mercury (which used Bryant’s picture under the headline “This is the man”), The Age and the ABC. The chairman of the Australian Press Council at the time, David Flint, argued that because Australian newspapers regularly ignored contempt-of-court provisions, this showed that the law, not the newspapers, needed change. Flint suggested that such a change in the law would not necessarily lead to trial by media. Australian newspapers also came under critical scrutiny of their accounts of Bryant and how the kind of identity responsible for his and other similar kinds of killing might be understood. In November 2020, it was announced that online streaming platform Stan would be filming a movie based in Geelong about Bryant’s life. This movie was not being filmed in Tasmania due to the raw feelings that still surround the massacre.

The Port Arthur tourist site reopened a few weeks after the event, and since then a new restaurant has been built. The former Broad Arrow Café structure is now a “place for quiet reflection”, with a monument and memorial garden dedicated at the site in April 2000. The Australian Journal of Emergency Management published several research articles on the response and the ongoing processes of recovery, including an article about caring for the social workers working with residents. A substantial community fund was given for the victims of the Port Arthur massacre. The murder of Nanette Mikac and her daughters Alannah and Madeline inspired Dr Phil West of Melbourne, who had two girls similar in age to the murdered children, to set up a foundation in their memory. The Alannah and Madeline Foundation supports child victims of violence and runs a national anti-bullying programme. It was launched by the Prime Minister on the first anniversary of the massacre. In 1996, Australian composer Peter Sculthorpe wrote “Port Arthur, In memoriam:” for chamber orchestra, “…for the victims of the massacre at Port Arthur, 28 April 1996, for those who died, and for those who live with the memory of it.” The work was first performed 24 June 1996, at Government House, Hobart, Tasmania, by the Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra conducted by David Porcelijn. In 2007, Tasmanian playwright Tom Holloway dealt with the massacre in his play “Beyond the Neck.” Tasmanian composer Matthew Dewey also deals with these issues in his first symphony.

The massacre at Port Arthur created a kinship with the Scottish town of Dunblane, which had suffered a similar event, the Dunblane school massacre, only weeks previously. The two communities exchanged items to place at their respective memorials. Paul Mullen, a forensic psychiatrist with extensive involvement following the string of massacres in Australia and New Zealand, attributes both the Port Arthur massacre and some of the earlier massacres to the copycat effect. In this theory the saturation media coverage provides both instruction and perverse incentives for dysfunctional individuals to imitate previous crimes. In Tasmania, a coroner found that a report on the current affairs programme “A Current Affair”, a few months earlier had guided one suicide, and may have helped create the expectation of a massacre. The coverage of the Dunblane massacre, in particular the attention on the perpetrator, is thought to have provided the trigger for Bryant to act.

Australians reacted to the event with widespread shock and horror, and the political effects were significant and long-lasting. The federal government led state governments, some of which (notably Tasmania itself and Queensland) were opposed to new gun laws, to severely restrict the availability of firearms. Concern was raised within the Coalition Government that fringe groups such as the Ausi Freedom Scouts, the Australian League of Rights and the Citizen Initiated Referendum Party, were exploiting voter anger to gain support. After discovering that the Christian Coalition and US National Rifle Association were supporting the gun lobby, the government and media cited their support, along with the moral outrage of the community to discredit the gun lobby as extremists. The massacre happened just six weeks after the Dunblane massacre, in Scotland, which claimed 18 lives, with UK Prime Minister John Major reaching out to his counterpart over the shared tragedies; the United Kingdom passed its own changes to gun laws in 1997.

Under federal government co-ordination, all states and territories of Australia formulated the National Firearms Agreement, placing extensive restrictions on all firearms, including semi-automatic centre-fire rifles, repeating shotguns (holding more than five shots) and high-capacity rifle magazines. In addition to this, limitations were also put into place on low-capacity repeating shotguns and rim-fire semi-automatic rifles, as well as introducing uniform firearms licensing. The government initiated a mandatory ‘buy-back’ scheme with the owners paid according to a table of valuations. Some 643,000 firearms were handed in at a cost of $350 million which was funded by a temporary increase in the Medicare levy which raised $500 million. Media, activists, politicians and some family members of victims, notably Walter Mikac (who lost his wife and two children), spoke out in favour of the changes. Much discussion has occurred as to the level of Bryant’s mental health. At the time of the offences he was in receipt of a Disability Support Pension on the basis of being mentally handicapped. Media reports also detailed his odd behaviour as a child. He was able to drive a car and obtain a gun, despite lacking a gun licence or a driver’s licence. This was a matter which, in the public debate that followed, was widely regarded as a telling demonstration of the inadequacy of the nation’s gun laws.

The following is a list of those killed in the Port Arthur massacre:

Winifred Joyce Aplin, 58
Walter John Bennett, 66
Nicole Louise Burgess, 17
Sou Leng Chung, 32
Elva Rhonda Gaylard, 48
Zoe Anne Hall, 28
Elizabeth Jayne Howard, 26
Mary Elizabeth Howard, 57
Mervyn John Howard, 55
Ronald Noel Jary, 71
Tony Vadivelu Kistan, 51
Leslie Dennis Lever, 53
Sarah Kate Loughton, 15
David Martin, 72
Noelene “Sally” Joyce Martin, 69
Pauline Virjeana Masters, 49
Alannah Louise Mikac, 6
Madeline Grace Mikac, 3
Nanette Patricia Mikac, 36
Andrew Bruce Mills, 39
Peter Brenton Nash, 32
Gwenda Joan Neander, 67
William Xeeng Ng, 48
Anthony Nightingale, 44
Mary Rose Nixon, 60
Glenn Roy Pears, 35
Russell James Pollard, 72
Janette Kathleen Quin, 50
Helene Maria Salzmann, 50
Robert Graham Salzmann, 57
Kate Elizabeth Scott, 21
Kevin Vincent Sharp, 68
Raymond John Sharp, 67
Royce William Thompson, 59
Jason Bernard Winter, 29

“You see if people didn’t do these unfortunate things, you guys wouldn’t have a job.”Martin Bryant

If you want to watch a documentary on The Port Arthur Massacre then just check out the video below:

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s